October 7, 2005

Campaign Finance "Violations" = Partisan Political "Gotcha!"

Marc Comtois

So, it's Friday before a long weekend and we learn that it may be, possibly, potentially, likely that the RI GOP may have possibly violated campaign finance laws.

A Board of Elections special prosecutor announced today that the state Republican party potentially violated elections laws when it used money from the national GOP to pay for advertisements in support of then-candidate, now governor, Donald L. Carcieri in his 2002 campaign.

In his long-awaited report, H. Reed Witherby said that by accepting money from the national committee -- which was used solely on a state campaign -- it appears that the state party violated two provisions of Rhode Island law.

Witherby recommended that the board forward the matter to the attorney general for civil prosecution. Elections Chairman Roger N. Begin said the board will meet again in about three weeks to consider the recommendations made in the report.

However, Witherby was not able to come to any conclusion about whether the Carcieri campaign and the party violated another section of the law limiting how much a state party can give to a candidate. For that violation to have occurred, Witherby said, there needs to be proof that the party and the campaign cooperated on the ad. He suggested that the board further investigate the relationship between Carcieri and the party.

Ah yes, since he couldn't really find anything conclusive in his investigation, he recommends further investigation...presumably until something is found. To this, RIGOP Chair Patricia Morgan has responded:
“We have received a copy of the Special Counsel’s report, but cannot comment specifically until we have thoroughly reviewed it.

“This is, of course, only the report of a consultant to the Board of Elections, not a legal finding. Our own legal advisors have drawn quite different conclusions, and we will respond formally in the appropriate forum.

“That being said, we believe this entire investigation seems most designed to generate publicity than deal with substantive campaign finance issues.

“The complaint is three years old. It was made in the midst of an election campaign by William Lynch, the chairman of the RI Democratic Party. If pursued in state courts, the case would be prosecuted by Chairman Lynch’s brother, RI Attorney General Patrick Lynch. The catalyst is the RI Board of Elections, a majority of whom are Democrats. And the only place where one can find all of the reporting on the issue in a single place is on the website of the state Democratic Party. All this should say something about the nature of this issue and the way in which it is being pursued.

“If the Board of Elections chooses to pursue action in the courts, the Rhode Island Republican Party will vigorously defend itself.

“I want to be as clear as humanly possible here: all of the actions by the Party or its representatives in this circumstance were legal and entirely consistent with both state and federal campaign statutes.

“We are confident that a fair legal hearing will support this view,” said Morgan.

Well, I wouldn't be quite so confident as Morgan. Nonetheless, the whole episode certainly smells more of partisan politics than any noble cause. [For the record, I'm not a big supporter of campaign finance reform to begin with].

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This latest news is another example of how campaign finance issues can be manipulated by either party for partisan gain.

It is the perverse structural incentives of campaign finance laws (regardless of which version) that allow such actions to become news - with the rest of us never knowing for sure if it is a real issue or a political ploy.

In the meantime, the ideals sought by campaign finance laws are never achieved. What no one will debate openly is why: They are never achieved because they are impossible to attain.

Which is why I have previously made these suggestions on campaign finance.

Transparency is the key - not attempts to exert total control which bring all of the resulting legalistic games like we see here.

It is transparency alone that will let the public know what is really going on and only that will lead to an appropriate level of accountability to the citizenry.

Posted by: Donald B. Hawthorne at October 7, 2005 6:22 PM

Lord knows that I don't always agree with Patricia, but I certainly agree with her in this case. This whole thing has been a politically motivated witchhunt from the start, by people that have no moral right to be sitting in judgement of others, esp. when it comes to election law issues.

The BOE is not some independent non-partisan, fact-finding organization. It's populated by people that owe everything they have to the General Assembly and to the state Democrat Party, without which they wouldn't have their jobs, meaningful influence, and to whom they are entirely beholden to. They are also extremely selective on enforcement of campaign finance law. In other words, the majority of them are hacks -- anyone really surprised?

I'm glad that at least the BOE has finally issued its "report," about the alleged campaign finance violations from back in 2002! I was just assuming they'd await until right before the next election to do maximum damage.

I believe there is a lot more politics involved here, instead of actual substance. I'm also hopeful that the facts, should this go to some kind of judicial process, come out to favor the RIGOP, sooner rather than later.

Posted by: Will at October 7, 2005 7:18 PM

I have a feeling this would make for a long and boring court room, that could extend into the heart of campaign season. I am glad Patricia and the party are willing to fight back, rather than wait and respond. Hopefully this situation can be resolved because this will be a constant issue against him (Carcieri). Fortunately, its the situation is a little complicated, which could confuse the average voter.

Posted by: Robert at October 11, 2005 10:33 AM

I believe the CURRENT Rhode Island Board of Elections has a REPUBLICAN MAJORITY?I will stand corrected if I am wrong.Obviously Chair Roger Begin is a Democrat but Judy Bailey,John Daluz,Frank Rego and Thomas Iannitti,I assume to be ALL be Republicans?Gormley I assume is a Republican and Raymond Xavier,I remember is a Democrat.I believe there is one vacancy.I will e-mail the board of elections executive director to find out for sure!Rego may be a Democrat?I WILL FIND OUT FOR SURE!
Scott Bill Hirst

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at October 12, 2005 4:39 PM