Re: Board of Elections Dismisses Lynch Complaint
Few folks probably pay much attention to the campaign finance controversies that pop up from time to time, and it’s difficult to get riled up about numbers so small. That presumes, of course, that the rules and penalties are applied equally; otherwise, minor errors and infractions are suggestive of the more systematic corruption that we all know to be prominent in this state. I know of candidates for such positions as small-town budget committee who’ve made errors on campaign finance reports, who’ve updated their filings, and who’ve still had to pay their fines. That an attorney general who’s running for the office of governor should get a stern look and a pat on the coiffed head suggests that there are two sets of rules in Rhode Island politics:
In dismissing the allegations, elections officials concluded that while Lynch had in fact violated state statute by labeling thousands of dollars in campaign expenses as “petty cash,” his actions did not appear deliberate. …
“Mistakes were made, but again, I do not believe it was deliberate,” said Richard Thornton, the Board of Elections’ director of campaign finance, whose advice the board ultimately followed. “I think a warning is warranted. I do not believe however that a fine is necessary.”
Thornton said elections officials spotted the problems when the reports were first filed, but failed to follow through with the candidate. Board of Elections Executive Director Robert Kando said the personnel responsible for that oversight have been reprimanded.
Immediately following Thornton’s presentation of his findings Thursday, the Board voted to dismiss the complaint with no discussion, despite objections from a GOP lawyer who asked why he was not allowed to crossexamine Thornton about those conclusions.
Think about that: Even the most airy spin in Patrick Lynch’s favor suggests that the attorney general of the state of Rhode Island was insufficiently aware of the law to comply with it. If the Spider-Man quoting politician had the integrity that voters ought to demand of candidates, he’d volunteer to pay the fines so as to affirm the principle that we’re all equal participants in an unbiased system. The Republican Party is entirely correct about the lesson for political insiders and their allies:
Going forward, the GOP warns the decision not to issue fines for Lynch’s violations could set a problematic precedent. In a letter to the Board of Elections, party lawyer Steven Frias wrote that it “would send a message to the public and all who file campaign-finance reports with the Board that filers can ignore the disclosure requirements of the law, wait for a complaint to be filed, and then file an amended report without suffering any consequences.”
The lesson for Rhode Islanders who might be considering participation in the political process is that outsiders face an obstacle course of thorns designed to discourage them. (Time would be better spent staying home and adjusting the color settings on the flat-screen TV.)
Kudos, by the way, to Chairman Gio Ciccione and the Republicans for leveraging this objectively minor issue to illustrate why partisan hegemony is unhealthy.