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Monday, October 22, 2012

Campaign Finance Reports: CCA and Dems are running neck and neck

Donor profile paints a clear picture of who OWNS the CCA
CCA covers up where their flood of cash comes from 
By Will Collette

For the third consecutive election cycle, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance is showing that it is able to tap its conservative base of retirees and nonresidents for the kind of big bucks for campaigning that no opponent has been able to match.

They pulled off their first Election in 2008 with a clean sweep, thanks to their war chest of just under $14,000 compared to only a few hundred dollars raised and spent by their opponents.

In 2010, the CCA also outspent their opponents by gigantic margins, spending $8,043 to oust two of the four candidates the CCA had endorsed for Town Council in 2008 and replace them with Tom Gentz and Dan Slattery. With the support of newly elected Lisa DiBello, the CCA once again assumed working control of all the levers of Charlestown politics.

The CCA’s pattern in what is now their third two-year election cycle is to raise almost nothing during the first seven quarters and then raise a boatload of cash from its political base among the landed gentry – especially nonresidents – during the last quarter. I had predicted they would do this again, and the CCA’s campaign finance report shows that this is indeed the case.

But unlike 2008 and 2010, according to campaign finance reports filed 28 days prior to the November 6 election, the Charlestown Democrats are giving the CCA a battle.

Going into the home stretch, the Charlestown Democrats actually outraised the CCA by $59.95. The totals reported by the rivals show town Democrats having raised $11,536.27 over the past year and a half, compared to $11,476.32 raised by the CCA, almost all of it in the past few weeks.

But if you count an additional $2383.06 in in-kind donations, mostly in the form of printing from Cliff Vanover, the numbers tip in the CCA’s favor.

Taking a closer look at the CCA’s publicly filed campaign finance report, you’ll see a long list of individuals who gave the CCA $100 and up to the maximum limit of $1000 with their Charlestown addresses and occupations.

There’s a small problem with that report, however. Fifteen of the CCA’s major donors give Charlestown addresses as their residence when Charlestown Tax Assessor records show they don’t actually live there.

Let’s take a look at the list.
$1000 Donors

Many of the CCA major donors took part in last
December's "Riot of the Rich" to block middle-
class tax cuts.
There are two. One is Dr. Russ Ricci, treasurer of the Charlestown Land Trust and a central figure in the Y-Gate Scandal, who apparently remembered where he left his checkbook and wrote the CCA a $1000 check. He is listed as living in Charlestown when he admitted in his sworn testimony in the Y-Gate case that he actually lives in Providence.

The other $1000 donor is John Mueller, listed as living at Kennedy Lane. Town tax records show it’s John Muller (no “e”) who owns 22 Kennedy Lane but actually resides in Madison, CT.

From $500 to >$1000

Former Town Council member Harriet Allen comes next, ponying up $600 for the CCA.

Joseph McLaughlin, listed as living at 50 Cove Drive but actually residing in Riverside, CT, according to tax records, gave $500. Kristan O’Connor of Partridge Run also gave $500.

From $200 to >$500

Mark O’Brien gave $300. So did veterinarian Dr. Lew Johnson. Ruth Platner and George Tremblay, both running as CCA candidates, each gave $300. CCA Town Council candidate Ron Areglado gave $250.

Another central figure in the Y-Gate Scandal, Boston lawyer Joanne D’Alcomo, gave an oddly precise $242.45 donation. Her address is listed as her Sonquipaug second home when Charlestown tax records show her actual residence to be in Brighton, MA.

Thomas Farrell, who is listed as living at Neptune Ave., gave $200. Town tax records show he actually lives on Park Avenue in Manhattan.

Linda Long, who is listed as living at her $2.9 million second home on Ninigret Ave., gave $200. Tax records show she actually lives in Tarrytown, NY.

From $100 to >$200

CCA-endorsed candidate for Planning Commission Peter Herstein gave $150. So did John Reddan, listed as living in a $1.2 million home on Shirley Drive, who is shown in town tax records as actually living in New Canaan, CT.

There were many $100 donors. For your reading convenience, I’ll break them into categories.

CCA Candidates or Steering Committee members who gave $100: Faith LaBossiere and Tom Gentz.

Charlestown residents: Peter Arnold, Ron Mello, Jane Mara, Geoffrey Zito, Mary Herlihy, Mary Coddington, Joan Lawlor, Shirley Pompei, and Judson Philips

Nonresidents who are listed with Charlestown residences. Actual residence, according to town tax records, is shown in parentheses: Brett Eagleson (Middlefield, CT), Michael Kraynak (Ridgewood, NJ), Satya Pradhuman (Suffern, NY), Walter Schulthers (Mystic, CT), David Dieramo (Naples, FL), Donald Dubendorf (Williamstown, MA), Robert McIntyre (Darien, CT), and Norman Moore (Naples, FL).

Now we know why the CCA opposed the Homestead Tax Credit

That “riot of the rich” that the CCA organized last December to crush Charlestown Democrats’ proposal for a $1000 Homestead Tax Credit for permanent residents really paid off for the CCA.

When I went through their donor list and crosschecked the addresses on the Tax Assessors’ database, I saw not only that the bulk of their contributions come from nonresidents, but also that based on the tax records, most of the CCA’s major donors, residents and nonresidents alike, truly are landed gentry, with very high-value homes, second (or third or fourth) homes assessed above $600,000 with several in the millions, and several with multiple properties worth millions of dollars.

These campaign contributors’ interests lie in squelching any change in Charlestown taxes that favor people who actually make Charlestown their home. It is clear that their self-interest lies with the CCA.

Another controversial town issue that seems to have paid off for the CCA, at least as far as campaign money goes, is the Y-Gate Scandal, the scam cooked up to fleece town taxpayers of $475,000 to buy a worthless easement on the abandoned YMCA camp on Watchaug Pond. Click here to read our complete coverage.

Aside from the Westerly YMCA, which would have gotten twice what the land was worth, and the Charlestown Land Trust, which would have made its biggest land score ever without spending any of its own money, the other clear beneficiary would have been the Sonquipaug Association, a group of largely nonresident vacation property owners along the southern property line of the camp.

Whether CCA's top-of-the-ticket candidate Council boss Tom Gentz expected those nonresidents to pony up for his reelection or not before making a fool of himself by leading the charge on Y-Gate, it sure looks unseemly to see who gave to the CCA campaign fund.

It is also clear by the CCA’s actions that it's campaign contributors that the CCA really serves.

But what I find goofy about the CCA’s “open and transparent” campaign finance report is that the CCA apparently decided to portray so many of their high-rolling donors as town residents when they are not. Chalk that up to yet another bit of CCA hypocrisy and deception.

What do the Charlestown Democrats show for money?

Talk about raising money the hard way...Henry Walsh's
famous duck plucker
The Charlestown Democratic Town Committee takes an entirely different approach to fundraising and has been raising campaign funds throughout the two-year election cycle. Who can forget our fabulous 2011 “It’sNot the End of the World” tag sale, featuring Henry Walsh’s duck-plucker. If you look back over the CDTC’s CF-2 campaign finance reports, you’ll see steady fundraising that then accelerated after town Democrats came forward with their slate of candidates.

In the July CF-2 report covering April through June, the CDTC reported raising $1,480 in mostly small donations, a few $100+ donations from CDTC members and one large donation of $1000 from Operating Engineers Local 57. Local 57 is CDTC Town Council candidate Tim Quillen’s union local.

In the report filed 28 days before the election (covering July through October 8), the CDTC carried over a balance of $4,863.28 and raised another $6,672.99 from individuals who included several of Frank Glista’s family and friends, plus $500 from Brandon Cleary, Charlestown native and Cranston firefighter, who is running for Planning Commission.

My friend Brian Lipsett
The high roller for the CDTC was Brian Lipsett of Naples, Maine (not Florida), who gave $1000. I’ll bet the CCA is going nuts trying to figure out who this Lipsett guy from Maine is, and what his connection is to Charlestown.

Well, rather than keep the CCA in suspense, this is how that $1000 donation came to be. Brian is one of my oldest and dearest friends. Brian and I first met when we worked together at the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes (now the Center for Health and Environmental Justice) in the 1980s. We chased waste dumpers all over the country. 

The two of us ran the three-year, three-month-long “McToxics” campaignThat campaign started in 1987 and ran until 1990. It was aimed at forcing McDonalds to curb its use of Styrofoam. We wanted to not only reduce the amount of nondegradable waste that ended up in dumps and on roadsides, but also cut the production of styrene, a very dangerous toxic material in the workplace and in hazardous-waste landfills.

Brian went on to get a Ph.D. in criminal justice at Penn State with a unique concentration on environmental crime. He founded the Environmental Background Information Center, and I served on his board. He later went on to found Movementech, a nonprofit research group that uses statistical analysis and GIS technology to assist civil rights and environmental justice groups. I also did work with Brian there.

Brian gave $1000 because I asked him to make a donation, never expecting him to be so generous. But Brian wanted to give not just in friendship and solidarity, but also in memory of his mother Valerie, who died in August. Brian’s connection to Charlestown is me, and to the almost 30-year friendship and partnership we have had in fighting injustice.

Rounding out the campaign finance picture

As reported earlier, Councilor Lisa DiBello’s campaign for reelection is off to a great start. The RI Board of Elections issued a notice of violation to her on October 9 for failing to file her campaign finance report. On October 19, 10 days late, DiBello filed a CF-5 declaration showing no income and no expenses. The BOE violation still stands.

Town Council candidate Jim Mageau filed a CF-5 declaration, which means he asks to be exempt from filing because he pledges to raise and spend almost no money.

His running mate, Dr. Jack Donoghue, reports no income and expenditures of $200.

Incumbent Town Councilor Gregg Avedisian reports no income and no expenses, as does Planning Commission candidate Joe Dolock.

Closing thought

As “Deep Throat” told Bob Woodward during Woodward and Bernstein’s attempt to get to the bottom of the Watergate Scandal, “follow the money.”