PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s Republican leader is questioning why the Board of Elections declined to fine or penalize House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello despite discovering evidence his campaign aides engaged in illegal coordination in 2016.
“The people of Rhode Island want to know the truth about their speaker, and the type of campaign he runs,” GOP Chairman Brandon Bell said in a statement. “There should be consequences for breaking campaign finance laws.”
The Board of Elections revealed last week it had obtained messages showing two Mattiello campaign aides, Matt Jerzyk and Jeff Britt, helped put together an endorsement mailer from Shawna Lawton, an unknown who had just lost the Republican primary to run against Mattiello. Campaigns are not allowed to coordinate with independent groups spending money to assist them.
The Board of Elections said it uncovered “no direct coordination between Mattiello and Lawton,” and therefore only issued a warning to the two rather than levying fines or penalties. The board also scheduled “show cause” hearings against Jerzyk, Britt, Lawton and another individual involved in the mailer, to decide whether they should be held in contempt for failing to answer subpoenas.
Bell said that while Republicans are “pleased” the board investigated their complaint over the Lawton mailer, “we do not understand why Speaker Mattiello was not held accountable for the illegal coordination by his campaign operatives.”
“Under Rhode Island law, are candidates not going to be held accountable for the illegal actions of their campaign operatives by claiming ignorance while these campaign underlings refuse to comply with subpoenas?” he continued. “We respectfully disagree with the board’s decision to decide that Mattiello was unaware of the mailer without first holding contempt hearings to require these individuals to cooperate.”
“We believe the truth will show that these Mattiello campaign operatives acted upon the direction or with the approval of those above them,” he added.
Mattiello’s office and the R.I. Democratic Party did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A schedule for the possible contempt hearings has not yet been set, a Board of Elections official said.
The board’s decision not to penalize Mattiello over either the Lawton mailer or another investigation concluded last week — that one over $72,000 in illegal spending by his political action committee — has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle. GOP gubernatorial candidate Patricia Morgan has joined Bell in calling on Mattiello to resign.
Former U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha, a Democratic candidate for attorney general, on Friday called the results of the Mattiello campaign investigation “deeply concerning,” though he did not say the speaker should step down.
“Election laws exist for a reason – to level the playing field for all candidates and ensure that the public can rely on the outcome of elections,” Neronha said, adding: “Everyone needs to play by the rules, and when they don’t, it’s critically important that those with campaign and election oversight take significant steps to make sure that there are consequences.”