PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s top Republican on Tuesday criticized House Democrats for keeping almost $200,000 in estimated donations from Speaker Nicholas Mattiello as he faces an ongoing grand jury investigation.
WPRI 12 reported last week that Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, a U.S. Senate candidate, had returned a $250 donation that Mattiello tried to give her when she was in Providence for a fundraiser last fall. Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign also declined to include Mattiello on its list of Rhode Island endorsements.
“While Democrats at the national level reject Speaker Mattiello’s support, Rhode Island House Democrats still continue to support Mattiello as speaker,” GOP Chair Sue Cineki said in a news release. The party released a spreadsheet estimating Mattiello has given $195,150 to members of his caucus through his own campaign account and his political action committee. (WPRI 12 has not independently verified that amount.)
“These totals do not include Mattiello’s donations to former House Democrats like Ray Gallison, John Carnevale, Cale Keable and Lisa Tomasso,” Cienki continued. “Some House Democrats are so dependent on Mattiello to finance their campaigns that their campaign accounts would be in the red but for the donations they received from Mattiello and his PAC.”
Mattiello’s campaign spokesperson, Patti Doyle, declined to respond.
Republicans have ramped up their criticism of Mattiello since Jan. 15, when Target 12 revealed Mattiello had ordered an unauthorized audit of the Rhode Island Convention Center at the same time he was complaining privately about a personnel investigation there involving his friend.
A grand jury is investigating the motivations behind Mattiello’s decision to order the audit, and House Republican Leader Blake Filippi is now suing Mattiello for allegedly usurping the powers of the legislative leaders committee. Two of Mattiello’s top aides testified under oath before the grand jury last week, but Mattiello had not been subpoenaed at last check.
Separately, Mattiello’s former political adviser Jeff Britt was indicted in October for allegedly laundering money to fund a pro-Mattiello mailer during the speaker’s close 2016 re-election campaign. Britt has pleaded not guilty and suggested he is being turned into a “fall guy.” No trial date has been set, but Britt’s lawyer is demanding the state turn over grand jury interviews.
Cienki argued Mattiello’s donations to his members show “how the State House operates.”
“Lobbyists and special interest groups buy influence with the speaker by donating to his campaign,” she said. “In turn, the speaker buys influence with fellow House Democrats with campaign donations and free meals paid for out of the speaker’s campaign account. This corrupt system needs to end.”
“We do not need as speaker a man who associates with criminals, and may soon be indicted for criminal conduct,” she added.
No law enforcement official has indicated Mattiello could soon be indicted, and he has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing related to the Convention Center.
All 75 House lawmakers are up for re-election in November, and Mattiello has indicated he plans to seek another term despite a challenge from Republican activist Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung. The filing deadline to run is in June.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook
Tim White and Eli Sherman contributed to this report.