State: Little Compton political mailer violates election law

Board of Elections says Little Compton Taxpayers Association failed to file necessary paperwork

By Ted Hayes
Posted 11/29/22

The Rhode Island Board of Elections believes a political mailer sent to all Little Compton residents just prior to the Tuesday, Nov. 8, general election violates two Rhode Island statutes pertaining …

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State: Little Compton political mailer violates election law

Board of Elections says Little Compton Taxpayers Association failed to file necessary paperwork

Posted

The Rhode Island Board of Elections believes a political mailer sent to all Little Compton residents just prior to the Tuesday, Nov. 8, general election violates two Rhode Island statutes pertaining to campaign finance and reporting requirements.

Produced by the non-profit Little Compton Taxpayers Association, the mailer encouraged residents to vote a straight Republican ticket, and warned that “Little Compton’s fabric and character are fading away with the influx of ‘Woke’ people and their radical ideas.”

It contained a mockup of the Little Compton ballot with Republican candidates selected and also gave examples of societal issues allegedly caused by President Joe Biden, Congress and Democratic voters. It was immediately condemned by the Little Compton Democratic Town Committee.

Shortly after it began arriving in mailboxes, an unnamed resident contacted the Board of Elections with concerns about the mailer. Spokesman Chris Hunter told the Sakonnet Times last week that the board reviewed the matter and “believes the LCTA’s mailer is in violation of two Rhode Island reporting statutes,” as the taxpayers association, registered with the state as a general non-profit and not a political action committee, has so far failed to file necessary paperwork called for under state law:

• Under Rhode Island General Law 17-25.3, entities may advocate for or against candidates and not register as a political action committee, provided the advocacy is independent of the candidates and not coordinated with them. In doing so, though, the entity must file a Report of Independent Expenditures with the Board of Elections if the amount spent on the advocacy (in this case, the cost of producing and delivering the mailer) exceeds $1,000. 

That report, which has not been filed by the Little Compton Taxpayers Association, was due no later than seven days after the money was expended.

• General Law 17-25.2 dictates that an entity may advocate for or against a ballot question or questions, and not register as a political action committee. In doing so, the entity is required to file a report for Ballot Question Advocacy with the Board of Elections, provided the aggregate amount spent on the advocacy exceeds $1,000. That report is due no later than seven days before the election.

“The LCTA has not filed a Report of Independent Expenditures or a report for Ballot Question Advocacy with the Board of Elections and must do so,” Hunter wrote. “Board staff have reached out to the LCTA regarding the need to file these disclosures.”

Who are they?

The Little Compton Taxpayers Association, which according to its constitution posted online was formed “to monitor, analyze, suggest, and take positions on any matters pertaining to taxes, public spending, and public policy affecting taxes and spending,” was organized in 1990 and has a listed address of PO Box 455 in Adamsville.

Though its website lists officers as chairman Joe Quinn, vice chairman Robert Hayden and secretary-treasurer Roger Lord, those names appear to be at least partially inaccurate. Joe Quinn, a former member of the Little Compton School Committee, passed away in early October.

State non-profit records listed with the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s Office show Lord, with a street address of 29 Bramblewood Cross Road in Little Compton, as the association’s principal officer and registered agent; he is also listed as the secretary and director. Hayden is listed on state records as vice president, and Quinn as president and director.

Attempts to reach Hayden and Lord were unsuccessful, and email sent through the group’s website went unanswered.

Not the first complaint

Though the mailed ‘newsletter’ sent out this November is the first produced by the taxpayers association in two years, it is not the first to be questioned in Little Compton.

In November 2010, former Little Compton Democratic Town Committee chairman William Brett McKenzie filed a complaint against the Little Compton Taxpayers Association and John Laughlin, a candidate for Congress in the 2020 election, with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

He wrote in his complaint that the mailer violated federal law as the association was “not listed as a PAC and their endorsement of candidates is beyond their mandate as a community tax policy organization.”

In addition, “the Little Compton Taxpayers Association has filed no election expense reports in relation to this expenditure,” nor did Laughlin.

Responding to the complaint in mid-December 2010, Hayden, referring to himself as chairman of the association, wrote that the “non-partisan” organization’s goal is to educate and inform, and every year, “we publish several newsletters covering a plethora of subjects. We do this to educate the townspeople on financial matters that concern them. This includes the identification of office holders or candidates for office who voters should either support or avoid as a function of their positions on taxes.”

"The filing of this complaint appears to be aimed at stifling our freedom of speech presumably because the complainant does not share our philosophies.”

Hayden wrote that it was “evident” that McKenzie, a former member of the Little Compton Town Council, “intensely dislikes the LCTA and is now engaging in frivolous and wasteful actions at the federal level to silence us at the local level.”

The following December, Anthony Herman, general counsel for the FEC, dismissed the complaint, concluding that there was “no reason to believe (the LCTA) violated the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.”

However, he added that there did appear to be evidence that the LCTA had failed to properly disclose financials involved in the mailing. Though there was no financial cost for the mailer disclosed by the LCTA during the investigation, Herman wrote that “we believe that the total costs ... may have been approximately $3,600.”

“Although it is possible that Little Compton may have triggered the threshold for reporting independent expenditures, we note that the potential costs at issue are relatively low given the small federal (Laughlin) portion of the mailer. Therefore, we believe that further enforcement action is unwarranted.”

Under a weighted metric used by the FEC to determine what cases to follow and fully prosecute, he wrote, the case was “a low-rated matter and therefore (the FEC) should exercise its prosecutorial discretion and dismiss the allegations.”

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