For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, the topics were the campaign finance controversies of the Providence City Council and Robert Nardolillo’s U.S. Senate campaign announcement.
Governor Raimondo’s campaign finance legislation would be a step toward government of the corrupt and/or the crazy.
Legislation targeting individuals who advocate on local ballot questions would infringe on constitutional rights and could expose the flaw in all campaign finance law.
Some folks to the left of the center line in Rhode Island politics would probably like me a whole lot more if I didn’t get so heated on the subject of campaign finance reform. For much of the last two decades, that subject has been an area of rare agreement between left and right, but the more I’ve thought about it, and the more I’ve observed, the more convinced I’ve become that campaign finance reform actually does a great deal of harm to our country and that its supporters on the right have been suckered.
Among the many benefits of Scott Walker’s push against public-sector labor unions in Wisconsin may be its effect in prodding the left to start leveraging the campaign finance advantage before it was politically wise to do so on the national stage. I’m referring to the infamous “John Doe” investigations, which I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere in Rhode Island news media, other than on Anchor Rising-Ocean State Current:
In April, National Review told — for the first time — the stories of the targets of Wisconsin’s “John Doe” investigations. The accounts were harrowing. Anonymous sources told of pre-dawn raids, with police swarming into their homes, walking into sleeping children’s rooms, denying the targets immediate access to lawyers, and then imposing gag orders that prevented them from telling friends, family, and supporters about their ordeal.
These raids were not launched against hardened criminals but against conservative activists, and the “crimes” they were accused of turned out not to be crimes at all. Rather, a hyper-partisan district attorney, John Chisholm, and his special prosecutor, Francis Schmitz, launched a multi-county criminal investigation of First Amendment–protected speech. They wanted to know the extent to which conservative individuals and groups had coordinated with Scott Walker’s campaign — and the campaigns of various state senators — to advocate conservative issues.
On the surface, it sounds like a great idea to increase transparency in politics, down to the donations and spending by every candidate for every office. The problem is that insiders have all of the advantages, on that count, and ruthless people can make better use of the information than moral grassroots volunteers and candidates, whether the ruthlessness manifests as a literal government conspiracy, as in Wisconsin, or merely run-of-the-mill intimidation of donors who back the non-ruthless.
Let’s get one thing straight.
A group of town residents gets together to persuade their neighbors to vote for lower taxes at the local level. They spend hours generating information to persuade and hours walking streets talking with people in the community and delivering literature. They ask some friends for help covering the costs of things like printing and postage.
If you think this group of people ought to have to register with some bureaucrat in the state government and file reports about donations and expenditures, you do not believe in freedom of speech or freedom, generally. You believe in tyranny, even if it’s only petty for the time being. You believe in making it more difficult for the average citizen to affect his or her government and disadvantaging them in their fight against special interests and government insiders and ensuring that people on the government payroll (one way or another) are able to undermine any advantage that citizens might find.
It really is that simple. You cannot believe in government of, by, and for the people and also believe that some government agent (making north of $75,000 per year, plus benefits, with pension promised) should be breathing down the necks of people who are trying to get control of their labor-union-dominated municipalities.
I bring this up because I received an email from Board of Elections Director of Campaign Finance Richard Thornton saying that “it has come to the attention of this office” that the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) “has been expending funds to support a position in the upcoming Tiverton Financial Town Referendum.” I am not a board member of the TTA, so I did not respond.
However, I did opine on Twitter: “Received a friendly reminder from BOE about filing for local budget advocacy. Doesn’t apply, here, but even so, it’s absurdly undemocratic.”
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Thornton emailed again asking for “clarification” of the meaning of my tweet. I clarified as follows:
I wasn’t aware that the Board of Elections was monitoring my Twitter feed. Have you friended me on Facebook, yet? I’m on LinkedIn and Pinterest, too, by the way, although I don’t think my resume or pictures of things I’ve seen around Rhode Island are relevant, here.
I’m happy to affirm officially that I believe state-level campaign finance laws and regulations imposed on grassroots groups attempting to affect local ballot questions in their own communities are offensive and probably unconstitutional.
That said, I am not a board member of TTA and don’t know why you included me in your original email. Strictly speaking, TTA has done no advocacy in this campaign, and certainly not enough to come anywhere near the threshold.
For my own advocacy, I hadn’t yet crossed the $1,000 threshold until (I think) today. Although I find it obscene that I have to answer to the state for these purposes, I will file whatever documents are necessary.
Whether it’s me or the group opposing me, this is absurd. Campaign finance is not some benign, feel-good civic altruism. It’s the camel’s nose of tyranny.
Providence City Councilman Luis Aponte continues with campaign finance reporting issues in not following through with a pledge he made last week.
Frankly, I’m not a fan of campaign finance regulations, especially at the local level. If the information’s out there, grassroots groups should use it, but that’s a separate question of whether the government should be able to impose these sorts of rules on the population.
Whom does it serve when people who are politically savvy and well organized (often within the political establishment) can comb through the donations and expenditures records of newcomers who want to serve their communities in public office? And then there are the fines.
I go into more detail on this topic in a new post on Tiverton Fact Check, in which I answer a resident’s question about why the current Town Council vice president, Denise deMedeiros, has an inactive account on the state’s campaign finance site. (Basic answer: because the Board of Elections spelled her name differently when she reactivated her account to run for Town Council a few years ago.)
Why do lawmakers get away with having unpaid campaign finance fines? Why don’t we actually enforce the laws that they were elected to create? This is an affront to all voters and taxpayers of the state.
Campaign finance reform legislation currently under review in the RI General Assembly targets large national organizations and companies but has small local groups fearing that their speech (and donations) will be chilled.
Shortly after adding the certification of school bus drivers to my running list of tasks at which Rhode Island government is failing, my morning reading brought to my attention multiple articles about Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s big fundraising take in the first quarter of this calendar year. Here’s WPRI’s Ted Nesi:
Raimondo continues to demonstrate a fundraising prowess rarely seen in Rhode Island politics, having raised nearly $3 million since becoming governor and millions more before that when she was general treasurer. The state’s last two-term governor, Republican Don Carcieri, had about $275,000 on hand at the same point during his third year in office.
Want a fun fact? According to the helpful spreadsheets that one can download from the state’s campaign finance search tool, so far in 2017, only 31% of the $570,110 the governor has raised came from people with addresses within Rhode Island. That does represent a little bit of a change. Going back to 2009 (the earliest available for her) brings Raimondo’s in-state percentage up to 51%. Over those seven-plus years, by the way, the governor of Rhode Island has averaged a $541 donation from people out of state, but only $406 from donors in the state.
For comparison’s sake, Cranston’s Republican Mayor Allan Fung, presumed to be Raimondo’s most likely GOP challenger in 2018, has collected 99% of his $30,109 campaign donations so far in 2017 from people with in-state addresses. If it seems unfair to compare a governor with a mayor, turn to the fundraising record of former Republican Governor Donald Carcieri. He raised 89% of all of his campaign money from people in Rhode Island, and Rhode Island donors gave him an average $427 donation, versus $397 from each out-of-state-donor.
So what are Raimondo’s out-of-state donors buying with their money? I’m sure their motivations are manifold, but I can’t help but notice that Wexford Science & Technology is back in the news, having received approval for $13.5 million in taxpayer incentives to do business in RI. As I highlighted back in December, the interactions of Wexford, the Brookings Institution, and other private organizations are certainly, let’s say, interesting, as is the overlap with Raimondo’s donor base.
Issue 1: Do any candidates for Rhode Island Governor or Rhode Island General Assembly support modifying or repealing Governor Chafee’s Wall-Street-first law regarding municipal priorities?
Issue 2: Will any of the candidates for Governor of Rhode Island have their fiscal staffs look immediately into the possibility of a Providence receivership. Will they tell us if they do?
Issue 3: Buddy Cianci, according to some research done by Michael Riley, once advocated for pension obligation bonds to help finance Providence’s pension system. Might he do so again?
Justin writes live from the Senate Finance hearing on repealing the Sakonnet River Bridge toll.
U.S. Rep. David Cicilline’s political campaigns benefitted from a highly organized voter-fraud effort dating back to 2002, Anthony Gemma, his Democratic primary opponent, alleged in a press conference. Gemma told reporters he submitted sworn statements from witness to the State Police and the FBI.
Justin writes live from a joint House & Senate Committee Hearing on casino legislation.
Lawyers for the General Assembly, many part-time with full health benefits, appear to donate quite a bit to local politicians, particularly the Speaker of the House.
Common Cause’s John Marion wants us to be skeptical of reports illustrating the possibility of voter fraud, but when it comes to campaign finance, it’s mainly volunteers running for office of whom he’s skeptical.
Is anybody really surprised that only 7% of Rhode Island politicians (neutrally meant) with open campaign finance accounts failed to comply with a new law requiring them to submit their bank accounts to the state, as Political Scene reports?
The law, which went into effect in 2016, requires all candidates and officeholders to submit bank statements to the Board of Elections following fourth-quarter campaign finance reports. This year marked the first time the statements had to be filed. While copies of the bank statements are not public documents under the law, the Board of Elections provided Political Scene with the names of those who have not yet complied.
As of this week, 49 of 668 individuals with active campaign-finance accounts had failed to file their bank statements. Another 24 of 199 political action committees also failed to file the statements in the required time frame.
The most significant effect of such legislation is to dissuade people from running for public office. So I have to file a campaign finance report regularly with the state? OK, I guess I can do that. And an Ethics Commission report, too? Well, that’s a lot of forms. What’s that? Open a new, separate bank account and give copies of statements to the state government? Gee, this local volunteer office is looking like more trouble than it’s worth.
Here’s a noteworthy indication of how carefully legislators review the laws that they pass:
Reached last week, [Democrat Representative from Cranston Arthur] Handy said… he initially misunderstood the new law and thought he was exempt because he didn’t meet a spending threshold. (Another campaign-finance bill passed in 2015 requires that candidates who raise or spend $10,000 or more in a year retain a treasurer or deputy treasurer other than themselves.)
From my conversations with the folks at the Board of Elections, all candidates are supposed to have separate bank accounts for campaign purposes, even if they raise no money, but realizing how ridiculous that is, the board isn’t enforcing it against those who don’t have to file campaign reports. Of course, the way to avoid it all is to not volunteer in the first place.
In late March, I highlighted a post on RI Future celebrating a march on the Pawtucket home of Democrat state representative David Coughlin, who sponsored legislation to require more cooperation between Rhode Island law enforcement and federal immigration officials. At the time, I made a note to look into the group behind the march, and it proved to be just another one of the many, many groups that pop up in Rhode Island, funded largely through the same stream.
According to Steve Ahlquist’s report, the key organizer appears to have been Fuerza Laboral, whose executive director, Heiny Maldonado is, I believe, the one pictured holding the sign reading, “Your constituents put you there. Your constituents can take you ‘OUT’,” as well as a sign reading, ironically, “Stop fascism now.”
As one typically finds, the group’s list of “institutional partners and funders” leans heavily toward organized labor union groups. Also on the list are a variety of foundations, from the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation (Vermont) to the more-overt Left Tilt Fund (California), which gave the group $10,000 per year for a few years. In 2015, the Fuerza Laboral collected just under $210,000 and spent about 54% on employees.
Investigating the Left’s activities, one discovers a lot of these groups, even in a small state like Rhode Island, covering just about every political issue out there, all of them well funded and with staffs of paid activists. Measure them against the handful of conservative groups that progressives love to present as some sort of hidden force affecting the state for the benefit of outside donors, and it isn’t even close.
This is the context in which Rhode Islanders should consider supposed “good government” reforms that seek to trip up grassroots candidates and small groups with campaign finance regulations that expose their donors. The progressives’ funders have a well-established channel (much of it going right from taxpayers, through labor unions as dues, and back into politics and activism).
Exposing every small local donor of non-Leftist groups and politicians just gives the progressive network more homes on which to march and properties to photograph for intimidation purposes.
While the Rhode Island media piles up the headlines against Providence City Council President Luis Aponte over misuse of campaign funds, blogger Johanna Harris is using campaign finance data as intended: to research Mayor Elorza’s donors.
If we’re going to move from using campaign finance law to find bribery to enforcing campaign finance law as its own body of potential crime, we should at least be aware that we’re in sensitive territory.
Pondering why a young, still-new state representative from Rhode Island would have $128,000 sitting around in campaign donations, I thought I’d run his name through Rhode Island’s campaign finance search tool. Regunberg is reportedly considering a run for lieutenant governor, which anybody who watches Rhode Island politics knows is essentially a political holding spot by which to live off of taxpayers while gathering media attention in preparation for a more-significant office, a political appointment, or some sort of private-sector payoff.
That being the case, why has 51% (i.e., a majority) of Regunberg’s campaign cash, gathered since he started collecting it in 2014, come from beyond the borders of Rhode Island? The average Rhode Island donor has given him $273, while the average non-Rhode Island donor has given him $582. What are the donors hoping to get for their money?
For some comparison, consider Regunberg’s fellow legislator House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, who has collected fully 94% of her campaign money from within the Ocean State. Moreover, Rhode Islanders have given her an average of $277, while non-Rhode Islanders have given her an average of $197. Alternately, look at Regunberg’s fellow Democrat, current Lieutenant Governor (and former Cumberland Mayor) Dan McKee. His in-state percentage for money is 85%, with RI donations averaging $261 and non-RI donations averaging $343.
There are two possibilities, with both probably playing a role:
- As we’re seeing with our current governor, out-of-state Regunberg donors may be interested in pushing their nationally focused agenda within Rhode Island, or
- they may see Rhode Island as one of the increasingly limited staging grounds for left-wing politicians.
In neither of those cases should we expect the well-being of Rhode Islanders as Rhode Islanders to be the top priority of the donor, and we can reasonably wonder how much weight Rhode Islanders’ well-being will have on the politician’s scales as he makes decisions when in office.
Reading Dan McGowan’s detailed background of Providence City Councilman Kevin Jackson’s travails, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy:
On Tuesday Jackson could become the first councilperson in Providence history to be recalled from office. A group of his constituents in Ward 3 on the city’s East Side launched the campaign to remove him after he was arrested last May on charges that he embezzled from the youth sports organization he co-founded in 1978 and misused his political campaign account.
The guy’s been in city government for twenty-something years. You can see how, over time, funds get mingled, and liberties get taken. (I’d actually argue that the campaign finance rules ought to be eliminated, anyway.)
The moral, it seems to me, is the value of term limits. Spending that long in a position that makes one feel righteous and powerful is corrupting.
Relationship of government to the people, with cheese sandwiches, welfare, probation, and campaign finances.
Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo brought her gross pitching-politics-to-public-schoolers road show to Johnston Senior High School this week:
Gov. Gina Raimondo is out on the campaign trail, taking her pitch to high schools.
“You go from kindergarten to twelfth grade with public education. Why should it stop at twelfth grade?” Raimondo asked an auditorium of students at Johnston High School on Tuesday.
Afterward, she told reporters it is indeed a campaign to rally support for her plan to offer two free years of college tuition to Rhode Island high school graduates.
One wonders whether she believes it’s a positive or negative that the school has left her audience poorly equipped to assess the wisdom of her proposal. More than 82% of Johnston Senior High School students are not proficient in math, and two-thirds miss the mark in reading.
Sadly, it isn’t clear that Rhode Island adults are very proficient in government ethics and simple good political taste. Whether or not the governor’s political visits to government-run schools violate any campaign finance or ethics laws, this whole campaign is just unseemly. The governor is using public schools to lobby our children on a politically charged policy proposal. Just… yuck.
Shame on the school districts for allowing her to take advantage of their access like this, and shame on the parents for taking the abuse quietly.
Reacting to Gallison’s guilty plea by cracking down on campaign finance and ethics filings is, at best, nice-sounding busy work and, at worse, part of the problem.
As Trump’s perception of who is on “his team” expands to include political allies, the Right may have a champion to push back against the bullies.
The response of the Gaspee Project to a political campaign finance complaint from the Progressive Democrats makes clear that this is a fight over civil rights and political intimidation.
Although you wouldn’t know it from mainstream sources, sometimes-over-the-top video journalist James O’Keefe has released two videos in a series exposing people associated with the Democrat Party and the Clinton campaign. What I’ve seen so far looks credible, although I leave it to the mainstream media to determine whether there ought to be disclaimers — for example, whether the people making the most explosive claims are really just low-level operatives talking big.
In the first video, the objects of O’Keefe’s investigation are very open about their efforts to manipulate the media and the political process through such means as “bird dogging” (putting planted questions at the front of a greeting line to embarrass Republicans in front of reporters) and using mentally ill people and union members to provoke the opposition and make them look bad. (Naturally, the schemers assume journalists will ensure that the appropriate narrative is applied.)
One more-legalistic step is for groups that can’t coordinate their activities, mostly because of campaign finance laws, to hire the same contractors, who act as messengers. In this way, people in public office or in campaigns simply use go-betweens instead of email to skirt the law.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, according to the Daily Caller, one of these contractors is a regular visitor of the White House:
A key operative in a Democratic scheme to send agitators to cause unrest at Donald Trump’s rallies has visited the White House 342 times since 2009, White House records show.
Robert Creamer, who acted as a middle man between the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee and “protesters” who tried — and succeeded — to provoke violence at Trump rallies met with President Obama 47 times, according to White House records. Creamer’s last visit was in June 2016.
Americans have spent the past eight years being manipulated and abused in countless imaginative ways, and it looks like we’re in for at least another four. Are our elections rigged? Our entire system of government now is.
Leave aside the paperwork of campaign finance. This, from GoLocalProv, seems like an important, telling detail:
A GoLocal investigation has found that Governor Gina Raimondo’s gubernatorial campaign in 2014 failed to properly report at least one campaign gift from California developer Lance Robbins.
Raimondo held a major campaign event at Robbins’ property — her gubernatorial campaign kick-off event — and did not report the in-kind donation. When first asked, her campaign claimed that the amount of the gift did not require reporting.
Robbins’s organization, Urban Smart Growth, has recently been awarded $3.6 million from the quasi-public Commerce Corp., an organization that has long been a political arm for Raimondo, with questionable due diligence.
Rhode Islanders should take the lesson to heart. With Raimondo’s brand of progressive, government-driven economic development, not only do politicians and bureaucrats get to play Monopoly with other people’s money, but they manage to flip the public’s perspective. Raimondo has been promoting the fact that she’s using her contacts to bring companies to Rhode Island for special deals.
A prerequisite for selling that as a positive action, rather than a possible indication of corruption, is making Rhode Islanders feel as if they don’t have anything to offer without the lure. Of course the governor has to use government to pay her friends and associates off, in this view, because her friends and associates have more to offer Rhode Island than the state has to offer them.
The first step of this turnabout was progressives’ making the state a less attractive place to live and do business, owing to regulations, taxes, and other factors, like abysmal public education. But that still doesn’t mean Rhode Islanders don’t have value or rights to self determination, for that matter. If this process sounds familiar, it may be because labor unions and progressives have accomplished something similar with workers, making government involvement a necessity because, we’re led to believe, employees have no inherent value that they bring to the negotiating table. It benefits those offering worker-strengthening services when workers see themselves as weak.
In Raimondo’s case, the strategy may not be deliberate, but it’s certainly predictable and convenient for the powerful. If companies were battling each other to establish in Rhode Island, rather than to escape, government wouldn’t have an excuse to hand out millions of dollars to political friends. As a simple matter of incentives, which economic condition better serves the Gina Raimondos?
By way of a preface, I’d note that I believe campaign finance laws to be an unconstitutional infringement on citizens’ rights, and on the matter of a casino in Tiverton, I’m ultimately ambivalent (though my being so upsets some folks, locally). My opposition to gambling, generally, has mainly to do with the fact that it’s become a means for government to profit from a formerly illegal activity, but if Tiverton gets in on that game, the revenue better go toward tax relief.
The preface notwithstanding, the following snippet from a Jennifer Bogdan article in yesterday’s Providence Journal caught my attention. The article is about local clergy’s decision to part ways with a group calling itself “Save Tiverton” because of the secrecy of its backers.
Save Tiverton has not filed any campaign expenditure documents with the state Board of Elections, which would be required if the group spent money. Richard Thornton, the board’s campaign finance director, said no complaints about the group have been received. …
To his knowledge, [Holy Trinity Episcopal Church’s Rev. John] Higginbotham said, the backers haven’t spent any money or done any fundraising despite promising a funding stream.
What’s eye-catching is that some significant number of Tiverton residents appears to have received two-page mailers promoting a meeting and providing a sheet of “myths” (PDF). The photocopied sheets came in a nondescript envelope, with no indications of individuals behind Save Tiverton. Notably, the return address is 1956 Main Rd., which is the address of Rev. Higginbotham’s church. More notably, perhaps, the bulk-rate stamp permit is provided through Hingham, Massachusetts, up on the bay next to Quincy.
While it’s certainly possible to conduct printing and mailing entirely by Internet and phone, Hingham would be a bit far for local interests to drive if they had to deliver printouts. It is, however, closer to Taunton and Everette, two pending locations for casinos in Massachusetts that the Save Tiverton myth sheet notes are creating “saturation” in the local gambling market.