November 23, 2009

Board of Elections Makes an Offer to the Moderate Party

Carroll Andrew Morse

I know that the Rhode Island Board of Elections is famous for its procedural creativity, but even so, am I the only one who thinks that the offer made to the Moderate Party of pay us a big fine and the Attorney General doesn't have to get your case is something less than above-board? From Steve Peoples of the Projo...

The state Board of Elections has quietly offered to settle a dispute with the newly-established Moderate Party of Rhode Island for what may be the largest fine in the board's history.

State officials have asked the fledgling party to forfeit a $10,000 donation and its chairman to personally pay another $10,000, according to terms of a deal outlined in a private meeting last week.

Board officials threatened, as an alternative, to have the attorney general's office bring civil or criminal investigations against a host of party officials for violating Rhode Island's finance laws.

"That was a rotten deal any which way you sliced it. And frankly, a deal designed to be rejected," said party chairman Kenneth J. Block, who discussed the details and travel of the case with The Journal Monday afternoon...."I'm ready to go to war on this," Block said.

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If the politically-challenged Mr. Block had taken my advice two weeks ago and said, "oops... misunderstood... returning the money right away...", chances are he would have put out this fire for good.

Thanks to his stubbornness, the party now suffers a major setback financially and in public perception.

Posted by: George at November 23, 2009 7:56 PM

I know little of Mr. Block's history, but wonder if this is the way of governmental boards. I know of a case that went before the Mass. Comm. Against Discrimination. The atagonists were a tenant and her landlord. At first she tried racial discrimination, that didn't go very far as they were both black. She then tried sex discrimination and got a hearing. In the midst of the hearing she broke in a gospel song. Realizing this was not a great case, they offered to "let it go" for a $5,000 fine. The offer of a fine was not accepted, following that the case just faded away.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at November 23, 2009 9:02 PM

The best part of the offer:

Both $10,000 penalties would go into the State Election fund - the fund for the public financing of political parties. Since the vast majority of the monies in this fund are distributed based on the results for the last gubernatorial election - and since the Moderate Party did not exist during the last gubernatorial election - I would in effect be making a $10,000 party building donation to the GOP and a $10,000 party building donation to the Dems.

You can't make this stuff up!

Posted by: Ken Block at November 23, 2009 9:05 PM

"Board officials threatened, as an alternative, to have the attorney general's office bring civil or criminal investigations against a host of party officials for violating Rhode Island's finance laws."

And as our Attorney General is presumably keen to make brownie points with his party for the upcoming primary, he would undoubtedly oblige with enthusiasm.

This is quite an overreaction by the Board of Elections, a body that (most of the time) bends over backward to work with, rather than punish, campaigns and candidates who are in violation of campaign law. Even when they are hard core recidivists. (Oh, look, we're talking about the Attorney General again.)

I hope that the Moderate Party does fight this "settlement", which resembles a partisan mugging far more than an equitable offer.

Posted by: Monique at November 23, 2009 9:22 PM

Wait, can someone explain again what rule or law that Ken broke? From what I remember, what he was doing was within the letter of the law, just maybe not the spirit of it. But there's no penalty for breaking the spirit of the law.

Absolutely reject that offer and take on the AG. There is no better advertising and fundraising for the Moderate Party than to take this case as far as Lynch wants to take it. Ken, if they want to pursue this even an inch further, make a huge freaking spectacle of it and see if every local tv news channel will talk to you. Schedule a press conference every day. Get on all the Sunday morning talk shows to discuss it. That $10G will be a drop in the bucket by the time this is done.

Posted by: Patrick at November 23, 2009 9:29 PM

This doesn't even address the violation of Federal Election law, which supercedes RI law. So, even if this can be beat, against the RI BOE, there is still the likelihood that someone will file a complaint with the FEC.

I don't disagree with Andrew and Monique that this action is very disengenuous on the part of the RI BOE. However, would you expect anything less in RI? It takes a keen political sense to navigate this climate. Something the Moderate Party Chairman is clealy lacking.

One thing that is quite revealing here is that Democrats tend to come out loudly and forcefully against those they fear the most. Do they feel it's likely the Moderate party stands to siphon off liberal votes in the general election?

The democrat establishment is definitely affraid of something.

Posted by: George at November 23, 2009 10:01 PM

For me, if I had any doubts at all as to the motives for the accusations against the Moderate Party they've been answered. If this stands in a court I'll be shocked. How is it that the Attorney General misclassifies thousands of dollars and then neatly "fixes" the errors prior to his hearing and is given a warning? Yet a Board of Elections member, in those emails to Ken Block, clearly states that someone could conceivably make party building donations as Ken Block did and now that verification leads to the largest punishment in the history of this board. If I'm wrong, so be it, but this has politics and keep a viable threat down written all over it.

RI voters should be disgusted that the machine in this state encompasses as much as it does and has this much power.

Posted by: Steve A at November 24, 2009 8:33 AM

Nothing unites the two established parties like a third threatening their duopoly.
As George says, it give liberals tired of the Democratic Good Old Boys a place to go, but it also offers a place for Republicans who are being purged by the Teabaggers.
Block has everything to gain by picking a fight with Lynch, who doesn't arrive with clean hands.

Posted by: rhody at November 24, 2009 10:47 AM

Personally, I do think Ken got the typical Rhode Island BOE treatment, which is to say, treated like a DMV customer on a weekday at 3 in the afternoon. If you call 5 people there on an issue, you're likely to get 5 different interpretations. Many of the rules are ambiguous and different sections of the law conflict with other sections. I personally believe the laws are intentionally confusing and ambigious, so that they can selectively enforce them to the benefit of their allies and to the detriment of their foes. However, to the extent they are clear, one should make an effort to abide by the rules as they are commonly understood, not as you would prefer them to be.

Ken's only "mistake" was trying to take them head on (though perhaps that was the intent all along). They obviously want to make an example out of him. Too bad they don't have the same level of diligence about members of the General Assembly.

Ken saw what appeared to be an ambigious area of law there, thought he'd try to exploit it, and they came down on him like he was the Unabomber. Do you expect anything else? If the rules were clear, straightforward, and unambiguous, then there would be very few issues.

The moral of the story is: When dealing with the BOE, don't ever, ever, ever rely on anyone's personal opinion which isn't in writing, preferably written in goat's blood. They are known for a great many things, competence and consistency are not either of them.

Posted by: Will at November 24, 2009 5:45 PM

Shaking things up can produce both positive and negative results. The problem is; extreme wild guessing and questionable challenges to the law of the land produces a set of variables that cause chaos not cosmos.

This bold decision to wage an all out war will result in many casualties and will divert the focus and energy of the MPRI away from winning seats on Smith Hill and toward an impetuous crusade that will never lead to meaningful victory.

Mr. Block has fallen off his rocker and into the brier patch. Too bad indeed.

If the leadership of the Moderate Party doesn’t change the course being charted by its founder and chairman it may soon be planning the equivalent of a political wake instead of a victory party.


Posted by: Sol Venturi at November 25, 2009 12:31 AM

The whole thing is baloney. So far as I'm concerned there is nothing wrong at all with the guy giving however much money he wants to, by whatever methods he chooses, to help build the party that he created. If the law says that there is something wrong with that...then the law should be changed.

Posted by: Gary W Trott at November 27, 2009 8:47 PM
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