Elections officials decline to act on ‘dark money’ complaint

RI State House

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island elections officials have decided not to act on a complaint about a group in Ohio transferring money from secret donors to another Ohio organization that paid for television ads aimed at defeating Gov. Gina Raimondo.

The Government Integrity Fund acknowledges providing financial assistance to the Mid America Fund, which paid for ads in 2014 against the Democrat Raimondo, who won. The Mid America Fund complied with reporting requirements.

The Government Integrity Fund didn’t disclose its donors.

The Rhode Island Democratic Party wrote a letter to the state elections board last year about the so-called “dark money.”

The board’s campaign finance director, Richard Thornton, said Monday that the party didn’t provide evidence to support its allegation that the financial transfers met the standards for donors to be disclosed, and didn’t notarize the letter and swear to their allegations under penalty of perjury to verify the complaint.

The board discussed the letter at a meeting last week.

The Government Integrity Fund said in a letter to the board last year that it’s exempt from disclosure because it used its own general treasury funds to provide the assistance, it’s recognized as a social welfare organization and it didn’t designate how the money to the Mid America Fund should be spent.

Thornton said the donors are required to be disclosed when there are prior independent expenditures or coordination between groups, such as instances where the money is solicited or designated for a specific purpose. He said the board considers the matter closed.

More than a year later, it’s still not clear why two Ohio-based groups would want to influence the election.

“It’s important that the Board of Elections get to the bottom of who the Government Integrity Fund is,” said John Marion, executive director of the public interest group Common Cause Rhode Island. “They tried to sway Rhode Island voters and no one knows anything about them beyond a mailing address.”

Marion said the board could’ve initiated its own investigation if it felt the party’s complaint was deficient.

The Democratic Party plans to appeal this week and wants the board to hold a hearing, spokeswoman Ann Gooding said Monday. Gooding said the board should have let the party know sooner that its letter didn’t meet the standards for a verified complaint.

Thornton called it an oversight, adding that “unfortunately it fell by the wayside” while staff were busy with other things and it wasn’t a verified complaint.

Gooding said it’s important that the donors are known so elections are transparent and people have confidence in the process.

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