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Warwick firefighters contribution to candidate slips through possible ‘loophole’

Politics

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Contributions from the Warwick firefighters union to a state Senate candidate are an example of what some consider a loophole in the law that allows one organization to pump extra cash into campaign coffers.

Board of Elections records show the Warwick Firefighters PAC and the Warwick Firefighters Union PAC — which have the same address, officers, and contact information — contributed a total of $1,500 to Senate District 31 candidate Brian Dunckley’s campaign fund over the past month.

One PAC contributed $1,000 to Dunckley on July 31, and about a month later the other one sent the Warwick Democrat $500. State law allows a PAC to give up to $1,000 a year per candidate.

Union Treasurer Brandon Ingegneri said while the union’s PACs share the same address and officers, and their names are different by only one word, the entities are different.

“The Warwick Firefighters have two separate PAC accounts,” Ingegneri wrote in an email. “Our interpretation of this leaves us under the impression that we are in compliance with the Board of Elections as neither account exceeded the $1,000 threshold.”

Dunckley agreed with Ingegneri, adding that “two separate PACs contributed” to his campaign.

“There are no violations,” Dunckley said in a text message. “Claims are unfounded.”

Dunckley, who has not yet responded to requests to elaborate further, did not answer a question about whether receiving $1,500 from one union violated the spirit of the law.

Common Cause Rhode Island executive director John Marion said while the union is correct about their donations, one organization using two PACs to exceed the $1,000 limit is “definitely a loophole that should be closed.”

Dunckley is one of four Democrats running in the primary to succeed Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Erin Lynch Prata, who is retiring to seek a seat on the R.I. Supreme Court. Hos opponents are Warwick City Council President Steve Merolla, Kendra Anderson and Michael Mita.

The winner of the primary will square off in November against Scott Zambarano or John Silvaggio, who face each other in the Republican primary.

Merolla has drawn the firefighters’ ire for his stance on the union’s latest contract – approved in a contentious City Council meeting at the beginning of the year. Merolla was one of four councilors who voted against the pact, which passed by a slim 5-to-4 margin.

Ingegneri said the union “can certainly confirm” their stance about the PACs with the Board of Elections on Tuesday, after the Labor Day holiday.

“And if they were to indicate that we were unknowingly non-compliant in any way, shape, or form, we would take immediate action to rectify any oversight on our part as indicated by them,” Ingegneri said.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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