Boards and Commissions Out of Control
The Rhode Island Way is taking insidious form in some of the public boards and commissions that are meant to help the residents of Rhode Island keep an eye on their government, and the Board of Election’s attack on the Moderate Party gives a clear warning. I’ve reshuffled the paragraphs at the ellipsis to follow the narrative:
On Sept. 21, for example, [Moderate Party founder Ken Block] sent an e-mail to [director of campaign finance, Richard] Thornton asking three questions. This was the third: “Using the most extreme example, an individual donor can make a $10,000 ‘party building’ donation to every State Committee and every Town Committee of every political party in the state every year”?
Thornton responded the next day: “I can confirm that items #1-#3 are correct as presented.”
Two days later, however, Thornton sent another message, asking Block to “put your request in writing as the basis for the board issuing an advisory opinion on this question.” …
State officials have asked the three-month-old party to forfeit a $10,000 donation and its chairman to pay another $10,000 from his own pocket, according to the terms of a deal outlined behind closed doors last week. Board officials threatened, as an alternative, to have the attorney general’s office launch civil or criminal investigations into a host of party officials for violating Rhode Island’s finance laws.
In league with the case-by-case reviews that the Ethics Commission has taken to issuing, we’re seeing a creeping governance by advisory opinion. As I pointed out in my recent Providence Monthly essay, all of these boards and commissions insert personal judgment essentiallyl to create laws and absorb resident discontent without anybody’s having been elected. And as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the Board of Election’s own literature explicitly permits “an additional ten thousand dollars” in party-building donations.
The Board has not taken the obvious and clear position that Block acted within the scope of public documentation and that it will proceed to change that documentation, by suggesting changes in the law, as ought to be necessary for a non-legislative body. Instead, it is stomping forward with an assertion of its own power. Dangerous stuff, and if it continues, the board should be disbanded and reformulated.