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Bru-'No': U. tells Cicilline not to use logo

Congressional candidate Mayor David Cicilline '83 has come under fire for using Brown's logo in a fundraising appeal for Rhode Island's 1st District race.

Anthony Gemma, one of Cicilline's rivals for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring Rep. Patrick Kennedy, has accused Cicilline of knowingly and illegally using the University's corporate logo in a fundraising appeal.


The mailer — sent to alums — shows a picture of Cicilline above the Brown logo. The text reads, "Can you believe there's only one Brown alum" ­— Dan Maffei '90, D-N.Y. — "in the entire U.S. Congress? Let's change that." On the mailer, the Cicilline campaign logo does not appear with his customary red and blue letters on a white background, instead using white words on a red background — Brown colors.


Gemma first brought attention to the mailer in an Aug. 23 press release, denouncing what he called Cicilline's "cheap and deceitful campaign tactic" and charging that the mayor had endangered Brown's tax-exempt status by implying that the University had endorsed him. Federal law prohibits Brown, as an educational institution, from participating in political campaigns.


"Anybody in politics knows that you do not put 501(c)(3)s in jeopardy by putting their resources at risk," said Dan Mercer, Gemma's campaign manager.

In a statement, the University wrote, "Brown University does not allow the use of its name, seal or other insignia to appear on any stationery or other material used or intended for political purposes. ... This rule applies to all faculty, staff, students, alumni and other interested parties. Any use of the University's name or marks without the University's express permission is strictly prohibited."


Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, said the University told the Cicilline campaign to cease and desist use of the Brown logo, calling it "completely inappropriate." University Hall is not currently considering taking any further steps on the matter, she said.  


In a statement, the Cicilline campaign expressed regret over the letter: "In a recent mailing to alumni, the Brown University logo was used in error. Brown University, as a not-for-profit organization, cannot make endorsements. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused."

The campaign also apologized to the University.


Richard Luchette, communications director for the Cicilline campaign, said use of the logo was "a mistake," but denied that the campaign had broken federal campaign law.


Eric Hyers, Cicilline's campaign manager, said he approved the mailer before it went out, but no attorney vetted it.


"Should I have looked better, for longer? Perhaps," he said, but denied that the mailing violated the law. Hyers also said the campaign sent a follow-up letter to those who had received the original mailer, clarifying that Brown cannot offer political endorsements.


The Cicilline campaign obtained its list of Brown alumni through its own original research, Hyers said, not from the University.


A Gemma supporter who is a Brown alum first made the Gemma campaign aware of the mailer's existence, according to Mercer, who also said that the supporter had initially thought Brown had endorsed Cicilline's congressional bid. Since then, Mercer said, other Brown alums have contacted the campaign saying they had received the Cicilline mailer, and he dismissed the notion that it could have been an innocent mistake by the Cicilline campaign.

"They knew what they were doing, and they didn't think they would get caught," he said.


The Gemma campaign has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, Mercer said, though the Commission has not yet responded. The complaint alleges both that Cicilline's "clear and prominent" use of Brown's logo "unequivocally constitutes the improper acceptance of an illegal corporate contribution by the Cicilline Committee" and that it "misleadingly implies to the public an improper corporate endorsement of David Cicilline by Brown University."


Mercer said this incident constitutes part of a larger pattern of dishonest behavior by the mayor and criticized Cicilline's practice of asking supporters to let him move previously donated money between different campaign accounts.


State Rep. David Segal, D-Providence, another Democratic candidate, recently accused Cicilline of taking credit for a jobs initiative that as mayor he had originally refused to implement. Segal, then a city councilman, filed a lawsuit that compelled the city to carry out the program.


A poll conducted in late July by the Taubman Center for Public Policy found Cicilline ahead in the Democratic primary with 32 percent. Former State Democratic Party Chairman Bill Lynch was in second place with 15 percent, with Gemma in third at 11 percent and Segal at 5 percent.

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