Funny How Rhode Island Works

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Readers know that I’m not a fan of our campaign finance regime.  It imposes a complicated, intimidating set of laws for grassroots candidates and groups that creates opportunity not only for prosecution of them, but also political attacks on their donors.

I have a hard time, therefore, getting worked up about the apparent probability that the campaign of Democrat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello funded a mailer allowing Republican Shawna Lawton to endorse him in a high-profile way against his Republican challenger, Steven Frias.  To the extent the activity is illegal, it is because of this complex, unconstitutional labyrinth we’ve built, with incentive to find workarounds.

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That said, the investigation is unearthing an education in the way Rhode Island politics work, and the stunning thing is that the most objectionable things are treated as incidental… and they’re all completely legal.  I’ve already highlighted one connection:

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has put Edward Cotugno, the mail-ballot guru who helped him eke out an 85-vote victory in 2016, back on his campaign team and given his son a $70,000 a year State House job.

Mattiello, D-Cranston, hired Michael Cotugno as the legislature’s new associate director of House constituent-services.

Here’s another:

Included in the evidence packet that the board provided to The Journal on Friday, in response to a records request, was an Aug. 14, 2016, text from “Teresa” to [political consultant] “Jeff” [Britt] and his partner, Daniel Calhoun, who is still listed as a $60,891-a-year legislative employee on the state’s transparency portal.

Think of this.  Under Mattiello, the legislature has given well-paying legislative jobs (of unknown difficulty) to the son of his “mail-ballot guru” and the man who shares a nice Warwick house with one of his campaign operatives, and the thing we’re supposed to be upset about is a relatively small contribution toward political free speech!

But arguing that the campaign finance investigation is the only reason we know about the rest doesn’t justify burdensome campaign finance laws.  When people act in suspicious ways (like endorsing people of other parties or independent spoiler candidates), we should… well… suspect them of having some ulterior motive, unless they can express a persuasive rationale for the odd decision.  And if somebody who benefits from that persuasion wants to fund it, their money doesn’t change the validity of the argument.

Ultimately, the answer is just to reduce the size of government and the value of controlling it.



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