The indictment of Mattiello campaign contractor Jeff Britt raises an important theme that all Rhode Islanders should think about: the importance of political opposition:
The investigation dates back three years, to the fall of 2016, when Mattiello was in the political fight of his life against Republican Steven Frias. Mattiello defeated Frias by just 85 votes after his campaign coordinated a supportive mailer from Frias’s one-time Republican rival Shawna Lawton, who had lost to him in that year’s GOP primary.
But for the political pressure from Frias, Mattiello’s campaign would have felt no need to be so brazen. But for the RIGOP’s pursuit of the matter, the unusual campaign activity never would have become an issue:
As Lawton had only $43.34 in her campaign account at the time, state GOP Chairman Brandon Bell filed a complaint with the Board of Elections questioning how she could have paid for the $2,150 mailer. That led to a two-year, stop-and-start investigation by the elections board, the initiation of contempt proceedings, and now, to the doorstep of the state’s attorney general — and a second look on the now-closed case against Mattiello.
One could go even farther and suggest that Attorney General Peter Neronha has political competition as a reinforcing incentive to pursue these matters. In this episode, we’re getting faint glimpses of the sort of corrections that would be natural and unexceptional in a healthier polity.
This principle extends across government in Rhode Island. Political competition keeps politicians honest and ensures that there is always somebody who benefits by looking for better ways to serve the community and respond to constituents. When everything is locked up in a one-party system with an insider mentality, those in power are freer to serve each other.