PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Under prodding from state elections officials, the Democratic Governors Association belatedly filed a report on how much it has spent to try to influence the Rhode Island governor's race.
The report was filed Tuesday, on the day before the chairman of the national group, Delaware Governor Jack Markell, was headed to Rhode Island to stump for the Democratic nominee here: state Treasurer Frank Caprio.
The Democratic Governors Association has spent an estimated $541,000 so far on TV ads attacking Caprio's chief rival, Lincoln D. Chafee. But it had filed no reports with the state Board of Elections disclosing those expenditures until Tuesday, after the board's campaign-finance administrator Richard Thornton called last week to ask why.
Law and regulations require the reporting of independent expenditures within seven days, along with the source of the money.
But Thornton on Wednesday said that when he called, a lawyer for the Democratic Governors Association contended his group did not have to file any disclosure reports in Rhode Island because the TV ads attacking Chafee were "issues'' ads, not "advocacy'' ads in which the DGA directly came out and said vote for Caprio, or do not vote for Chafee.
Thornton said: "It seems like the [first] ad was placed around the same time that we were hammering out our regulation on Independent Expenditures. By adding the definition of "Expressly Advocating" to our regulation, we are confident that we are on solid ground if challenged.''
Rather than press the point, Thornton said, the Democratic Governors Association agreed to voluntarily file a report disclosing how much it has spent this month alone, which totals $541,479.
This behind-the-scenes confrontation between the DGA and the state Board of Election drew this response from Stephen P. Erickson, the former state judge advising the Chafee campaign: "The out of state entities that spent over one half million dollars try[ing to] defeat Senator Chafee are obviously not familiar with Rhode Island election law.
They try to be too cute by half, as the saying goes.
"They say it is an issue ad, but in the report they say they are reporting on 'Licoln[sic] Chafee's Tax Plan.' By saying 'Lincoln Chafee' they concede it is an expenditure to defeat a candidate. If their interpretation were allowed to stand, the reporting law would be gutted.
"Anyone who looks at the ad knows it is an attack on Chafee, not an issue discussion. Issue ads talk about issues, not candidates and their positions. They were late in their filing, and that is a basic fact. Were they trying to hide the fact that the DGA is spending such huge amounts on this race?
"This is an example of the technique of 'say something and hope people will believe it.' It is not an honest approach to campaigns, or government,'' he said.