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Ex-attorney general lobbied but never registered

Patrick Lynch

Since leaving his post as Rhode Island's attorney general, Patrick Lynch has lobbied his former office several times, but he has never registered with the state as a lobbyist.

Lynch denies that his communications with the office of current Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, a fellow Democrat, constitute lobbying. But in emails sent by him and his assistant, Lynch pushed for actions by his old office on topics including online gambling and concerns about business practices by the search engine Google.

Under state law, lobbying is defined as seeking to promote, oppose or influence decisions or actions by the executive branch, including decisions by the attorney general's office. Lobbyists to the office are required by law to register annually with the secretary of state's office and file twice-yearly reports.

Lynch's emails to Kilmartin's office, released to The Associated Press last week, show him lobbying at various times since 2012.

On Jan. 10, 2014, Lynch sent Kilmartin a letter that the office redacted. It included links to several articles pushing to regulate, rather than ban, online gambling. At the time, according to media reports, a group of lobbyists was circulating a letter asking attorneys general to sign onto a letter calling for a ban on online gambling.

Later that day, Gerald Coyne, the deputy attorney general and Lynch's former No. 2, wrote back to Lynch's assistant. Coyne wrote: "Kim, can you please let Patrick know that we did not sign on? Because of his outstanding advocacy."

Other emails show Lynch lobbying for other groups, including Fairsearch.org, a group of Google competitors that complains about the search engine giant's market dominance.

The New York Times first reported on Lynch's extensive lobbying of attorney generals in Rhode Island and other states.

John Marion, executive director of the open government group Common Cause, said it is clear that Lynch should have registered as a lobbyist in Rhode Island.

"The repeated incidences show a widespread disregard for the state's lobbying laws, and in this instance in particular, by someone who should be more than familiar with the existence of the state's lobbying laws," he said.

Lynch told the AP that his actions did not constitute lobbying.

"I am an attorney and I have been and continue to be in full compliance with all laws pertaining to me and my professional employment," he wrote in an email last week.

Lynch was a legislative lobbyist before he served two terms as the state's top law enforcement official, from 2003 to 2011, and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2010. He founded two Providence-based firms after leaving office: a law firm, Lynch and Pine, and another firm, Patrick Lynch Group. The website for the Patrick Lynch Group touts his experience as an attorney general.

"We guide our clients through the national network of attorneys general associations and work with them to build relationships and tailor a communications and outreach plan specific to their needs," the site says.

The state's lobbying registration system, which is overseen by the secretary of state's office, has come under increased scrutiny recently.

That office called hearings this year into whether former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling was acting as an unregistered lobbyist when he pushed for a $75 million loan guarantee for his now-bankrupt video game company, 38 Studios.

In another case, registered lobbyist Ray Rickman did not disclose for years that he had given a $10,000 personal loan to then-House Majority Leader Gordon Fox, who later became House speaker. It remained outstanding through his speakership, which ended when he resigned following FBI raids on his home and Statehouse office.

Several other emails released by the attorney general's office show multiple other people lobbying the office, even though they did not register as lobbyists with the state.

When asked whether Kilmartin's office believed Lynch and the others should have registered as lobbyists, Kilmartin's spokeswoman, Amy Kempe, deferred to the secretary of state's office. The secretary of state's office did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Marion pointed out that the penalties for breaking the lobbying laws are minimal and enforcement rare. The hearings on 38 Studios are the first held in years. In one 38 Studios-related case, a hearing officer recommended a penalty of $2,000 for someone he found had failed to register as a lobbyist.

Marion called on incoming Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea to do a top-to-bottom review of the registration system and its enforcement.

Gorbea said in a statement she wants to push for tougher penalties and also institute more frequent reporting of executive branch lobbying.

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