Campaign 2006 Notebook: Brown has money trouble, Lawless tries to raise more

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Brown under fire for contributions

Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown, a Democrat who has made anti-corruption and open government a centerpiece of his campaign for U.S. Senate, has come under fire for a possible violation of campaign finance laws.

Late in 2005, Brown’s campaign apparently directed three donors, who had already contributed the maximum amount allowed by federal law to the Brown campaign, to give money to the Democratic state parties in Maine, Hawaii and Massachusetts. Those state parties then contributed money to Brown.

The treasurer of the Hawaii Democratic Party told the Associated Press that the party struck a deal with Brown’s campaign for his contributors to give to the state party and for the state party to then contribute to Brown.

“That is not lawful activity,” Steve Hildebrand, a consultant for Brown’s Democratic opponent, former Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, told Roll Call. “He should apologize to those parties for putting them in this position and figure out how to clean up his campaign.”

But Brown has denied any wrongdoing.

“All the contributions that were a part of this ‘fundraising flap’ are completely legal and fully disclosed on my federal election commission report,” Brown said in a written statement March 3.

Brown has decided to return the contributions and has attacked Whitehouse for “going negative” in the primary campaign.

“Rather than talk about problems facing Rhode Islanders – Whitehouse is trying to tear another Democrat down,” said Brown’s press secretary, Matt Burgess, in a March 2 written statement.

It is unclear what effects the controversial contributions may have on the primary race. On Monday, Brown announced the hiring of a new campaign manager, Tim Patterson, a former Providence Police Department officer and Brown’s current chief of staff in the secretary of state’s office.

In a written statement, Brown said campaign manager Dennis Newman decided to step down last month to be closer to his home in Massachusetts.

Laffey blasts Chafee ’75 for supporting sheep researchEvery week, Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey’s senatorial campaign names a “Washington Taxpayer Rip-Off of the Week,” poking fun at unusual pork-barrel spending Sen. Lincoln Chafee ’75, R.-R.I., Laffey’s opponent in the Republican primary, has voted for in the Senate.

On Monday, the target was over $500,000 in federal aid to the Montana Sheep Institute, which develops “non-traditional adjustment strategies that will increase the competitiveness of Montana’s lamb and wool in the world market,” according to its Web site.

The earmark was included in the 2005 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, which Chafee voted for in November 2004.

“There are all sorts of important projects throughout the country, but the federal government and the hardworking taxpayers who generously fill its coffers cannot afford to fund every single one of them,” Laffey said in a press release. “It is up to our elected officials to prioritize and decide what is truly worthy of America’s tax dollars. I’m sorry to say, Montana’s wool industry is not one of them.”

Laffey has described himself as a fiscally conservative, anti-tax candidate in his campaign to wrest the nomination from Chafee, a moderate Republican seeking his second full term in the Senate.

Lawless brings out the starsJennifer Lawless, assistant professor of political science and public policy, is bringing out the big guns in her primary challenge to Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I.

One of the only issues separating the candidates is their positions on abortion rights – Lawless is pro-choice, while Langevin is pro-life. Lawless has tried to use the issue as a wedge to differentiate herself from Langevin and has gained some national attention for her stance.

Gloria Feldt, former president of Planned Parenthood of America, held an event for Lawless in New York late last year and is “a good friend and a strong supporter for the campaign,” campaign manager Adam Deitch ’05 told The Herald in February.

Now, Lawless will host a fundraiser headlined by Sarah Weddington, who successfully argued Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court in 1973 and later became a senior aide to former President Jimmy Carter.

“Sarah Weddington is a huge part of the reason that women have access to a full range of reproductive health options, and there is no more crucial a time than now for us to work fervently to preserve that access,” Lawless wrote in a Feb. 27 press release.

The funds raised at the event will surely be appreciated by the Lawless campaign, which took out two loans totaling over $25,000 in the last quarter of 2005. In a poll conducted in February by Professor of Political Science Darrell West, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy, Lawless garnered only 14 percent in a match-up with Langevin, who had the support of 58 percent of voters. The poll had a 7 percent margin of error.

The event, titled, “An Intimate Evening with Sarah Weddington,” will be held at the Hi-Hat in Providence on March 14.

Reed to target ChafeeSen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., plans to use his local popularity to help defeat his colleague in the Senate, Sen. Lincoln Chafee ’75, R-R.I., this fall.

Reed boasted a 68 percent approval rating in a September 2005 poll conducted by West – the highest for any statewide official. He said in a recent interview that he is excited about the Democratic challengers to Chafee – Secretary of State Matt Brown and former Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse – who are battling to secure the Democratic nomination in September before the general election in November.

“I know both very well,” Reed said in a Feb. 19 interview. “One of the things about Democrats in Rhode Island is that we’re blessed in talent.”

Reed said he will campaign with the Democratic nominee against Chafee, a moderate Republican who is also facing a challenge from Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey in the Republican primary.

“I’m a Democrat and I will campaign with the Democratic candidate. It’s not personal,” Reed said. “This is really about the composition of the U.S. Senate,” he added, saying a Democratic-controlled Senate will be more friendly to Rhode Island.

But Reed did not directly respond when asked if he sympathized with Chafee’s precarious position as a moderate Republican in a liberal, Democratic state.

“Senator Chafee makes his votes, I make mine, and on issues involving Rhode Island we work together,” he said. “I wouldn’t presume to tell him how he should vote and he wouldn’t tell me. We’re colleagues.”

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