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Illegal Candidate: State Rep Candidate in Violation of Law?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


State rep candidate Dan Reilly is under fire from Democrats and a prominent elections attorney who assert he is an illegal candidate.

Reilly is running as a Republican in District 72, which encompasses Portsmouth, Middletown, and Newport. He has also been working as a seasonal park ranger for the Department of Environmental Management from May 1 to Oct. 31 each year since 2007. Running for state office while working for the state runs afoul of Rhode Island General Law 36-4-51, which states that “[n]o classified employee … shall seek the nomination of or be a candidate for any elective state office.”

Reilly is considered a “classified employee,” according to a DEM spokesperson and the Office of Personnel at the Department of Administration.

Reilly ‘having his cake and eating it too’

Reilly’s Democratic opponent, incumbent Amy Rice, accuses him of violating the law. “By filing his papers and having his job he was having his cake and eating it too,” Rice told GoLocalProv. Rice is the co-vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee and is also the Deputy Majority Leader.

The executive director of the state Democratic Party also took Reilly to task. “After an initial glance at RI General Law § 36-4-51, it would appear that Mr. Reilly needs to conduct some due diligence before moving forward with his campaign, if, in fact, his position with the DEM is classified as defined by state law,” said Stephanie DeSilva.

At some points during the season, Reilly said he works as much as 40 hours a week—well above the 21-hour threshold necessary to be considered a classified employee, according to Bob Craven, a prominent elections attorney who worked as the legal counsel for the state Board of Elections from 1995 to 2002.

Board of Elections can’t act now

Because the prohibition is in the employment section of the law—not the section dealing with elections—Craven said the matter is outside the jurisdiction of the Board of Elections. He said it would instead be up to his employer to tell him he can’t work and run for office. “The appropriate legal remedy would be that he be given the option—pick one or the other,” Craven said. He wasn’t aware of any other penalties that could be imposed on Reilly.

He noted that it is illegal to hold elective office and work for the state. (Read the law.) If a state employee won an election, he said the Board of Elections would enforce that law by not certifying that person as the winner. Then a special election would have to be held to select a replacement, he said.

Reilly, who is a senior at Providence College, told GoLocalProv yesterday that he wasn’t aware he could be considered a classified employee. He noted that his nomination to seek office has been certified in 2010 and was certified in 2008 too, when he first ran unsuccessfully against Rice. But Robert Kando, executive director of the Board of Elections, said the state does not typically check on whether candidates are employed by the state.

Reilly claimed the state Code of Ethics was silent on the matter, calling that a “contradiction” with the state law that says classified employees can’t run for office. “I have had a chance to discuss this issue with my legal advisors, and absent a clarification from the state with respect to the conflicting statutory language I do not feel it is necessary to resign my position as a seasonal park ranger,” Reilly said.

What could happen to Reilly?

The director of the Department of Environmental Management, W. Michael Sullivan, told GoLocalProv he was having his legal counsel look into the matter. He could not confirm whether Reilly was a classified employee, adding that in his personal opinion he did not think seasonal employees are classified, since they don’t get benefits.

But if he found out that a classified employee was running for state office he said that person “would be given the option of terminating their employment or terminating their candidacy.” He said he hopes to have the matter resolved today.

Rice and DeSilva were not sure what action the state Democratic Party might take on the matter. Rice said complaints before the Board of Elections or Superior Court were among her options.

Even Reilly does quit his state job, she said that is not enough. The fact that he launched his candidacy in violation of the state law should be enough to disqualify him now, she said.

She also wants Reilly to pay back the money he earned from the state while he was a candidate. “He gained. He had the job, the title and the money, which he should not have had as a candidate,” Rice said. Reilly’s position pays $8.70 to $9.20 an hour, according to a DEM spokesperson.


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