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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Definition of chutzpah

By Bob Plain in Rhode Island’s Future

Image result for bob flanders & central fallsWhen Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Flanders was the state-appointed receiver for cash-strapped Central Falls in 2012, the affluent East Greenwich resident infamously offered municipal employees a haircut or a beheading in balancing the city’s budget. 

As such, public sector workers probably won’t prove to be a major source of support for Flanders, a small government conservative.

Nevertheless, his campaign is using government email addresses to solicit campaign cash. 

Both state and municipal employees say they’ve received fund-raising appeals recently from the Flanders campaign at their work email addresses.

State Department of Education employees received three fundraising emails last week, RIDE spokesperson said Meg Geoghegan, who noted the addresses were not obtained through a public records request.

At least two employees at the state Department of Elderly Affairs also received campaign solicitations from the Flanders campaign, said spokesperson Meghan Connelly. “The people who got the emails are listed on our website as contact people,” she said. “It looks like they are potentially grabbing emails that are out there on the world wide web.”

It’s unclear if other state departments received the fundraising appeals from the Flanders campaign. 

But municipal employees in both East Greenwich and Barrington did. Flanders lived in Barrington before moving to East Greenwich. 

Employees in North Kingstown and Burrillville had not heard of any such emails in their municipalities, but could not say for certain either. 

In Providence, “there were 72 emails sent to city accounts” from the Flanders campaign, said city spokesperson Emily Crowell.

One East Greenwich employee, who has worked for the town for more than 20 years, said it is the first time they received a campaign email at their work address. 

Some East Greenwich employees initially feared their work emails were given to the Flanders campaign by Town Manager Gayle Corrigan, who is a close associate of Flanders. 

Flanders and Town Council President Sue Cienki discussed Corrigan before she was brought to town as a consultant. “We talked about her skill set and what she can bring to the table,” Flanders told me last year. Flanders was hired to do legal work for the town after Corrigan became town manager.

Corrigan declined an opportunity to comment on the fundraising emails. But Barrington Town Manager Jim Cunha took issue with the tactic.

“It’s not appropriate to be soliciting or campaigning to people’s public work email,” Cunha said. “I simply unsubscribed, and I advised employees to unsubscribe.”

The Flanders campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

John Marion, the executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, said he didn’t think soliciting donations from public sector employees violated state or federal election law. “It’s spammy, but probably legal,” he said.

UPDATE: A reader points out that Rhode Island law 36-4-53 says, “No classified employee or member of the personnel appeal board shall solicit contributions for nor shall he or she be solicited to contribute to any political party or campaign.”

Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.