Updated: H7147 Will Show Who Understands Rights, Democracy, and Freedom


Coming up for a floor vote, today, is H7147, which (as I dryly summarized for the Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Freedom Index) would “expand campaign finance reporting requirements for donations and expenditures over $100 to include individuals and all forms of organizations for local ballot questions.”  For more explanation, see here.

What’s important for today’s vote is that Rhode Islanders recognize what a fabulous opportunity this relatively minor bill provides them to see (1) who understands our civil rights, (2) who actually cares what the legislation for which they vote says, and/or (3) who is willing to make deals to compromise our rights.  I’ll put aside the votes on the same legislation when it passed the House last year as a sort of mulligan, but so far this year, here are the legislators who fit one or more of those three categories.

  • The top-5 sponsors of the bill:
    • John “Jay” Edwards (D, Portsmouth, Tiverton)
    • Dennis Canario (D, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton)
    • Mary Duffy Messier (D, Pawtucket)
    • Joy Hearn (D, Barrington, East Providence)
    • Brian Newberry (R, North Smithfield, Burrillville)
  • The lone sponsor of the Senate companion bill (2369):
    • Josh Miller (D, Cranston, Providence)
  • The House Judiciary Committee Members who voted to recommend passage:
    • Cale Keable (D, Burrillville, Glocester)
    • Edith Ajello (D, Providence)
    • Joseph Almeida (D, Providence)
    • David Coughlin (D, Pawtucket)
    • Black Filippi (I, New Shoreham, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown)*
    • Carol McEntee (D, South Kingstown, Narragansett)
    • Jeremiah O’Grady (D, Lincoln, Pawtucket)

So far this year, the only legislator to take any action to preserve Rhode Islanders’ civil rights on this matter has been Doreen Costa (R, Exeter, North Kingstown), who was the lone “nay” vote in committee.

Unfortunately, the minimal opposition the legislation has seen has entirely been a reaction to the incidental fact that it would affect non-profit organizations.  By far the biggest insult of H7147 and S2369, though, is that the legislation targets individuals.  Anybody in any city or town who spends $100 throughout an entire year supporting or opposing any question(s) put on local ballots will suddenly find him or her self having to file regular campaign finance reports naming every person who contributed to the cause.

There will be no cause so local or insignificant that grassroots activists won’t be subject to the government’s regulating their democratic rights, which will have the predictable effect of discouraging people from getting involved.

And frankly, that’s very likely the specific intent of this bill.  Edwards and his allies locally in Tiverton seem to believe that me and my local taxpayer group have some secret flow of funds that enables us to win votes to (get this) keep taxes down in town, as if that’s some hard sell benefiting only special interests.  We already report every expenditure, so the only possible explanations for this legislation are (1) to make it more difficult for other people to do what we do and (2) to gain a list of donors whom they can intimidate into silence.  (That’s been a very effective tactic for Edwards’s friends in the Tiverton Democratic Town Committee and Tiverton 1st group.)

I don’t expect this bill to affect my activities much at all, inasmuch as I’m well situated to take it in stride.  What makes it so offensive is that it is yet another example of elected representatives’ abusing the legislative process for narrow, personal reasons in a way that has far-reaching consequences both for organizations and for individuals with no motive other than to exercise their democratic rights on issues of concern in their own neighborhoods.

Grassroots individuals, by definition, don’t have lobbyists at the State House.  Our elected officials are supposed to have our backs, but Rhode Islanders should have no confidence that any legislator who supports H7147 and S2369 is actually interested in preserving our rights.


* Note: When it came time for the vote on the House floor, Representative Filippi changed his vote to “no.”

  • Mike Rollins

    I am quite saddened to see a couple of individuals who claim to be libertarians among those who are responsible for this new tyranny.

  • Mike678

    If it passes, does anyone doubt that the law will be selectively applied?

  • guest

    I don’t get it, secrecy of political contributions=preserving rights? What about my rights a taxpayer to see who’s influencing our elections?

    • OceanStateCurrent

      1. This bill goes well beyond the usual transparency. This requires every individual getting involved in any local ballot question to be subjected to state regulation of their activities if they happen to cross a small $100 threshold in any year. That alone is an unconstitutional regulation of First Amendment rights to free speech.
      2. If you’re so concerned about your right to see who’s influencing elections, why wouldn’t this increased individual-person standard apply to any and all elections, not just local ballot questions?
      3. To the extent you actually have a right to know who’s contributing to political speech, it has to be a balance. People should have a right to contribute local causes without having to fear intimidation from thugs like we’ve seen from Tiverton 1st.

      • guest

        Why is it “an unconstitutional regulation of First Amendment rights to free speech” for ballot questions but not for candidates?

        Agree with #2.

        How does election reporting of finances equate to “fear intimidation from thugs”. That just doesn’t seem rational.

        I will say the the General Assembly seems to be preoccupied with rather trivial local matters lately that have no business at the state-level of governing.

        • OceanStateCurrent

          Well, the argument about whether there’s a free speech right to support or oppose candidates financially can be had, but there’s a clear line between the two. With a ballot question, donors aren’t supporting a person who will have authority over a broad array of issues and (presumably) power to make decisions affecting his or her donors. With a ballot question, it’s a specific issue that either passes or doesn’t.

          Tiverton 1st has made a practice of personally attacking individuals, including visiting businesses to complain about their support of contrary activity and other, more-personal, statements, including the involvement of young children. If they have names of local people who contribute, they will use that information for smear and whisper campaigns and direct threats. They’ve done it locally, and their counterparts on the state and national levels have done it on a broader scale.