PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s political action committee failed to file required reports while it was illegally spending tens of thousands of dollars on the speaker’s campaign in 2016, Eyewitness News has confirmed.
The revelation comes two days after the Board of Elections sharply rebuked Mattiello, D-Cranston, over two complaints related to that year’s election: one involving roughly $72,000 in illegal campaign spending by his PAC, and another about his aides’ secret involvement in a controversial mailer that supported him. Some Republicans have called for him to resign over the violations.
The complaint involving Mattiello’s PAC, the Fund for Democratic Leadership, has put a spotlight on the obscure committee – particularly its heavy spending to help secure the speaker’s 85-vote victory in 2016. The speaker has said he didn’t benefit, and on Wednesday he repaid the roughly $72,000 from his regular campaign account. He compared the error to using the wrong checkbook.
Yet the problems didn’t end there.
Under Board of Elections rules, candidates and PACs that are actively involved in elections must file more frequent campaign-finance reports, so voters can see who’s donating to them and how they’re spending money to influence voters. Extra reports are supposed to be filed 28 days before an election, seven days before an election, and 28 days after an election.
In 2016, that meant Mattiello’s PAC had to file disclosure reports on Oct. 11, Nov. 1 and Dec. 6 – but the PAC filed only one, a quarterly report on Oct. 31.
Richard Thornton, the Board of Elections’ director of campaign finance, confirmed Thursday that the Fund for Democratic Leadership failed to notify the board of its election activity and missed the required reports.
However, Thornton said he does not plan to assess a fine because his staff also failed to remind the PAC that it should be filing more frequently, and because it’s been a year and a half since the time period in question. The board’s staff “shares some of the responsibility,” he said.
The PAC’s treasurer at the time, Richard Raspallo, was serving as Mattiello’s legal counsel then and has since been appointed a court magistrate. A court spokesman did not respond to an email asking whether Raspallo disclosed the Board of Elections investigation when he applied for the position.
Ed Galvin, who has taken over as the Mattiello PAC’s treasurer, said he believes the PAC “mistakenly” failed to respond to a letter asking whether it would participate in the election.
“I see that as a minor mishap,” Galvin told Eyewitness News. He emphasized that the Fund for Democratic Leadership reported all its contributions and expenses over time, just not as quickly as required.
“I’d say there were mistakes, honest mistakes, made in the past due to not being familiar with the campaign-finance laws,” he said. “Going forward those mistakes will not be repeated.”
Galvin added that he expects the Board of Elections will make “some changes as to how notification is.”
John Marion, executive director of good-government group Common Cause Rhode Island, was first to spot the Fund for Democratic Leadership’s failure to file.
“Common Cause is disappointed that Speaker Mattiello is dismissing the complaint against his PAC as a simple accounting error. It was far more serious,” Marion said Thursday. He noted Mattiello benefited because both his regular account and his PAC could each take $1,000 donations from the same contributors, double the maximum allowed, and then funnel the money back to his re-election bid – allowing some donors to provide twice as much cash for his campaign as they should have.
“The purpose of our campaign-finance disclosure laws is to allow voters to go into the booth on Election Day knowing who financed the candidates’ campaigns; the voters of District 15 were robbed of that opportunity in 2016,” Marion said. “By failing to file all the reports required by law for his PAC, Speaker Mattiello also denied Rhode Islanders the ability to follow the money as it poured in as Election Day drew closer.”
R.I. Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell questioned why Mattiello has faced no fines or penalties for any of the campaign issues exposed this week. “Why is everyone in the state so afraid of the speaker?” Bell asked. “This guy is afraid of the people in his own district.”
The Rhode Island Progressive Democrats, an activist group, weighed in Thursday as well, calling for “a full and complete investigation into the illegal actions of the Mattiello campaign in 2016.”
The progressives argued that “the very reason [Mattiello’s team] used the PAC is that they were not legally allowed to accept these donations as many of them had already maxed out to the Friends of Mattiello campaign.”
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook