RI Republicans call for FEC investigation of Abney campaign loan

By: - July 26, 2023 3:54 pm

Democratic Rep. Marvin Abney, chair of the Rhode Island House finance committee. (Capitol TV screenshot)

Rhode Island Republicans are asking federal election regulators to investigate a top state lawmaker for allegedly breaking campaign finance laws.

The complaint against Rhode Island House Finance Chairman Marvin Abney, a Newport Democrat, comes after recent second-quarter financial reports revealed that Abney accepted a $50,000 personal loan toward his 1st Congressional District campaign. Abney has since failed to meet the 500-signature state requirement to qualify for the Sept. 5 primary ballot in the special election.

But Joe Powers, chairman of the Republican Party of Rhode Island, still wants Abney to face consequences for an “illegal” loan for his campaign. In a July 20 complaint to the Federal Elections Commission obtained by Rhode Island Current, Powers alleges that the $50,000 loan Abney’s campaign accepted from Newport donor John Brooks violates federal campaign contribution limits.

Federal laws cap individual donations at $3,300 a year to congressional candidates — which Brooks donated on the same day he gave the loan, according to Abney’s campaign finance report.  

While banks or other lending institutions can issue lines of credit to candidates for much larger amounts under federal law, Brooks’ loan does not appear to meet those criteria, the letter states.

An individual loan that is not repaid is considered a contribution, and therefore subject to the maximum contribution caps, according to the FEC.

House Finance Chairman Marvin Abney, a Newport Democrat. Lavin/Rhode Island Current).

Abney’s campaign had not repaid the loan to Brooks as of the June 30 filing deadline. He ended the quarter with $14,772 cash on hand, plus a $50,000 debt from the loan.

Abney did not return multiple calls for comment.

Powers also called for House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi to oust Abney from his position as House Finance chairman.

“The definition of his job is to raise funds and receive money to be used for the party, and yet this guy doesn’t know the rules,” Powers said in an interview. “That’s like giving a license to someone who keeps crashing their car.”

Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, declined to comment.

Powers in a statement likened Abney to past chairmen of the powerful House Finance Committee, who have also run afoul of state and federal financial laws.

“It is strange how House Speakers repeatedly appoint persons to the House Finance Committee who have trouble managing money,” Powers said. “Ray Gallison served as its chairman before he was convicted of various financial related crimes. Ken Marshall served as its vice chairman before being fined for misuse of campaign funds. Carlos Tobon served on the committee before he was fined for failing to disclose his unpaid debts. Now Abney serves as the committee’s chairman although he accepted an illegal campaign loan.”

Just as Shekarchi asked Tobon, a Pawtucket Democrat, to resign in 2022 amid the revelations of financial debts, so should Shekarchi call for Abney to step down, Powers said.

The complaint asks federal regulators to fine Abney the maximum amount for the alleged violation, which would be $10% of the loan, or $5,000. The FEC has not yet confirmed receipt of the complaint as of Wednesday, according to Powers.


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Nancy Lavin
Nancy Lavin

Nancy Lavin is senior reporter covering state politics, energy and environmental issues for the Rhode Island Current.