WOONSOCKET — Mayor Leo Fontaine has amended a campaign finance report submitted to the state Board of Elections this week after the original erroneously indicated he neither spent nor took in any money since the beginning of the month.
Richard Thornton, director of campaign finance for the state Board of Elections, said the corrected report was filed on Wednesday, a day after the deadline, and since it contains significantly new information from the original, Fontaine will be charged a $25 late fee.
Thornton said Fontaine told him the original was the result of an innocent mistake on the part of his campaign treasurer, but his election opponent has seized on the blank report, saying it is evidence of alleged willful deceit. State Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket) was assessed $361 in late fees for filing a series of amended reports that were months overdue in 2011, but she says Fontaine’s case is different.
“I’m not talking about filing campaign reports late,” she said. “That happens with most candidates.”
In this case, she said Fontaine knowingly filed false reports about his campaign expenses and receipts, then failed to correct them until after an article appeared on the GoLocalProv website. On Wednesday, the site reported that Fontaine’s campaign finance report showed zero activity “even though he had three paid appearances on WNRI and held a fundraiser at a Woonsocket restaurant.
“While I have disclosed all of my fundraising and campaign spending information in a timely way, the mayor seems to think he doesn’t have to play by the rules,” said Baldelli-Hunt. “Mayor Fontaine is a public official and a candidate for public office who seems to believe that he can get away with hiding information and operating in the shadows. He only filed the correct information after being caught by a media outlet being less than truthful in his filing.”
But Fontaine said Baldelli-Hunt’s allegations are an overblown, deliberate distortion of the facts. He said there’s nothing substantively different between the one case of late filing cited by Baldelli-Hunt and the numerous occasions she had done so herself since she had become a state representative in 2006.
Of the 43 reports she was required to file during her career as a legislator, Fontaine said Baldelli-Hunt filed late 21 times. The average period of time that elapsed between the due date and the filing of the reports was 47 days, he said.
“For her to make an issue of me being one day late is nonsense,” said Fontaine. “She should be embarrassed to have to put out a press release on this. She’s grasping at straws.”
Fontaine said it’s patently false that he was reacting to the report on GoLocalProv when he filed the amended reports. The amended reports were filed “hours before” the story first appeared on the website, he said.
The mayor also claimed GoLocalProv erroneously reported that one of the campaign expenditures he failed to report on Oct. 22 was $200 for an ad in a pamphlet publicizing the documentary “My Old School.”
Fontaine said that expenditure was disclosed in an earlier report.
Fontaine claims he has one of the best records of compliance with campaign finance deadlines of any sitting office holder in the city. Of more than 60 reports he’s been required to file over the years, he said he’s been late five times.
Thornton said it “occasionally” happens that candidates are assessed late fees for filing overdue reports. The fees kick in only when late reports are “materially amended,” which means they add information which is significantly different than the originals.
“In the original report he has nothing, but in the amended report he has all the information, so in this case it’s obviously materially amended,” he said.
In 2011, Thornton said, Baldelli-Hunt filed six reports that were either late or materially amended. She was initially assessed $1,198 in late fees after the reports were filed on Feb. 17, 2011, some four months after they were initially due. She appealed the assessment, and elections officials agreed to reduce it to $361.
Fontaine said the submission of the original report happened because his campaign treasurer, identified by elections officials as Celeste Baillargeon, initiated the electronic filing a day early. He said she somehow erroneously entered an incomplete report without intending to.
Thornton said there is a “two-step” process designed to prevent erroneous submissions. Before a report can be entered electronically, a prompt on the computer program asks the filer whether he or she wants to finalize the submission. The submission can only be sent if the filer hits a key affirming that the information is ready to be entered.
The amended reports filed by Fontaine – he actually filed three within a span of several hours Wednesday – indicate his campaign began the period with $5,926.15 in cash on hand and spent $2,237.86 from Oct. 1-21. Among other things, the campaign spent $1,885.86 on various advertising expenses, including stamps and envelopes, signs and other supplies. He also spent $150 on food and beverages for a campaign event at The Burrito Company restaurant.
The report also indicates that Fontaine spent $330 for air time on radio
station WNRI and received an in-kind contribution of $250 from Christopher
Bouley, which was also used for air time on the radio station.
The report indicates Fontaine finished the reporting period with $8,144.29 on hand.
Baldelli-Hunt’s campaign finance report for the period indicates she began the period with $4,267.56 and spent $4,148 during the period. Offset by some contributions, she ended the period with $1,418.67 on hand.
Fontaine has squared off in several debates with Baldelli-Hunt before and since the primary on Oct. 8, in which she defeated him by a margin of 3-1.
The two will face each other again at 8 a.m. on radio station WNRI Wednesday in what will likely be their final matchup before the general election on Nov. 5.
In this forum, questions will be drawn from members of the audience, according to Roger Bouchard, general manager of the radio station.