PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Board of Elections dismissed contempt proceedings against two people involved in a controversial mailer in the 2016 election, but referred the case of a former Nicholas Mattiello campaign aide to the attorney general’s office for further investigation, according to the board’s vice-chair, Steve Erickson.
Erickson said the referral of the aide, Jeff Britt, was for a possible violation of campaign finance law, and described it as “generally the strongest step we can take.”
The case revolves around a mailer sent out during the 2016 campaign by Shawna Lawton, who lost the GOP primary for state representative in Cranston’s District 15, in support of Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello for the seat instead of Steve Frias, who won the GOP nomination.
Britt’s attorney, Nick Hemond, quickly framed Tuesday’s referral as politically charged, accusing Erickson of having a “political agenda.”
“I’m disappointed that the board of elections has chosen to follow the personal/political agenda of one of its members,” Hemond said. “My client has clearly [been] treated differently than other similarly situated individuals in this case. I also find the timing of all this curious as this was supposed to be resolved weeks ago. Clearly, there is an extensive political agenda at work here designed to impact the general election. My client broke no law and quite frankly I’m embarrassed for the Board.”
Erickson said in response: “My only agenda is improving elections and increasing enforcement of the campaign finance laws. When you ramp up enforcement there will always be complaints.”
The state Republican Party chairman originally filed the complaint over the Lawton mailer back in 2016, alleging Lawton did not properly disclose who funded it and claiming that Lawton and Mattiello illegally coordinated it through Britt.
After investigating, the board found no evidence that Mattiello and Lawton personally coordinated the mailer, but initiated contempt proceedings against four people including Britt for not responding to subpoenas.
The contempt proceedings against Teresa Graham, who funded the mailer, were dropped Tuesday.
A spokesperson for Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said his office had not yet received the referral about Britt from the Board of Elections, but would review it “as we do all matters forwarded by the Board of Elections.”
Frias, who is running against Mattiello again this year, said in part: “The voters deserve to know what kind of campaign Rhode Island’s most powerful politician ran in 2016. The Attorney General should fully investigate Shawnagate. If the current Attorney General won’t, I hope his successor will. Mr. Britt should fully cooperate with the Attorney General and end the cover up. The Speaker is not likely stay in power much longer.”
Patti Doyle, a spokesperson for Mattiello’s campaign, said in a statement Tuesday: “Speaker Mattiello was exonerated by the Board of Elections in April because he had no knowledge of the mailer and had nothing to do with it.”