House Privacy Commission overrun with Lobbyists

The Rhode Island Online Data Transparency and Privacy Protection Commission met last Tuesday. The 11-member commission will “study and make recommendations on legislation and/or regulations for protecting individuals from disclosures of information, and will report back to the House no later than Feb. 5, 2019.” The Commission is chaired by Representative Evan Shanley (Democrat, District 24, Warwick). The Tuesday meeting
Photo for House Privacy Commission overrun with Lobbyists

Published on January 28, 2019
By Steve Ahlquist

The Rhode Island Online Data Transparency and Privacy Protection Commission met last Tuesday. The 11-member commission will “study and make recommendations on legislation and/or regulations for protecting individuals from disclosures of information, and will report back to the House no later than Feb. 5, 2019.”

The Commission is chaired by Representative Evan Shanley (Democrat, District 24, Warwick). The Tuesday meeting was organizational in nature, and the agenda said specifically that no public comment would be heard. This, said Shanley at the meeting, was a mistake and public testimony would be heard. Too bad members of the public, who might have wanted to testify at the meeting, stayed home because of the official notice.

Meetings such as this, held at 3pm on a weekday afternoon , un-televised and improperly noticed are not really for the public though. Meetings like this are for special interests and lobbyists, and the room was chock full of business lobbyists, and the commission itself is overstuffed with them.

The only cameras in the room were mine.

The enabling legislation requires that the 11-member commission be assigned five Representatives chosen by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston), a member of the Attorney General’s office chosen by the AG, and five other people, also chosen by the Speaker.

The five remaining members must fulfill the following criteria:

  1. a representative of an Internet service provider
  2. a representative from a commercial website operator
  3. a member of a trade association or designee whose membership includes companies from the information technology, e-commerce, the sharing and gig economies, advanced energy, cybersecurity, venture capital and finance
  4. a representative of a data transparency and privacy advocacy organization
  5. a member of the general public

Who did the Speaker choose to fill these roles? [Note that the people below have a number that corresponds to the criteria above.]

  1. Michelle Cinquegrano, representing internet provider Verizon
  2. Christina Fisher, a representative of TechNet, a web service for IT professionals
  3. Tom Wilkerson, representing the New England Cable and Telecommunications Association
  4. Dr Cedric Priebe of Lifespan
  5. John Simmons from the conservative Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC)

John Simmons[note]John Simmons is a legislative lobbyist for the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC). He is paid $150 per hour for his lobbying, according to 2016 filings with the Secretary of State.[/note] is a member of the general public, but only in the basic way that anyone is a member of the general public. In addition to being a member of the general public, and more importantly, Simmons also leads RIPEC, a powerful, conservative and business focused lobbying force at the State House. Sitting nearby Simmons was lobbyist Elizabeth Suever[note]Elizabeth Suever is a legislative lobbyist working for the law firm of Roberts, Carroll ,Feldstein & Peirce.

According to 2016 filings with the Rhode Island Secretary of State:

Rhode Island Judiciary – $30,000.00 annually
Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce – $7,500.00 monthly
Express Scripts Holding Company – $3,750.00 monthly
Beacon Mutual Insurance Company – $4,166.66 monthly
Merck Sharp & Dohme Corporation – $15,000.00 annually
Rhode Island Veterinary Medicine Association – $10,000.00 annually
Rhode Island Quality Institute – $30,000.00 annually
Rhode Island Interactive LLC – $19,800.00 annually
Rhode Island Community Food Bank – pro-bono
McLaughlin & Moran, Incoporated – $25,000.00 annually
Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association – $30,000.00 annually
Seniorlink, Incorporated $18,000.00 – annually
Guaranteed Asset Protection Alliance – $30,000.00 annually[/note], who Simmons works with. Simmons can always be counted on to lead the charge against raising the minimum wage, or arguing against the fair pay bill that Mattiello killed last year, or any number of other anti-worker, pro-business initiatives.

Simmon’s sole contribution to Tuesday’s meeting was to caution against implementing policies that may hurt Rhode Island’s business competitiveness. That’s not the kind of thing a member of the general public is prone to say as much as a member of a conservative pro-business group like RIPEC.

Simmons

Lifespan is not a “data transparency and privacy advocacy organization.” When I asked what data transparency and privacy advocacy organization Dr Priebus was representing, Representative Shanley did not answer.

Shanley did write, “Perhaps you noted that the meeting room has been filled with lobbyists –obviously they have been hired by the various companies potentially affected by any potential legislation. Rest assured that any potential legislation will not be subject to industry approval. Rather, I am hoping to collaborate where possible and exhaust any reasonable opportunities to compromise.”

I tweeted this from the meeting:

The person on the phone was Tom Wilkerson, ostensibly representing the New England Cable and Telecommunications Association, but speaking on the phone about the concerns of less reputable businesses he doesn’t represent who may be hurt by the legislation developed by the Commission.

Wilkerson

As I noted earlier, the tiny meeting room was chock full of lobbyists and business interests. The only member of the general public in the room was Randall Rose, who represents an actual data transparency and privacy advocacy organization, Rhode Island Rights. He was there to advocate for the people, the only one there for that reason.

As for the elected State Representatives assigned to the Commission, a group that includes Representatives Evan Shanley (Democrat, District 24, Warwick), Alex Marszalkowski (Democrat, District 52, Cumberland), John Edwards (Democrat, District 70, Tiverton), Jean Philippe Barros (Democrat, District 59, Pawtucket) and Michael Chippendale (Republican, District 40, Coventry, Foster Glocester), Chippendale was a no-show and Marszalkowski stayed long enough for attendance to be taken and then booked it out of there, as can be sen at the beginning of the video below.

Attorney General Peter Nerhona‘s designee at the meeting was Ryan Holt, a recent addition to the AG’s office. Holt, a former lobbyist, unsuccessfully ran for Providence City Council, Ward 2 last year.

A few of the lobbyists at the commission meeting, not one wearing their lobbying badge

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