2014-10-23 / Front Page

Finances Under Scrutiny

Anti-casino group accused of campaign violations
By Barry Bridges

The debate over expanded gaming in Newport took another turn on Monday, Oct. 20, when Superior Court Associate Justice Walter R. Stone presided over an initial hearing regarding a complaint filed by Newport Grand against Citizens Concerned About Casino Gambling (CCACG).

The action seeks a preliminary injunction and was filed by the Providence law firm of Kelly & Mancini on behalf of Newport Grand on Oct. 16. It asks the court to “issue an order enjoining the defendant [CCACG] from collecting and expending monies and from making any advertisements and/or publications until the Board of Elections has a hearing on this matter.” The suit maintains that “the defendant has blatantly violated the Rhode Island election and finance reporting laws.”

Plaintiff Newport Grand asserts that CCACG has not complied with state statutory requirements by failing to itemize expenses and consistently report the occupations or employers of its donors, which could show potential conflicts of interest. The filing claims that “the defendant continues to collect and expend money without comporting to the applicable financing statutes, thereby improperly influencing the November 2014 ballot question” and that an injunction is necessary to “prevent injustice and further harm to the plaintiff.”

Dawn Euer, political director for CCACG, told Newport This Week that “the entire lawsuit and the fact that they want to stop us from participating in the referendum debate is completely absurd. This is to mislead voters and to distract them.”

As the parties convened before Judge Stone, attorney John Mancini reviewed the plaintiff’s contentions and expressed his uncertainty as to whether the Board of Elections was expeditiously investigating the complaint. He was hopeful that the court would step in with an injunction, stating that “the Board of Elections doesn’t have exclusivity in this matter.”

Stone demurred on this question of administrative law. “I may have to disagree with you on that. They have to act first. You may be premature,” he told Mancini.

Raymond Marcaccio, an attorney for the Board of Elections, advised the court that “the campaign finance office is conducting an investigation, but they are not done. It is ongoing.” He felt that Newport Grand’s complaint should be stayed or dismissed while the issue is pending before the board.

CCACG was represented by attorney R. Daniel Prentiss. He offered that “there was a request made from the board, and we are identifying the donors. We received checks and the donors aren’t always aware of Rhode Island law. We are going back to gather this information. We started doing this as soon as we found out about the [plaintiff’s] filing.”

Stone countered, “You don’t need a carrier pigeon to do this. It’s not complicated.”

Prentiss also called into question the lobbying and fundraising efforts of the Newport Grand developers, saying, in effect, that they are donating money to themselves. He argued, “We are complying with the law and will have additional information as soon as possible. On the other hand, Newport Grand’s lobbying arm is engaging in a deliberate deception.”

Stone lamented that there may be “unclean hands” on both sides and remarked that the episode “had all the makings of the movie ‘Casablanca.’”

Plaintiff’s co-counsel Michael Kelly then reiterated Newport Grand’s stance that “we’d like CCACG to be enjoined from violating the law until the board makes a decision.”

However, Stone was not convinced that the time was right for the court to intervene and insisted that the Board of Elections weigh in first. He directed Marcaccio to ensure that the dispute made it to the agenda of a board meeting previously scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 22. Accordingly, the case was continued until Thursday, Oct. 23, when Stone will be updated on developments.

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