State Ethics Commission Looks at Rhode Island Attorney General

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The state Ethics Commission has agreed to look into a complaint against Rhode Island's attorney general about campaign donations he accepted from a lawyer for DuPont Co. while he was negotiating to drop the company from a lawsuit.

The commission will conduct a preliminary investigation to decide if there is evidence to launch a full-scale probe of Attorney General Patrick Lynch, said Dianne Leyden, staff attorney for the Ethics Commission.

The complaint was filed last week by Bill Harsch, a Republican who is running for attorney general in November. Harsch has called the contributions and the state's deal with DuPont "completely inappropriate."

Lynch, a Democrat seeking a second term, said he believed the complaint was politically motivated, and that he did nothing improper.

The complaint accuses Lynch of influence peddling and conflict of interest for accepting $4,250 in campaign contributions from several people with ties to DuPont, including attorney Bernard Nash and his wife, who gave Lynch's campaign a total of $2,500.

Nash, an attorney hired by DuPont, has said there was nothing improper about the donations.

Nash was the company's chief negotiator of a deal in which it was dismissed from the state's lead paint lawsuit in exchange for charitable donations totaling about $12.5 million.

The lawsuit may cost three other companies in the case billions of dollars after a jury in February found them liable for creating a public nuisance. The judge in the case has yet to decide how much, if anything, the companies must pay; an appeal is likely if the judge does not throw out the case or order a new trial.

Nash gave $500 to Lynch's campaign fund in June 2004, during the period the state and DuPont were negotiating, according to court documents related to the lead paint case and documents Lynch's campaign filed with the state Elections Board. The remaining $2,000 was given in December 2005, six months after the deal was announced.

In a letter sent to the Ethics Commission on Friday and released to the AP on Wednesday, Lynch campaign manager Andrew Roos said there was no evidence to show donations from Nash exerted any influence on Lynch's decision.

"The case against DuPont was dismissed because they will pay millions of dollars to clean up the lead paint mess in our state — and they are the only company to do so," the letter read.

Part of the deal struck with DuPont directs some of the $12.5 million in charitable donations to pay for cleaning up 600 Rhode Island homes that contain lead paint.

Harsch's complaint also listed donations Lynch received on Dec. 20, 2005, from three other people, Francine Katz, Joseph Eyer and Olivia Morgan, all of whom listed the Dewey Square Group as their employer on documents filed with the state Board of Elections. Dewey Square is a lobbyist for DuPont. The Dewey Square Group has not returned messages seeking comment.