PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island Republican Party said Tuesday it is filing a new complaint against House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, alleging that his political action committee has broken rules limiting how much it can spend on elections.
In a 64-page filing with the R.I. Board of Elections, the state GOP charged the Mattiello-chaired Fund for Democratic Leadership PAC with breaching the $25,000 annual limit on contributions to candidates and party committees, by making $38,100 in direct cash contributions and up to $101,050 of in-kind contributions for advertising and consulting that “presumably” benefited other Democrats.
In addition, the GOP alleges the advertising money should have been separately reported as either in-kind contributions to other candidates or independent expenditures on their behalf, and that 21 candidates “likely” received more in assistance from Mattiello’s PAC than the $1,000 limit when cash and in-kind contributions are combined.
Patti Doyle, a spokeswoman for Mattiello’s campaign, said the speaker is still reviewing the complaint.
“If mistakes were made, they were unintentional in nature,” Doyle said in a statement. “Everything has been reported openly and transparently and, if errors were made, we will work with the Board of Elections to address and correct them.”
R.I. Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell is already challenging Mattiello before the board over allegations the speaker’s campaign coordinated with a Republican rival-turned-supporter, Shawna Lawton. Bell urged the board to “fully investigate” the new complaint, which does not provide specific evidence of the alleged in-kind contributions.
“In order to win by 85 mail ballots, Mattiello’s campaign ignored campaign finance law by coordinating with Shawna Lawton on her endorsement mailer,” Bell said. “Now, it is clear that Mattiello’s PAC also ignored campaign finance law in order to help nearly a majority of the members of the House of Representatives win re-election.”
“Powerful politicians who ignore campaign finance laws have not set a shining example in our state as in the case of former House Speaker Gordon Fox,” Bell added.
In addition to their own personal campaign accounts, legislative leaders usually create PACs that can solicit additional contributions. Mattiello created the Fund for Democratic Leadership PAC in August 2010, shortly after then-Speaker Fox named him majority leader, the House’s No. 2 post. The PAC’s current treasurer is Richard Raspallo, Mattiello’s influential chief legal counsel.
John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, described the GOP’s filing as “an expansive complaint.”
“This seems to be a legitimate complaint, but if the Board of Elections decides to pursue it, there will need to be further investigation on the board’s part to establish sufficient facts with respect to some of the allegations,” Marion said in an email. “For instance, Bell does not provide direct evidence that the in-kind contributions benefited certain candidates.”
Mattiello’s PAC took in $68,000 and spent $149,000 in 2016, leaving it with just $17,000 on hand as of Dec. 31, Board of Elections filings show. The speaker’s separate campaign account took in $322,000 and spent $404,000 during the year, ending with $169,000 on hand, filings show.Ted Nesi (email@example.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram