Audit: Rep. Williams failed to report more than $18,000 in contributions

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The audit of state Rep. Anastasia Williams’ campaign account now being reviewed by the attorney general found she failed to report more than $18,000 in contributions and withdrew $20,000 to reimburse herself for expenses that aren’t all documented.

Eyewitness News obtained the audit Wednesday through a public-records request to Richard Thornton, director of campaign finance at the R.I. Board of Elections. The board voted last month to refer Williams’ case to the attorney general for further investigation, citing “reason to believe” she had violated state law.

Williams, a Providence Democrat first elected in 1992, has previously declined to comment on the case.

Thornton’s main audit covered January 2010 through December 2014, though he also conducted a limited additional review of 2008 and 2009. Documents show he first put Williams on notice for an audit in April 2015 and continued going back and forth with her representatives for nearly two years, at one point stymied by an apparent lack of communication from her attorney, former House Speaker John Harwood.

The 59-page report shows sizable gaps in the paper trail for Williams’ campaign money, and indicates she under-reported the balance of her account for years. After the audit began, Williams repaid herself the $6,309.81 difference between the account’s reported balance and its actual balance, describing it as an unreported personal loan to her campaign.

Thornton said his findings “suggest that Rep. Williams withdrew $20,000 from her campaign account, which was not reported to the BOE at the time of occurrence, [and] amended her campaign finance reports years later to include $21,289.60 in campaign expenses paid personally, many of which have no definitive transaction detail in her personal bank accounts, to validate the $20,000 withdrawals.”

Thornton said there was evidence in Williams’ personal accounts for only 11 of the 57 initially unreported campaign expenses that she later said she covered herself.

In a March email to Thornton, Harwood explained the lack of documentation by saying, “The receipts were possibly given to the Board of Elections by Rep. Williams’ accountant(s) or they have been, lost and/or misplaced.” He also said Williams had sometimes used “petty cash” to cover the expenses.

On the contribution side, the audit found Williams received $14,075 in contributions from individuals and political action committees from 2010 through 2014 that she did not report. Looking further back, Thornton discovered an additional $4,500 in unreported contributions Williams received in 2008 and 2009.

Thornton also subpoenaed Williams’ bank records from Citizens Bank in April, two years after starting the audit, after she declined to share them voluntarily. Thornton told Harwood when he made the request that he had previously been “under the impression I was given bank statements from Rep. Williams’ only personal account,” a different one at Bank of America.

Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said the Board of Elections’ report on Williams is currently “under review” to determine whether the findings should be forwarded to the Rhode Island State Police for further investigation.

Thornton’s campaign-finance audits have landed a lengthening list of elected officials in hot water in recent years, including former House Speaker Gordon Fox, former Providence City Council President Luis Aponte, former Providence City Council Majority Leader Kevin Jackson, state Rep. Joseph Almeida, and former state Rep. Peter Palumbo. All are Providence Democrats except Palumbo, who is a Cranston Democrat.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo introduced a bill earlier this year that called for random audits of 25% of campaign finance accounts each year and barring from the ballot candidates with overdue campaign finance reports or unpaid fines. A watered-down version passed the Senate but never received a vote in the House.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Dan McGowan contributed to this report.