Cianci files complaint against group attacking him in ad

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The race for Providence mayor has its first cease-and-desist letter.

Lawyers for independent candidate Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci filed a complaint with the R.I. Board of Elections Wednesday accusing a prominent East Side political figure of breaking a slew of campaign finance laws, including one that prohibits third-party advocacy groups from coordinating directly with campaigns.

In a letter to the board, Cianci’s lawyers claim Myrth York, a former state Senate and three-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate, coordinated with Democratic mayoral hopeful Jorge Elorza before paying for $25,000 worth of commercials that attack Cianci. York’s group is called Priorities PVD.

Cianci is represented by John Mancini and Michael A. Kelly, two prominent Providence lawyers.

Mancini and Kelly also claim York failed to file a notice of formation with the Board of Elections and has failed to report any contributions or expenditures with the state. While candidates, political parties and political action committees are required to file notices of formation with the state, independent expenditure groups are not required to submit the same paperwork. They are required to report their expenditures with the Board of Elections.

A 30-second ad from Priorities PVD that pulls quotes from Cianci’s memoir and warns “Providence just can’t afford Buddy Cianci” appeared online Oct. 17. The commercial was expected to begin airing on cable television Wednesday.

Cianci’s lawyers want York’s group to cease and desist from airing the commercial. They have also asked the Board of Elections to allow them to subpoena York for all financial records related to the ad.

Reached Wednesday, York acknowledged that she was a day late in filing her expenditure with the Board of Elections, but said Priorities PVD is a federal super PAC that is not required to file a notice of formation. She said the complaint is “without merit.”

“Nowhere does he talk about the substance of the ad, because it’s true and it uses his own words,” she said.

Following a press conference Wednesday, Elorza said he has not coordinated with York. He called Cianci’s complaint a “distraction.”

“These are distractions,” Elorza said. “These are the games they’re playing with their politics.”

York previously served as co-chair of Democratic mayoral candidate Brett Smiley’s campaign, but she stepped away from her role in July to “focus my attention on efforts to highlight what’s at stake for Providence in this coming election.” It was widely believed that she was planning to start an independent expenditure group to target Cianci.

York, who chairs the city’s Zoning Board, decided to support Elorza after Smiley dropped out of the race in August. She contributed $1,000 to Elorza’s campaign and attended his primary night victory party. She has no formal role with the Elorza campaign.

Outside spending has been limited in the mayor’s race, but that is expected to change in the final two weeks of the campaign. School reform group 50CAN received a $25,000 contribution from a charter school advocate to support Elorza’s campaign last week.

A group formed by former mayoral candidate Lorne Adrain that sought to target Cianci fizzled without ever running an ad. The city firefighters’ union spent nearly $5,000 on a mail piece attacking Elorza earlier this month. A city resident reported spending $600 to record a song urging voters to reject Cianci.

Filings with the state Board of Elections show Cianci had $301,539 cash on hand as of Oct. 6, compared with Elorza’s $160,195 and Harrop’s $90,058.

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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