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SOUTH KINGSTOWN â€“ Six South County elected officials or former candidates have been cited for failing to file campaign finance reports on time with some accruing thousands of dollars in fines for several years.
The latest quarterly report for December 2011 from the Rhode Island Board of Elections was released last week. According to the statistics, more than 200 current or former elected officials and candidates have failed to pay up, owing the state $1,191,175.
As required by state law any candidate who runs for office is required to file a report citing any money they spend and where it came from. Campaign finance reporting is meant to be open to the public so voters can see where and how their candidates get their money to run for office.
Director of Campaign Finance Richard Thornton said most fines are for delinquent filing of campaign finance reports. Any money collected by the Board goes directly to the stateâ€™s Internal Service Fund or General Fund.
While fines are as low as $25 for a first time offender, subsequent failures to submit reports adds $2 per day to the fine.
â€śThe accrual starts to get large,â€ť Thornton said.
Of those delinquent candidates, Lawyer Patrick â€śTimâ€ť McDonald of Saunderstown ranks the highest in the state owing $114,618 in fines since 2004. Last month McDonald was charged with five counts of embezzlement of more than $100 and one count of felony conspiracy concerning client funds during two real estate transactions in 2008. From 1991 to 1995, McDonald served on the Narragansett Town Council. He then served as state senator in 1996 until 2000 when he lost his seat to Sen. James Sheehan.
Thornton said McDonaldâ€™s fines go back as early as 2004. Though McDonald began to make payments, he defaulted as the scandal of his embezzlement charges broke and accrued additional fines for other quarterly reports due.
McDonald is one of five candidates the Board of Elections has sued in Rhode Island Superior Court in October 2011. These include Mark Plympton, a Democrat who ran for the North Kingstown Town Council in 2010. Plympton owes $21,111. To date, Plympton has not filed any reports. The lawsuit also includes a Providence City Councilman, Kevin Jackson, who owes $25,467 for failing to file 30 reports dating back to 2004, a Newport City Councilman Stephen Coyne, who owes $5,348 for not making payments from 2005, a former 2005 Central Falls City Council candidate Richardo Patino of Providence, who owes $9,979 and a former Providence state representative and city councilman Leon Tejado who owes $10,671. Tejado, Patino and Coyne had all appealed to the Board citing hardship and were granted payment plans, but all still failed to make payments.
Noncompliant elected officials or former candidates in South County include Narragansett Town Councilwoman Alisha Trainer-Fleet, who owes $3,218 for not filing 10 reports in 2011. Thornton said the Board tried to give Trainer-Fleet relief in appeal, but since then fines have continued to accumulate.
A former 2010 South Kingstown Town Council candidate Chris M. Laccinole, who now serves on the Narragansett Economic Development Committee, owes $3,573. A former 2010 candidate for the Narragansett School Committee Frederich Michael Girard also owes $3,573. Girard and Laccinole have not filed a single report, Thornton said. A 2010 candidate for House District 34 Timothy Burchett owes $1,254. Burchett filed an affidavit for the annual filing exemption at the start of the election period, meaning that he would not accept more than $100 from a single source or spend $1,000 for campaigning. Yet, he failed to file the quarterly summary report.
Congressman James Langevin is noted for owing $31,750, but Thornton said this fine is not for late filing. Langevin does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Board of Elections, who oversees only state offices. The fines are relative to Langevinâ€™s state account from when he ran for state representative in 1988. From 1994 to 2000, Langevin served as Rhode Islandâ€™s Secretary of State. Thornton explained that the congressman kept the account open so he could pay it back through fundraisers. However, the source of money he took in was from congressional checks, which is not allowed as a source of money for state accounts.
â€śThe fines are not for noncompliance. [Langevin] is paying it down,â€ť Thornton said.
There are several steps before the Board takes action in Superior Court against delinquent filers. According to Thornton, the Board sends a notice of noncompliance through certified mail to each candidate who failed to file the report. If the candidate continues to ignore the first and second warning letters, the Board staff begins to make collection calls. The Board will send up to 14 letters before it has the ability to initiate civil action to collect money as in the October 2011 lawsuit against the five Rhode Islanders previously mentioned.
At any point prior to a lawsuit, Thornton said the candidate can appeal the fines assessed against them. The Board can either reduce the fines if the candidate has good cause of not filing on time or the fines remain the same and it is nonnegotiable after the appeal.
When filing a report, candidates can either use a paper form or the electronic reporting system.
â€śItâ€™s not all that difficult given the dollar amounts accumulating for these candidates. There are multiple instances where they are notified of their obligation to file the reports. It appears to be a willingness to ignore the law rather than ignorance,â€ť Thornton said.