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Harwood Says Ethics Charges Against Him Are "Reckless"; Defends Performance as Speaker (posted December 9, 2001)
Rhode Island House Speaker John Harwood called an ethics complaint filed against him by Operation Clean Government "reckless". Appearing on the WPRI-TV show "Newsmakers" with Jack White, Harwood said he "in no way violated any ethics law" when he appeared as a lawyer before a Department of Environmental Management administrative judge. Noting that the Rhode Island Supreme Court has ruled that it has "exclusive jurisdiction over the practice of law", he indicated that in the future based on its decision that there was "no reason to restrict myself" from appearing before state boards and commission as a lawyer. "I would consider it," he said. "There is no prohibition at all." However, he added that he would refrain from appearing before bodies such as the Lottery Commission because he appoints some of its members.
When asked about the state's pending budget deficit, Speaker Harwood indicated that "everything should be on the table....Either you cut [spending] or you raise taxes." He predicted the legislature would attempt to find a balance between competing causes. One action the General Assembly might consider, he said, was the phase-out of the state's tax on automobiles. Although he noted that no decision has been made, he believed legislators would "maybe freeze it."
Providence Journal reporter Scott MacKay asked Harwood if he shared in his law partner's Lincoln Park legal fees. The Speaker said "that's a private issue" and stated he would not comment on his private law practice.
Outside critics have complained about the practice of some legislators using campaign money to pay for meals at expensive restaurants. Harwood responded by saying, "this is not taxpayer money....It is private campaign money." He said he took each committee out 1-2 times a year to show his appreciation to fellow legislators and to discuss issues. Regarding sports tickets, he said, giving tickets to supporters was "a perfect way to maintain and control your political future."
Despite negative press coverage of his performance, Harwood said "it doesn't bother me....Sometimes the press doesn't understand the legal ramifications.....The press can put you in a false light but that is part of being a public figure. It doesn't bother me because I usually don't think they [the press] are correct."
Copyright 2000Karen Martin Media Services