Mattiello and Ruggerio Forced to Remove “Political” Photos from Website After GoLocal Report

Thursday, July 19, 2018


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Senate President Dominick Ruggerio

A GoLocal report questioning the legality of legislative leaders posting photos of ribbon cuttings and reading to school children has been ruled to be illegal and they have been forced to remove the photos.

GoLocal reported in June that both Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello and Senate President Domenic Ruggerio appeared to be violating the state law prohibiting using state assets to promote their likenesses during the election cycle.

The two legislative leaders claimed that their attorney said the statute did not apply to them. At the time of the GoLocal inquiry other Rhode Island officials had already removed their images from their taxpayer-supported websites to meet the requirements of the statute.

Now, the Board of Elections has ruled that their use of the state website to post photos are a violation and must be removed.

“Speaker Mattiello and President Ruggerio wrote to the Board of Elections on June 11 requesting an interpretation of the law pertaining to political advertising as it relates to the General Assembly website. The board ruled that the statute applies to the legislative website, so the photos were immediately removed,” said Larry Berman, spokesperson for Speaker of the House.

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One of the photos featured Speaker Mattiello with Cranston Mayor Fung

According to RI Law 17-23-18 Political advertising from official budgets prohibited. “(a) No elected official shall permit the expenditure of public funds from any official budget under his or her authority for any publication, advertisement, broadcast, or telecast of his or her photograph, voice, or other likeness to be broadcast or distributed to the public during the one hundred and twenty (120) days preceding any primary or general election in which he or she is a candidate.”

Primary day is September 12 and election day is November 6. 

Other State Leaders in Compliance

The statue covers everything from state ads, mailers, videos or websites — anything distributed to the public during the 120 days prior to “any primary or general election.” The clock started back in May.

Governor Gina Raimondo, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, and Treasurer Seth Magaziner are in compliance with the law.

When the matter was brought to the attention Lt. Governor Daniel McKee’s office, his spokesperson said, "Since the Lt. Governor’s Office does not have authority over any related budget and does not pay for the operation of the office website, we do not believe a violation has occurred.”

“However, we are in the process of removing any images and videos of the Lt. Governor from the website,” said Andrea Palagi, Communications Director for McKee.

Mattiello and Ruggerio don't deny that they have budget or control authority over the General Assembly's website which was previously littered with photos of the two leaders doing everything from reading to children to attending a bill signing ceremonies to ribbon cutting ceremonies.

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State website featured Ruggerio reading to school children

The images are typical of photos found on campaign websites. Of the dozen of photos on the legislature's website, there is barely a photo of a Republican member of the legislature. The General Assembly site also features more than 40 videos of top lawmakers promoting a range of political issues. The highly produced videos are regularly posted on social media. The photos, videos, and website maintenance and programming are all conducted at Rhode Island taxpayer expense.

While the General Officers are adhering, Mattiello and Ruggerio balked. 

“Our legal counsel is of the opinion that this statute does not apply to official state public information websites and state government social media. The Board of Elections has been contacted, and the Assembly is requesting an advisory opinion from the board, which we anticipate will be considered at its June 28th meeting,” said Larry Berman, House spokesman, and Greg Pare, Senate spokesman in a joint statement to GoLocal -- prior to the ruling.


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