RI's top officials are racking up out-of-state travel, but this one was gone the most by far

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PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island's first-term state treasurer, James Diossa, is a frequent traveler.

Since he took office in January 2023, the $137K-a-year treasurer has been on 28 out-of-state and in some cases out-of-country trips that took him out of Rhode Island for at least 74 days – roughly two and a half months – on state, personal and campaign business.

Only 19 of those days were attributed to "state business,'' although his staff says a number of his campaign-paid trips were related to his official duties.

His travels during this stretch took him to New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Las Vegas, Malibu, LA, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, according to travel data collected by The Journal.

Diossa is not the only out-of-state traveler among Rhode Island's five top-ranked elected officials.

But a review of travel summaries for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer indicate that Diossa is the most frequent traveler, with state taxpayers paying only $4,705 toward his expenses, and his campaign – or his hosts – paying the rest of his non-vacation time.

Of the five top elected officials in Rhode Island, State Treasurer James Diossa has traveled out of state the most.
Of the five top elected officials in Rhode Island, State Treasurer James Diossa has traveled out of state the most.

Where did Diossa go?

Some of his away days were day trips, such as his drive to Hartford, Connecticut, in May 2023 to attend a "Treasury Investor Conference."

Others were described in a summary provided by his office as campaign-paid trips to Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York City and California for fundraising and networking events including, for example, a four-day trip to NYC last July for a National Association of Latino Elected Officials Annual Conference and a four-day trip to Los Angeles earlier this month to attend a Milken Institute Global Conference.

He also went on three family vacations since taking office, including two trips to Colombia and one to the Dominican Republic, that took him out of the country for 26 days, from June 28-July 3, 2023; Dec. 9-14, 2023 and April 6-19, 2024.

By way of comparison, the state's employee handbook says state workers get 70 hours – which equates to two 35-hour weeks – of vacation each year. Put another way: Diossa has already used up all of the 2024 vacation time he would have if he were a rank-and-file state employee.

How much has he spent on travel?

Altogether, his office says, the state paid $4,704 toward his travels. His campaign, his hosts or his own bank account paid the rest.

He has spent a total of $123,606 out of his campaign account since taking office as treasurer, according to his filings with the state Board of Elections. That included $13,472 for what his reports described as "travel & lodging."

The only "host" payment he reported on his separate 2023 ethics-disclosure filing was the $500 he said the National Institute of Public Finance contributed toward his hotel bill while he was enlisted to speak at a conference in Malibu in July.

Asked what Rhode Islanders should make of his frequent travels, Diossa spokeswoman Michelle Moreno-Silva said "most" of his trips, including his campaign-paid trips, took him to "financially related conferences ... relating directly to his work as state treasurer and his fiduciary responsibility to all Rhode islanders."

"The reason for not using state funds is because we want to be mindful of taxpayer money," she said.

Beyond that, she said, Diossa, who has two young children with state Sen. Sandra Cano, "has a young family and has taken vacation time to travel with them. While traveling, Treasurer Diossa works remotely, remaining in constant contact with the Treasury team using the technology tools available to anyone today."

Though the Senate's often inaccurate journal marked Cano as present in the Senate chamber during Diossa's most recent trip to Colombia, where Diossa and Cano still have family, Moreno-Silva said Cano and the children were with Diossa on the family trip.

"Senator Cano and their daughter [also] accompanied Treasurer Diossa to the White House Easter Egg Roll event on April 10, 2023. Their travel was paid with campaign funds, according to the office list.

More: RI's top politicos are making their income tax filings public. Here's what we learned.

Other state officials do not travel so frequently

Others at the heights of state government travel on state, campaign and personal business, but not as a rule as frequently as Diossa, who as treasurer oversees the operation and investment of the state's $11-billion pension fund, and this year, a months-long study of the aftereffects of the state's massive 2011 pension overhaul.

At some point, the retiree advocates fighting for restoration of annual cost-of-living increases noted his absence from State House hearings on what they consider a top issue of the year: pension relief.

Who else travels?

Gov. Dan McKee: The governor's office is still compiling a detailed list of his out-of-state travels, beyond the advisories his office periodically sends the media.

Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos: The lieutenant governor was of out of state 55 days since she was sworn in to her second term in January 2023. That included day trips to Foxboro on a Saturday to see an Army-Navy game and Dorchester, Massachusetts, on a Tuesday, for a 1st Dominican Independence Day Breakfast.

Many of her trips in 2023 took place while she was running for an open congressional seat. She lists them as "Political/CD1 Campaign," and ascribes no state cost to them. They took her to NYC, Miami and Washington, D.C.

She billed the state for $3,894 in travel expenses to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for four days for a National Lieutenant Governors Association gathering in April; a National Lieutenant Governors Association Federal-State Relations meeting in D.C. in March 2023; and a White House Black History Month reception in February 2023.

She took two family vacations, both to Vermont, for a total of five days: Four days from Jan. 5 through 8, 2024, and a one-day round-trip on April 8, 2024.

Attorney General Peter Neronha: The attorney general was laid up a good part of last year, so he did not do much traveling. But he did some.

He drove back and forth to the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, for an Aug. 2-3, 2023, regional meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General. He attended two gatherings of the Democratic attorneys general in Boston and Washington, including a holiday party the day before a three-day "NAAG Capital Forum" in December.

On the vacation front, he went to London, at his own expense, for a Friday-to-Monday getaway with his family in February 2023. He took two three-day family trips to Dallas and a nine-day family trip to Greece in September 2023.

Moving ahead to Feb. 7, 2024, "the AG drove to and from Boston via his state car" to deliver a talk on “The People’s Lawyer: The Impact on State Attorneys General.” On Feb. 28, he attended a wake in North Branford, Connecticut.

Then he took some family vacation time, including a March 14-17, 2024 trip to St. Louis, Missouri; an April 25-May 5 trip to Rome and, May 10-19, to St. Louis again, at personal expense, when his son was graduating from Washington University medical school and moving to Illinois for his residency.

Secretary of State Gregg Amore: The secretary of state was out of state at least 49 days since taking office in January 2023.

Several of those trips took him to NYC on weekends, at personal expense, for his daughter's moving-in, moving-out and graduation. His travel list also reflected his "annual trip to Yankee Stadium for the Yankees’ Opening Day, which was his March 30 trip last year and April 5-6 trip this year," according to his office.

His longest out-of-state trip was a Thursday-through-Monday "personal trip" to New Orleans in February 2023.

His state-paid trips cost taxpayers $6,239 for his expenses alone, and a total of $18,153, including the cost of bringing anywhere from one to seven of his staffers with him, as he did when he went to a National Association of Secretaries of State meeting in D.C. from July 9-12, 2023.

He brought both deputy secretaries of state, chief of staff, director of outreach and engagement, director and deputy director of the state's Business Services Division, and his communications director, Faith Chybowski, who explains: "This was an important opportunity for members of our staff to become acquainted with NASS and other secretaries/their staff, especially in the first year of our administration."

The Center for Election Innovation & Research paid $1,365 toward Amore's three-day trip to D.C. in May 2023 for a "CEIR Summit on American Democracy."

With reports from Patrick Anderson

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: RI treasurer James Diossa logs 11 weeks of out-of-state travel time