PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Amid fresh allegations that Governor Gina Raimondo’s secret fundraising agreement with the Providence Democratic City Committee potentially violates state election law, a Republican state lawmaker is vowing to introduce legislation to force disclosure.
The House of Representatives is on break through next week. But when it returns, Republican Rep. Michael Chippendale of Foster says he will introduce a bill “to require candidates to file with the Board of Elections any written agreement they reach with a party committee involving campaign contributions or expenditures.”
While federal election law has detailed requirements for joint fundraising agreements, Chippendale noted, “Rhode Island campaign finance law does not directly address fundraising agreements like the Raimondo-Ward deal…My proposed legislation will assist in ensuring our campaign finance laws are followed instead of evaded.”
Democrat Raimondo has been unwilling to make public the agreement she struck with a city political committee chaired, at the time, by state employee Patrick Ward. Her spokesman David Ortiz said that she will not do so because that would disclose “internal party-building” strategy to the opposition.
But the way it was described to The Journal by Kevin Olasanoye, the executive director of the state Democratic Party, the agreement with the city Democrats would set the stage for Raimondo to encourage donors who had already given her the maximum contribution state law allows to an individual — $1,000 — to give $10,000 additional to the Providence Democratic City Committee for “party-building.”
The committee would then presumably give Raimondo some undisclosed degree of control over who was hired and how the money was spent.
The controversy has already indirectly led to the resignation of Ward, the husband of Providence Councilman Sabina Matos, as chairman of the Providence Democrats. It remains unclear who else, if anyone, on the Providence City Committee actually saw the agreement and voted for it.
Ward was hired by the Raimondo administration last June as a $71,608-a-year chief of program development in the Rhode Island Department of Human Services. The Providence Democrats’ executive committee includes at least one other state employee, Everin Perez, the “field coordinator for the Southside of Providence” for Raimondo’s 2014 campaign. She later served as Governor Raimondo’s “outreach manager” before landing her current job as a 58,892-a-year “chief implementation aid” in the state’s Department of Children Youth and Families.
Neither has responded to Journal attempts to reach them, but the controversy has already sparked an ethics complaint against Raimondo by state GOP Chairman Brandon Bell for striking this kind of financial deal with a subordinate, in potential violation of the state ethics code. The complaint is pending.
On Thursday, Bell suggested the “Raimondo-Ward agreement could violate” Rhode Island campaign finance law, specifically R.I.G.L. 17-25-10.1(a)(2). His reading: “Contributions made to a political party committee for party building activities can not be used for contributions to candidates state and local for public office.”
He also cited a second law — R.I.G.L. Section 17-25-10.1(c) — that says, “Expenditures made by any person in cooperation, consultation, or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, the candidate’s authorized political committees, or their agents shall be considered to be a contribution to the candidate.”
“In other words,” said Bell, “under state law, Raimondo cannot exert control or influence over how money donated for party building activities is spent. No wonder Raimondo is refusing to disclose the agreement.”