Gordon Fox raised $69K in months before raids

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A who’s who list of politicians, lobbyists and political action committees contributed nearly $70,000 to former House Speaker Gordon Fox in the months before state and federal law enforcement officials raided his home and State House office, ousting him from his role as one of Rhode Island’s most powerful elected officials.

The Providence Democrat raised $69,850 during the first quarter that ended March 31 – all of it coming prior to his resignation as speaker on March 22 – according to a campaign finance report filed Friday with the R.I. Board of Elections.

Fox’s report was filed nine days after the state’s April 30 filing deadline, which will likely result in a $25 fine, according to the Associated Press. All told, the former speaker reported $244,589 cash on hand after spending $27,321 during the first three months of 2014.

Notable contributions to Fox included: $1,000 each from John and Sandra Petrarca from Providence Auto Body, the Rhode Island Laborer’s Political League and the PAC run by the state correctional officers; $500 each from former House Speaker William Murphy, former House Majority Leader George Caruolo and David Sweetser, the owner of the Superman building; $400 from developer Arnold “Buff” Chace; and $250 each from general treasurer candidate Seth Magaziner, state Rep. Arthur Corvese and former Attorney General Patrick Lynch.

The first quarter of the new year coincides with the beginning of the legislative session and tends to be every speaker’s largest fundraising period. Campaign filings show Fox raised $80,149 during the first quarter of 2013 and $98,669 in 2012. His largest expense in 2014 was $14,392 to the Providence Marriot to cover a January fundraiser.

Campaign reports for two PACs controlled by Fox, the Rhode Island House Leadership PAC and the Fund for Democratic Priorities, were also filed Friday. The two combined to raise just under $2,700 for the quarter; control over those PACs will likely be transferred to new Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who served as the No. 2 Democrat in the 75-member House under Fox.

Law enforcement officials have still not said whether Fox is the target of their investigation, but Target 12 reported that investigators were seeking the 52-year-old’s campaign-finance records on the morning of the raids, and also contacted the R.I. Board of Elections in connection with him. They have sought information about Fox from the city of Providence, where he’s worked on and off since 1996, as well.

Fox has repeatedly declined to comment on the status of the investigation, but he has hired Murphy, the former speaker, and Albin Moser as his lawyers. He remains a sitting lawmaker – though he is not seeking re-election later this year – and returned to the State House April 30 for the first time since the raids.

Last week Target 12 reported that Fox invoked his constitutional rights against self-incrimination and illegal search and seizure in response to a subpoena related to the state’s 38 Studios lawsuit.

No matter what his future holds, Fox can continue to use his campaign funds.

State law allows former elected officials and candidates to continue to use campaign funds for political purposes, donations to charity, and in some cases legal fees until the account is drawn down and dissolved, according to Richard Thornton, the R.I. Board of Elections’ director of campaign finance.

While the law does not allow elected officials or candidates to use their campaign money for personal reasons, Thornton said he could use campaign funds for legal fees “if he is defending himself on a charge as an elected official.”

Thornton cited a 2010 advisory opinion given by the Board of Elections that allowed former state Sen. William Irons to reimburse himself for legal fees related to an ethics complaint. A review of Irons’ inactive campaign account shows he paid himself $25,387 in May 2010.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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