Progressive Democrat files elections complaint against Cianci

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A local activist has filed a complaint with the R.I. Board of Elections accusing mayoral candidate Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. of violating several campaign-finance laws before he officially entered the race for mayor in June.

In his complaint, Samuel Bell, the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America’s state coordinator, charged that a political action committee formed by Cianci supporters violated state campaign finance laws that prohibit candidates or PACs from receiving contributions or spending funds before filing a notice of organization with the Board of Elections.

Bell also argued that a private poll on the mayor’s race conducted by the PAC in question should be considered an “illegal in-kind contribution in excess of the legal limit of $1,000” for Cianci.

“Mr. Cianci, who was interested in building suspense and continuing his lucrative radio gig, did not want to formally open a campaign account,” Bell wrote in his complaint. “However, he did want to make campaign expenditures. In particular, he wished to conduct private polling.”

A spokesperson for Cianci did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Bell’s group has endorsed Democrat Jorge Elorza in the race for mayor.

In July, WPRI.com reported that the 7th Ward PAC may have violated campaign finance law by accepting $8,000 in donations more than a month before filing its notice of organization with the Board of Elections. Richard Thornton, the director of campaign finance for the Board of Elections, said the group should “not be collecting money until such time as they registered here.” On Oct. 8, Thornton said the matter “has not been addressed yet.”

The 7th Ward PAC was formed by Silver Lake Democratic powerbroker Vincent Igliozzi, the father of City Councilman John Igliozzi and Providence Housing Court Judge David Igliozzi. Former Mayor Joseph Paolino, John Igliozzi and Artin Coloian, Cianci’s former chief of staff, were among the PAC’s contributors.

The group’s only expenditure was an $8,500 payment to Zeplowitz & Associates, a New York-based firm that specializes in polling and has worked on Cianci’s campaign, according to a disclosure filed with the Board of Elections.

In his complaint, Bell points to two reports, one published by WPRI.com on Feb. 10 and another published by The Daily Beast on June 22, that state Cianci had seen private polling on the mayor’s race before he launched his campaign June 25. Bell asserts that Cianci was referencing the poll paid for by the 7th Ward PAC.

Bell acknowledged that “much of this complaint relates to elements of Rhode Island law that have yet to be fully interpreted,” but added that it is “very difficult to construct a plausible reading of the law where Mr. Cianci’s actions would not have constituted a violation.”

The Board of Elections has had a busy week with the mayor’s race. On Monday, it dismissed a complaint filed by Cianci against former state Sen. Myrth York accusing her of coordinating with Elorza before launching a super PAC to target Cianci. The board has also been inundated with complaints from both Cianci and Elorza’s campaign related to absentee ballot tampering.

The election is Nov. 4.

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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