Politics & Elections

Matt Brown issues cease and desist to Raimondo campaign over ‘false and defamatory’ ads

An attorney for the Matt Brown for Governor campaign issued a cease and desist letter to incumbent Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and her senior campaign staff calling on her to immediately retract the false and defamatory statements made in TV and mailer advertisements about Matt Brown. Specifically, the letter cites the following allegations made by the Raimondo campaign: Beginning

Published on September 4, 2018
By Steve Ahlquist

An attorney for the Matt Brown for Governor campaign issued a cease and desist letter to incumbent Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and her senior campaign staff calling on her to immediately retract the false and defamatory statements made in TV and mailer advertisements about Matt Brown.

Specifically, the letter cites the following allegations made by the Raimondo campaign:

  1. Beginning August 30, the Raimondo Campaign has broadcast a television advertisement that asserts that Mr Brown “ran” his United States Senate campaign “with apparent laundering of campaign contributions,” “hid $150,000 in debt,” and “stiffed his workers over $100,000 in pay”; and that, at the nonprofit organization where he subsequently worked, Mr Brown “pa[id] himself nearly $300,000 a year.”
  2. On July 5 the Raimondo Campaign sent a message to the Providence Journal, with intent that the newspaper would further circulate it publicly (as it did), that “[Matt Brown’s last campaign in 2006 ended in a criminal investigation.”
  3. On or about July 23, Governor Raimondo stated to Rhode Island resident Brianna McFadden that Mr. Brown is “most famous for having engaged in money laundering and had to drop out of his Senate campaign for doing that.”

“These absurd, false attacks reveal Gina Raimondo’s deep disrespect for Rhode Islanders, who she assumes aren’t smart enough to spot a blatant lie when they see it,” said Brown in a written statement. “But Rhode Islanders are smart and won’t be fooled, and they won’t let our democracy be bought by someone who lies and spends millions of dollars to trick voters and buy an election while refusing to do even one debate. The truth is that the baseless attacks are an attempt to distract from Raimondo’s own financial mismanagement, which adds up to more than $1.5 billion in losses from the UHIP debacle, failed pension investments, Cooler and Warmer, 195 construction debacle, and more.

“Politicians only pour millions of dollars into negative attacks when they know the race is close. We’ve heard from multiple sources that a leaked poll from Gina Raimondo’s campaign puts Raimondo and me in a statistical tie among Democrats, and Spencer Dickinson at 2 percent. Gina Raimondo’s campaign is panicking because they know Rhode Island is ready for change and that our grassroots campaign is on the verge of major political upset.”

The cease and desist letter from Washington DC based attorney Laurence Gold takes on each of the allegations in turn.

These are all deliberate falsehoods, as the Raimondo Campaign plainly knows. Here are the facts, virtually all of which are reflected in the same public records that the Raimondo Campaign has misused to fashion its false and defamatory statements about Mr. Brown.

First, there was no “criminal investigation” associated with Mr Brown’s 2006 campaign for the United States Senate (“Senate Campaign”) or any other proceeding sought or conducted in relation to the campaign that entailed any “criminal” aspect. Nor did Mr. Brown commit the crime of “money laundering,” which is set forth in federal law at 18 U.S.C. § 1956, and in Rhode Island law at R.I.G.L. S 11-9.1-15, each provision entitled “Laundering of monetary instruments.” Instead, the following is true:

On March 22, 2006, the Rhode Island Republican Party filed a civil administrative complaint against the Senate Campaign with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging that certain political contributions violated the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). The Raimondo Campaign’s broadcast ad quotes a Providence Journal editorial that appeared immediately after the Rhode Island Republican Party filed and publicized its complaint. But that complaint, and the money laundering” characterization of it, were completely discredited on March 20, 2007 – almost a year after Mr Brown ended his Senate campaign, but eleven years before the Raimondo Campaign’s falsehoods about them – when the bipartisan FEC dismissed the complaint in its entirety, concluding that there was no basis” and no support for, and “no reason to believe,” the allegations against the Senate Campaign. The Rhode Island Republican Party declined to exercise its right under FECA to challenge that dismissal in court.

Accordingly, there was no “criminal investigation” or criminal case of any kind, and no allegation, let alone a finding, of “money laundering.” To the contrary, the responsible federal agency considered and conclusively rejected allegations of civil violations of the federal election law. It was plain twelve years ago that the Rhode Island Republican Party’s FEC complaint against the Senate Campaign was a politically motivated gambit to derail Mr. Brown, then the Rhode Island Secretary of State, whom that party evidently feared could succeed in his effort to represent Rhode Island in the United States Senate. The Raimondo Campaign’s current statements falsely asserting that there was a “criminal investigation” and that Mr. Brown “engaged in money laundering” exceed in defamatory gravity what even the Rhode Island Republican Party falsely claimed at the time.

The Raimondo Campaign’s next falsehood is that Mr. Brown “hid $150,000 in debt.” In fact, the Senate Campaign reported as quickly as possible all information about campaign debt in its possession in its regularly scheduled reports to the FEC. The Senate Campaign timely filed a quarterly report on April 14, 2006, just before the campaign ended, that disclosed nearly $174,000 in debt. Twelve days later, after receiving further vendor invoices and information, the Senate Campaign filed an amended report that disclosed an additional $90,000 of debt. The same sequence occurred with respect to the next quarterly report: on July 15, eleven weeks after the campaign ended, the Senate Campaign timely filed a quarterly report that disclosed over $314,000 in debt; nineteen days later, again after receiving further vendor invoices and information, the Senate Campaign amended the report to disclose an additional $50,000 of debt. (When it later worked with its vendors to settle these debts, as discussed below, they determined the final figures and the Senate Campaign accordingly amended the two quarterly reports again to adjust the debt figures upward a total of $10,000 more.) The Senate Campaign fully explained this sequence of events to the FEC, and the FEC accepted and resolved the matter administratively, as the public record demonstrates. But the Raimondo Campaign falsely accuses Mr Brown of a deliberate act of concealment in “hid[ing]” the difference in the amended reported figures, rather than acknowledges that the terminating Senate Campaign timely reported its debt information on hand and – without the FEC or anyone else prompting it to do so , immediately reported all of the additional information that it obtained.

The Raimondo Campaign’s next falsehood is that Mr Brown “stiffed his workers over $100,000 in pay,” with a visual graphic of four unknown individuals and the figure “$102,997.” In fact, every Senate Campaign employee was fully paid. This figure instead pertains to the Senate Campaign’s business vendors, who participated with the Senate Campaign in making a submission to the FEC under its established debt settlement rules. Because the Senate Campaign’s effective fundraising ended with the campaign, it settled with each such vendor at 50% of the amount it was owed, and the FEC reviewed and approved this plan, which the Senate Campaign then carried out. But that process – unfortunate, but quite typical of unsuccessful campaigns – had nothing to do with “pay[ing]” “workers,” let alone “stiff[ing]” them, as the Raimondo Campaign dishonestly accuses Mr Brown of having done.

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Finally, the Raimondo Campaign’s broadcast ad falsely states that Mr Brown “paid himself nearly $300,000 a year” at the nonprofit organization where he worked. In fact, as Global Zero‘s Co-Founder Bruce Blair has publicly explained, he, and not Mr Brown, determined Mr Brown’s salary at Global Zero. But the Raimondo Campaign, without any basis in fact, asserts that Mr. Brown controlled the matter and implicitly accuses him of self-dealing, a breach of Internal Revenue Code-established standards at a charitable organization.

The letter goes on to claim that the Raimondo campaign has engaged in “actionable defamation” and laid the groundwork for a possible lawsuit. The campaign has been advised to retain all documents.

Letters are being issued to local television stations requesting that they take down the advertisement with false claims about Brown. The attorney also requested that the Raimondo campaign immediately and publicly call on their “independent expenditure” ally, the “Alliance for a Better Rhode Island,” to cease circulating its recent mailer that mirrors the Raimondo campaign’s falsehoods.

Update 12:56pm:

As reported by Ted Nesi:

“The ad informing Rhode Islanders about Matt Brown’s history of fiscal mismanagement is straightforward and factual, and we stand by it,” said Raimondo campaign spokesperson Emily Samsel. “This is a last-gasp stunt by a failed candidate who has misled Rhode Islanders and distorted the governor’s record from beginning to end.”

Matt Brown

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