Sakonnet Times letter on PCC campaign finance
Just in case you don't get the Sakonnet Times, here's my letter to the editor about the Portsmouth Concerned Citizens and their refusal to disclose campaign finance info, which just appeared in this week's paper:
To the editor:
Did the Portsmouth Concerned Citizens (PCC) violate Rhode Island campaign finance laws? We don't know, because PCC, Inc. president Larry Fitzmorris won't answer questions from concerned citizens. Here's the backstory.
The August, 2007 PCC newsletter featured a story on "achievements" of the past year, claiming that they "supported election" of four candidates for the Town Council and three for the School Committee: Karen Gleason, Huck Little, Dennis Canario, Peter McIntyre, Doug Wilkey, Jamie Heaney, and Mike Buddemeyer. I sent an e-mail to all those named, asking for their comments.
According to Jamie Heaney, "I believe this was the first election that the PCC 'endorsed' candidates. The support of which they speak, was in the form of that endorsement, which was probably circulated to several thousand residents of the town."
Now let me be clear about what I'm questioning here. I am in no way implying that the PCC's endorsement would influence these elected officials. All who replied were quite clear on this, saying much the same as Dennis Canario, who responded, "I have always based my decisions on what I believe is in the best interest for the town as a whole, and NOT for any particluar group. I do try and do my homework and base my decisions accordingly."
The issue I am raising is one of campaign contributions. According to the PCC newsletter in question, from October, 2006, in an article called "The Endorsement Process," "The endorsed candidates are listed in this Newsletter, which has been mailed to all PCC members, as well as other interested voters." I forwarded all this information to RI director of campaign finance, Richard Thornton, who said that if the costs of distributing that endorsement to non-members exceeded a certain threshold, it triggers a reporting requirement. Was the PCC in violation? We don't know, because Mr. Fitzmorris won't say what they spent.
When questioned Monday night about the expenditures, he said, "We have that data," but declined to provide it, saying "we're a private organization, and you're asking us questions about our private expenditures." When pressed, he responded, "We're not obligated to release to you our internal financial operations." I've forwarded his comments to the RI Board of Elections to see if they can pursue the issue.
In the grand scheme of things, you might say this is merely a technical violation, even if their spending did go over the limit. But campaign finance laws exist to insure fair and open elections, something I'm sure the PCC supports. And it is ironic -- and telling -- that an organization which talks all the time about openness and transparency refuses to show any.
As Mr. Fitzmorris himself said in their May newsletter: "What we do not know we are unable to challenge. Given the opportunity, the ethically challenged will chose the closet for decisions that hazard the public good."
John G. McDaid