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The Providence Journal’s Credibility Problem with Cianci

The Providence Journal’s war against Buddy Cianci feels similar to the battles that the paper regularly conducts against people on the wrong side of its institutional bias.

The Message that’s Opened the Door for Cianci


Boston Globe deputy editorial page editor and Rhode Island native Dante Ramos somewhat misses the mark, in his basic assessment of the Providence Mayoral race…

In Cianci’s Providence, as in James Michael Curley-era Boston or Edwin Edwards-era Louisiana, there’s a sharp divide between good-government reformers and a, well, more instinctive style of politics.

“Instinctive” is an appropriate euphemism for describing Cianci’s brand of politics.

However, “good-government reformers” cannot be used to describe an opposition that’s centered on political players who believe that corruption and mismanagement from a Mayor aren’t issues, as long as they are kept at levels that David Cicilline or Lisa Baldelli-Hunt would tolerate.

Moderation of the General Assembly’s Wrecking Ball

Trends in the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Legislative Freedom Index show the unhealthy attitude of the state’s legislators.

Out-of-State Special Interests and the RI Constitution

We keep hearing complaints that out-of-state special interests are trying to manipulate Rhode Islanders when it comes to our own state constitution.  We hear it from folks like the three special-interest speakers who attended the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s luncheon with Grover Norquist, last week, and managed to grab a good portion of the coverage:

… Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, spokesman for Citizens for Responsible Government, which opposes a convention[, said,] “But today we have the prime evidence that outside wealthy special interests are coming into our state.”

Rodriguez was referring to Norquist, but his own little event did much more to prove his thesis about “outside wealthy special interests.”  As far as I know, of the seventy or so people joining the Center to support the idea of a constitutional convention, only three were from out of state: Norquist and his Massachusetts-resident parents.

It’s true that the special interests with whom Rodriguez was standing were in-state special interests. Kate Brewster of the Economic Progress Institute and Michael Araujo of  the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees were the speakers.  Of the three or four non-speakers at the anti-constitutional-convention rally, I recognized two:  Jenny Norris, the campaign manager for Rodriguez’s group, and James Parisi, a lobbyist for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals.

But the small group wasn’t only representative of in-state wealthy special interests.  Among CRG’s sponsors is Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, which (according to the Providence Journal) donated one-sixth of its initial funding, or $10,000.

Planned Parenthood of Southern New England is actually not a Rhode Island organization.  It operates out of New Haven, Connecticut.  According to the organization’s 990 form for 2013, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England had revenue of $34.2 million that year, with $4.9 million left over after expenses (what some might call its profit), contributing to assets of $28.3 million.

Judith Tabar, its president and CEO received $392,150 in compensation from the corporation and related entities, and the seven members of her executive staff listed on the form each received well over $100,000.

That looks like a wealthy out-of-state special interest, to me.  Meanwhile, actual Rhode Islanders — you know, the in-state non-special-interests — overwhelmingly support a constitutional convention.  I suspect they are who Rodriguez really fears.

The Expanding Nature of Government “Investments”

Here’s the latest word on the major public works program related to the land in Providence formerly occupied by Route 195:

It’s the kind of project the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission and state economic leaders have long said they hope to foster on nearly 20 acres of prime real estate. In the spring, [Lawyer Timothy H.] Ehrlich’s team submitted a bid to the commission to create [a biotechnology] incubator.

But after working all summer, Ehrlich is convinced the project needs financial help from the state, and that the help must be more than the life-sciences tax credits outlined in the state law that created the commission.

No doubt a variety of people would jump at the chance to tell me I just don’t understand how these things work.  Government must invest in economic development.  Biotech is a growth sector, and an incubator will attract all those “well-paying jobs” that we hear about.  Every other state is subsidizing this industry.  And yet, somehow Rhode Island will become a hub, even though small and late to the game.  Yadda yadda yadda.

Indeed, the article has Marcel Valois, the executive director of the Commerce Corporation (which was formerly the Economic Development Corporation that invested in 38 Studios), insisting that “the project would ‘absolutely’ help the economy.”

Still, I just can’t get past the plain-language description of this whole process.  The government invested in a project to move a highway because it would free up all sorts of “prime real estate” that could be sold to raise money and make economically productive use of the land.  Now we’re “investing” in the process of luring organizations to the property.  Next, those organizations will need massive subsidies to get off the ground.  And then the start-up companies that this particular project attracts as clients will need additional subsidies to afford its services.

I ain’t a biotech-investment guru by a long shot, but this has all of the common-sense markers of a bad way to go about economic development and all of the common-sense markers of a scheme for empowering government agents and enriching connected individuals.

Timothy H. Ehrlich is, according to Kate Bramson’s Providence Journal article, “very encouraged by gubernatorial candidate Gina Raimondo’s knowledge and background as a venture-capital investor.”  He’s so encouraged, it appears that he’s given Raimondo’s campaign $1,500 since May 2013, although the campaign refunded $250 of that two weeks ago.

The name on the campaign reports is “Tim Ehrlich,” but the address given belongs to this $1.4 million property in Concord, Massachusetts, which is owned by “Timothy H. Ehrlich,” matching the article.  The article also calls Ehrlich a “lawyer,” and the campaign finance reports list the donor as employed by Boston law firm Gunderson Dettmer, where partner Timothy H. Ehrlich “focuses on the representation of start-up, emerging growth and public companies in the information technology, biotech and medical device industries.”

Democratic Elections Without Roots

Campaign finance filings may provide a clue showing that different candidates (often from different parties) operate in ways that might reflect where they’ve been and what they’ll do.

Matt Fecteau: 1st Congressional District Should Consider Republican for Term Limits

Congressman David Cicilline’s primary challenger asks voters to consider Republican Cormick Lynch in the general election as a step toward term limits.

Beware the Simple Controversy

Folks who pay a whole lot of attention to politics and policy (myself included) can be astonished at things that don’t take off as controversies.  Manipulated studies about casino gambling.  Pension reforms that give the legislature’s authority away to a union-heavy board.  Development of plans that seek to undermine property rights and individual liberty (while using supposed outreach meetings to find local activists).  An unnecessary government start-up healthcare broker intended as a gateway to increasing the people addicted to government programs.

None of that registers, mostly because it’s complex, and there’s too much space between the walls for politicians and insiders to fill with smoke.

Tom Ward highlights the dynamic on a smaller scale, in Woonsocket, with a view from the perspective of a controversy that actually did catch on — Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt’s political jobs program:

Why was this clumsy move such a bombshell? Because it’s so easy to understand, that’s why. While it may be difficult to decipher funding kindergarten and water treatment plants, everyone understands that their own kids got the short end of the stick. In fact, there are unemployed adults who would have been grateful for the work! They know where they stand with her now, and it’s on the outside, looking in.

What is even more striking is the mayor’s ethical blind spot and lack of any contrition.

Too often, we wait until hubris brings on the obvious corruption.  One can’t help but wonder what it looks like from the politicians’ perspective.  Hey, they got away with all of these huge power grabs and political maneuvers.  A few thousand bucks of straight-up corruption shouldn’t matter if all that didn’t.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 44 (Lieutenant Governor Race & Constitutional Convention)

Justin and Bob Plain discuss the campaign for lieutenant governor and the possibility of a constitutional convention, and (in text) Justin corrects an assertion of Bob’s.

The Code of Ethics Applies to Woonsocket

Following up on Jim Hummel’s discovery of Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt’s friends-and-family jobs program, the mayor’s actions look like they violate at least three provisions of the state Code of Ethics.  The first is directly in the relevant statute of the Rhode Island General Laws, specifically section 36-14-5(d):

No person subject to this Code of Ethics shall use in any way his or her public office or confidential information received through his or her holding any public office to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law, for him or herself or any person within his or her family, any business associate, or any business by which the person is employed or which the person represents.

Broadly, the argument can be made that the mayor revived a jobs program to benefit her son.  The argument can also be made that the existence of the program was essentially privileged information that the mayor shared only with her son’s baseball team.

Section (h) of the same statute drives the point home, but would specifically be a violation by the mayor’s son:

No person subject to this Code of Ethics and or any person within his or her family or business associate of the person or any business entity in which the person or any person within his or her family or business associate of the person has a ten percent (10%) or greater equity interest or five thousand dollars ($5,000) or greater cash value interest, shall enter into any contract with any state or municipal agency unless the contract has been awarded through an open and public process, including prior public notice and subsequent public disclosure of all proposals considered and contracts awarded; provided, however, that contracts for professional services which have been customarily awarded without competitive bidding shall not be subject to competitive bidding if awarded through a process of public notice and disclosure of financial details.

That isn’t to say that the Lisa Baldelli-Hunt can get away with hiring her son.  Under the regulatory provisions of the code, regulation 36-14-5004(b)(2)(A) addresses this circumstance directly:

No person subject to the Code of Ethics shall participate in the supervision, evaluation, appointment, classification, promotion, transfer or discipline of any person within his or her family or a household member, in the state or municipal agency in which the official or employee is serving or over which he or she exercises fiscal or jurisdictional control, except in accordance with particular instructions and advice received from the Ethics Commission in a written advisory opinion.

The Rhode Island Political Jobs Program

Jim Hummel’s got a good report out, today, that we can file in the category of People Who Have Political Connections and Then Get Government Jobs.  In this case the connection is former State Representative and current Mayor of Woonsocket Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, and the beneficiaries are her son (and his baseball team) and a campaign contributor’s wife:

It’s part of Rhode Island’s illness that the politicians and too many of the people who elect them see no problem whatsoever.  Hummel asks the mayor how the city went about alerting young adults about the opportunity for a jobs program.  The response?  Oh, I happened to be talking to a group of athletes who just happened to be my son’s baseball team.  Without a transcript of the conversation, it’s impossible to know, but that explanation is potentially no different from the mayor’s chatting with some parents at a baseball practice and then declaring, Don’t worry.  I can take care of you all.  How’d you like $10 an hour for cleaning up city streets?

Perhaps Rhode Islanders can take some small comfort in the politicians’ promise that they only give jobs to their political friends and family if they’re qualified for them.  Of course, since everybody’s qualified to do something, making the match need only be a matter of creating the jobs that fit.

We need to fix this, and a navel-gazing Ethics Commission isn’t up to the job, mostly giving everything up to an illegal line the seal of “ethical.”  But first, we need to somehow make Rhode Islanders aware that, no, things aren’t supposed to work this way.

Keeping a Record of the Controversies

One bit of advice I’d offer to folks who are just starting to put together grassroots political organizations at the city or town level is to spend some time on an online repository right from the beginning.  Put up an inexpensive Web site and use it as a place to house all of your arguments about the issues in your city or town.

My points and research about controversies in Tiverton over the years are scattered all over the place — on Anchor Rising, on all of the local news sites (some in subscription-only archives), in the Providence Journal, on a defunct taxpayer group Web site, and probably in other places I’m not remembering.  Without a centralized place where all of those points, arguments, charts, and links can reliably be found, the local opposition is able to refer vaguely to past events in a one-sided way that is time-consuming to rebut.

Fixing that problem is one of the motivations behind Tiverton Fact Check, although because it’s a volunteer activity, it’s going to take time to fill it out, and it’s going to be more difficult to come up with easy-to-search organization with so many issues/controversies already in the mix.  On the other hand, the people advocating for the status quo in town offer helpful reminders of the issues that need to be addressed.

I’ve started the process with a response to a letter to the editor that is bursting at the seams with errors and misleading rhetoric:

One of the challenges of serving your community by getting involved in civic debate is that it’s so much easier for people to say things about you that are wrong and misleading than it is to actually explain issues.  Honest people are at a disadvantage, and often they give up when the special interests make things nasty, as Tiverton 1st and Mike Silvia have made them nasty in Tiverton.

Another bit of advice that I’d offer is to never give up.  Part of the strategy of local activists in the progressive–labor union mold is to create the illusion that everybody hates somebody who speaks up against them.  That’s not true.

Unfortunately, your city or town is mostly filled with normal people living normal lives, and they aren’t going to fill the papers with letters about how wonderful you are or put up Facebook pages in your honor to combat the Facebook hate-pages.  The periodic thumbs up at the store, back-slap at the soccer game, or encouraging question after church is going to have to suffice.

AG Candidate Hodgson Tackles One of Rhode Island’s Big Problems

Dawson Hodgson, candidate for Rhode Island attorney general, is attempting to enforce ethics through the only system that might still work in the Ocean State — politics.

Gina’s Quantum Position on Raising Taxes; Or, “Dual Nature” Doesn’t Just Describe Matter and Light

On Thursday, Gina Raimondo, democrat candidate for governor, held a press conference during which she accepted the endorsement of Planned Parenthood and expressed a desire to lift the ban in Rhode Island law on partial birth abortion. (Yes, to confirm, contrary to what she lied … er, broadly implied at the press conference, Allan Fung does not wish to change the parameters of Rhode Island’s abortion law, she does.)

This has created some controversy, as well it should, especially on the radio and social media.

On his radio show this morning on WPRO, John Loughlin took a bigger picture perspective to make the case that one of the mistakes candidate Raimondo made at her press conference Thursday was the strategic one of getting off message.

That’s probably true. But there are a couple of additional factors that come into play. Firstly, the General Treasurer is probably pleased to get her candidacy any kind of publicity, even if it doesn’t adhere to her campaign script. (Tomorrow’s episode: “Will She Take Communion???”, co-starring a vociferous cast of advocates, some in the ranks of the press, standing by to canonize her if the Catholic Church moves to bar her from communion.)

A Recurring Theme: Uniting People Through Division

Providence Mayoral candidate Jorge Elorza’s “One Providence” rhetoric strikes a disturbing note against his anti-Cianci rhetoric.

About that “Outside Special Interest” Thing

I’ve got a new post on Tiverton Fact Check that looks at the first offering of the FakeCheck site that the local political opposition has created to spread fog in the public debate in Tiverton.  Most of the post is a lesson in how to judge the credibility that a Web site deserves, but this point may be of broader political interest:

The idea that distant political forces are funding a targeted campaign in Tiverton through me is pure paranoid delusion. (Although the Tiverton 1st crowd may be thinking of the way that national labor unions and progressive groups leverage their members in our town and its government to manipulate the political system. In that case, they may just assume that those of us on the other side would naturally do the same thing.)

Coalition Radio Introduces Three Fiscal Topics into the 2014 Campaign


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?

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 43 (Third Parties and Runoffs)

Justin and Bob Plain discuss third parties and runoffs. (And Justin adds a bit of text in “what-if” elaboration.)

UPDATED: Assessing Credibility and Intention in Political Fights

Over the course of my education, teachers and professors reinforced multiple times the need to assess the credibility of sources of information.  There are external cues — like the people and organizations that testify to the source’s credibility — and there are internal cues.  Is the author constructing his or her argument so as to mislead or to inform?  For example, are the sources cited and comprehensive, thereby showing an interest in the author in having readers check his or her claims?

The gang of anonymous activists in Tiverton who serve as the plants in the crowd for those who support the status quo and oppose my friends and I locally illustrate the point very well, having set up yet another anonymous Web site with the same URL as my group’s TivertonFactCheck.org, except with dot-com.  Call it “Tiverton FakeCheck.”

Over time, we will undergo the tedious work of reviewing their factual claims, which range from debatable to misleading to plainly wrong.  In the meantime, I’ve put up a post reviewing some of the cues that show the different intentions of the two sites:

The bottom line is that FakeCheck is not how people act when they’re trying to clarify the public debate.  It’s how they act when they want to create fog and get people to vote based on hatred, fear, and some of our other more-base emotions. …

For now just keep an eye on how they argue.  It’s the same old Tiverton 1st tactic of insult and manipulation for political benefit.  Judge both sides for how we act, and use every resource available to you to make up your own mind about what the truth is.

Campaign Technology the Root of Division and Extremism

George Will had an interesting column, the other day, decrying Senate Democrats’ extremism in opposition to the First Amendment:

Forty-eight members of the Democratic caucus attempted to do something never previously done: Amend the Bill of Rights. They tried to radically shrink First Amendment protection of political speech. They evidently think extremism in defense of the political class’s convenience is no vice.

They’ve been a curious bunch, the current collection of Democrats in the Senate.  Moderation does not seem to be their thing.  When Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) gutted the Senate’s long-standing filibuster rules, it struck me as the kind of thing a politician does only when he thinks he’s go no reason to fear losing power.

J. Christian Adams may have found the explanation for this odd behavior:

No longer are Democrats anchored to the preferences of Americans in the middle. Bill Clinton’s triangulation is as obsolete as color film and bag phones. Obama has pushed policies far outside the mainstream, and even far outside popular will, but succeeded in wringing out an Electoral College majority in 2012 because of Catalist.

What Catalist does is to aggregate all available information about everybody in the United States and allow progressives to target their immoderate base to maximize turnout.  Adams notes that, if you can reach them, the fringes are less expensive to motivate than the folks in the middle.

Thus, the president who promised a new political harmony and allowed credulous voters to think he was a centrist uses divisive rhetoric at every opportunity and pushes radical policies on party-line votes, and the Senate majority leader takes to the floor of the people’s legislature to attack a pair of wealthy donors on the other side.  We get “war on women” nonsense, and we get climate change hysteria.

We get, ultimately, a very unhealthy political environment that will never function except to reach the objectives of extremists.

And it’s difficult not to wonder how much data from government agencies, like the IRS and NSA, has made its way into Catalyst… at least some top-secret version operated by only the most partisan radicals in their dark back rooms.