Gordon Fox Campaign Contributions Exceeded $1K Limit

Monday, May 06, 2013


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A series of payments made to political consultants by House Speaker Gordon Fox on behalf of Democratic candidates in 2012 exceeded the statutory contribution limit of $1000 for individual or in-kind donations.

All expenditures and contributions have to be reported.

The payments totaling $3876.46 made during the time period July 6, 2012 through November 1, 2012 to the Hamilton Group for consulting and professional services on behalf of individual candidates are considered in-kind contributions that must be reported to the state board of elections by both the donor and recipient.

“In kind contributions have to be reported,” said John Marion of Common Cause Rhode Island. “In kind expenditures have to be reported by the candidate making them and in kind contributions have to be reported by the candidate on the receiving end.”

The candidates’ contribution reports for the above expenditures do not show corresponding receipts for the amounts expended by Fox’s campaign.

Title 17 of the Rhode Island General Laws defines allowable campaign contributions and expenditures and sets reporting guidelines, according to Richard Thornton, Campaign Finance Director.

“All contribution and expenditures have to be reported. If the expenditure is coming from a candidate’s campaign account it has to be reported,” said Thornton. It also has to be recorded as a contribution on the receiving end. Services such as consulting and advertising - when payment is made to a third party on behalf of a candidate are considered in-kind contributions.”

Chapter 17-25 -10.1, states: “(a) No person, other than the candidate to his or her own campaign, nor any political action committee shall make a contribution or contributions to any candidate, as defined by § 17-25-3, or political action committee or political party committee which in the aggregate exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000) within a calendar year… nor shall any candidate or any political action committee or any political party committee accept a contribution or contributions which in the aggregate exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000) within a calendar year from any one person or political action committee.”

In addition, payment to Hamilton Group was also made by Fox’s account on behalf of Sen. Elizabeth Crowley (D-Dist. 16) in amount of $680 for advertising. The Senator’s contribution reports do not show corresponding receipts for the amount expended by Fox’s campaign.

Victor Profughi, CEO of Quest Research and former Director of the Bureau of Government Research Services and Public Policy Center at Rhode Island College addressed the issue of transparency and reporting.

Transparency is key in avoiding campaign finance issues.

“It’s always been my position that the best way to deal with campaign finance issues - and this is a campaign finance issue - is to make sure that it is a very transparent process,” he said. “I have more confidence from a public policy perspective that the public can make informed decisions based on the information that is before them. It has to be transparent and in the public domain.”

In November 2012, Fox filed a complaint with the state board of elections, against Rep. Spencer Dickinson (D-Dist. 35), for expenditures made in excess of the statutory limit. Fox alleged that Dickinson had illegally coordinated efforts to unseat him in his race against opponent Mark Binder.

The amount in question, $3,820.31 was spent by Dickinson for printing and mailing of a letter explaining the representative’s views regarding the Speaker’s conduct in office. Fox alleged that Dickinson’s expenditures for the project were “illegal coordination.”

Dickinson, who did not make an expenditure directly to Binder or another candidate was cleared of any wrong-doing by the Board of Elections. In a letter dated, December 18, 2012 Thornton wrote:

“This office reviewed allegations contained in a letter filed on behalf of candidate Gordon Fox, your response to the allegations and the relevant campaign finance reports and documents. At this time, this office finds no evidence of coordination between you and any of the other parties cited in the letter. Thank you for your cooperation.”

“I have not received an apology from the Speaker as yet,” said Dickinson. "I checked with campaign finance when I decided to write the letter and send the mailing. I did exactly what I was asked to do and filed all necessary paperwork with the state regarding my expenditures."

Although the law in Rhode Island relating to expenditures and contributions between campaigns is clear as to the need for reporting, the issue of “illegal coordination” - when and where expenditures on behalf of and between candidates crosses the line, is not readily apparent.

When asked if there were clear lines in determining the path to coordination-whether there was too much gray area or a black hole - Profughi preferred the term “black hole.”

“The issue of coordination is not one that is readily defined. I have not seen it referred to in any academic literature,” he said.

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