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McKee Criticizes Campaign Finance Laws for Creating “Uneven Playing Field”

Thursday, July 31, 2014


Cumberland Mayor and Lt. Governor candidate Daniel McKee.

Cumberland Mayor and Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee has blasted Rhode Island campaign finance law for creating an "unequal playing field" by stipulating that he can only use money raised in the last two years -- instead of the four allowed by his opposition. 

McKee said that he was informed by the Board of Elections last week that of the roughly $180,000 he is going to be reporting on hand for the quarter, he is ineligible from using $60,000 he had in his coffers from prior to 2013, when he announced he would be seeking higher office, because he is on a two-year cycle -- not four. 

"It's not an even playing field if one candidate has had four years to raise money, and another candidate is limited to two," said McKee, referring specifically to primary opponent and current Secretary of State Ralph Molllis.  "There's an inherent bias against someone who's not already in a four year term."

McKee noted that he had anticipated he would not be able to use the prior funds raised to be eligible for matching funds, but did not think it would apply using any of the money prior to being raised after January 1, 2013.

Letter of the Law

"This is the first time this was brought to my attention," said Robert Cando with the Rhode Island Board of Elections, of having the McKee campaign's information brought to his attention last week.

"It's only when someone files for public matching funds, that's when we take a look, that's when we start examining a person's campaign accounts, and we look at the races they've been in," continued Cando. "We look for the last race, to see if it's been in the last four years.  They can always return the money."

McKee noted that he was informed he could return contributions given to him during the period prior to the last two years, and seek to have those donors re-contribute during this election cycle. 

"I've set up a separate account for that money, and have begun the process of reaching out to folks on on this," said McKee.  "It's not as though I've got the time to be doing this right now.  I've got to write 40, 50 checks, and make the exchange.  There are some people in there however that have maxed out already for this year, so it's not like that helps."

Opponent Responds

Rhode Island Secretary of State Ralph Mollis noted he had "dealt with the same issue" when he ran for his current post in 2006.

"I was required to abide by the same law when I was Mayor and ran for this office," said Mollis, noting his ascent from Mayor of North Providence to the state's Secretary of State.  "I knew of the law, however.  Do I think it's unfair?  Certainly."

Mollis, who had close to $60,000 in his own coffers at the end of the first quarter of 2014, continued, "I think the law has its pros and cons, but I think the pros outweigh the cons.  If people gave [McKee] money when he was running for Mayor unopposed in 2012, did they think it was going towards a run for higher office?  I think he should have been aware of the letter of the law going into this year's race.  I know I did."

McKee said, however, he never got a clear picture as to the situation facing him in his current effort.  "I kept asking about this, but was told to wait until the new [election] rules were finalized, which happened only recently. [Mollis] knew about this, why wasn't there better information and education for all candidates?"

Mollis noted that he hadn't begun his fundraising for this race "in earnest" until last year.  "If I raised a lot of money in those first two years in 2011 and 2012, I could understand his concern, but I didn't. I don't think he should use that money he already had from people when he was running for another office."

Mollis said he couldn't recall what he had in his account back in 2006 when he ran.  The campaign of Democratic opponent Frank Ferri, who was recently in the RI General Assembly in the House of Representatives, did not respond to request for comment. 

"Bottom line, I think a candidate should be able to decide if they are running on a two year or four year cycle," said McKee.  "To me, this is about taking out a piece of paper, and see about changing the rules.  This is about a level playing field."



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