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Russell Moore: Fung’s Folly

Monday, April 21, 2014

 

If Allan Fung's goal was to become the poster boy for old school, Byzantine politics, give the man credit: he's been a smashing success.

To say Fung has proven himself tone deaf about conflicts of interest in campaign finance would be an understatement akin to saying Fat Albert was a little bit overweight.

It's long been public knowledge that Fung receives campaign contributions from the leadership of the Cranston Police Union and their family members, and the union’s lawyer, Joe Rodio. I remember my Republican friends telling me they found it interesting that at his campaign fundraisers in 2008 the room would be divided into two sections--hard line Republicans on one side and police union members on the other side.

A Curious Response

But what was jaw dropping was how dismissive, nonchalant, and brazen the mayor was when questioned on Channel 12 Newsmakers about the inherent conflict of interest in taking financial contributions from the very same people whom he was expected to negotiate against on behalf of Cranston city taxpayers.

Fung responded by saying that he not only takes contributions from members of the police union whom he negotiates contracts with, but also the Fire Department, Teamsters, among others. How wonderful!

Don't get me wrong; Fung is far from the only politician in Rhode Island to take campaign donations from unions or other entities in which he's expected to negotiate with on behalf of taxpayers. But at least when former House Speaker Gordon Fox was accused of "pay to play" by his opponent's campaign back in 2012—he dodged and denied the issue as opposed to proudly owning up to it.

Ethics in Journalism vs. Politics

It was always an eye opener for me, as someone who sat through journalism ethics courses in college and was lectured to never take so much as a cup of coffee from a source, let alone a hamburger from somewhere like Gregg's or the Ironworks Tavern.

So consider me surprised that journalists, who can't accept a cup of coffee over an interview with a source, aren't more surprised that politicians like Mayor Fung take financial contributions from the very people they're supposed to sit across the table with in an adversarial role to negotiate a contract (that will be paid for by taxpayers) without batting an eye.

To illustrate how absurd this is, let's take this down to an individual level. Imagine if the mayor wanted to hire a particular individual for his staff that wasn't going to be a member of a city union--someone in senior management, in all likelihood. Prior to the commencement of the discussion between the mayor and the employee as to what taxpayer's should pay that individual, the individual in question slides an envelope across the mayor's desk and says "before we begin discussing my compensation, here's a $1,000 donation to your next reelection campaign".

Here's a Gift, Ready to Negotiate?

Does anyone think that's a fair negotiation on behalf of the taxpayers? That scenario triggers memories of Godfather II when Michael Corleone is forced to make a $1 million dollar gift to the President of Cuba if he wants to be allowed to invest in tourism and casinos in that country.

I highly doubt (and certainly hope) that Fung ever demanded that the unions in his city give him financial contributions (gifts, if you will), so I'm not sure this equates directly to "pay to play". And while city employees have the right to free speech and have the right to make a donation to Fung--he still had the ability to reject those contributions.

But consider this. If the Mayor takes financial gifts from one group, aren't the other groups basically compelled to follow suit. Let's once again bring this down to an individual employee level to illustrate the point. Picture two employees working in the Tax Collector's Department. One employee donates $1,000 personally per year, and his two sons and wife also donate $1,000--for a grand total of $4,000 per year. Working alongside him is another employee who doesn't donate anything.

Perverse Incentive

When the opportunity for a promotion opens up, which person is the Mayor going to be predisposed towards promoting? Only the most naive ostrich in Rhode Island would say that the gifts wouldn't factor into the decision. To quote Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick, human nature "it, is what it is".

If you're going to run for Governor of Rhode Island under the mantle of a reformer, as Fung is, one would expect that he would've had the good sense to not accept donations from people in which he would have to negotiate against on behalf of taxpayers. Cranston, however, had no such luck.

Fung’s Standard Operating Procedure

That's because this has been standard operating procedure since Fung took office in 2008. When you have Police Union Presidents like Stephen Antonucci and his family members and scores of other members of the police union donating to Fung, it shouldn't be surprising that the mayor agrees to a deal that's not affordable to taxpayers.

That's what gave birth to the whole Cranston ticket writing scandal, leading to Atonucci's firing and former Chief Marco Palumbo's resignation/retirement.

A Lucrative Deal

After taking contributions from the police union for years, Fung agreed to an expensive deal with the police union--surprise! The deal would've given police officers a raise of 11.25 percent over three years, and cost taxpayers roughly $1 million more per year than they're paying now.

The Democrat controlled Cranston City Council wisely and prudently rejected the deal on behalf of their taxpayers. That's when all the trouble started.

Yet all of this trouble could have been avoided if Fung wasn't so busy taking money from those he was expected to negotiate with. Given the recent ethics scandals we've undergone in this state, it's become more than apparent that Rhode Island needs reformers--not people like Fung who see nothing wrong and are 100 percent comfortable with the old way of doing business.  

A native Rhode Islander, Russell J. Moore is a graduate of Providence College and St. Raphael Academy. He worked as a news reporter for 7 years (2004-2010), 5 of which with The Warwick Beacon, focusing on government. He continues to keep a close eye on the inner workings of Rhode Islands state and local governments.

 

Related Slideshow: Cranston Police Contributions to Allan Fung

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Lt. Stephen Antonucci

12 contributions from Vito Antonucci, City of Providence, Public Properties Division, Chepachet RI. Made from 2008-13 total of $825.

  • 6/16/08 $100
  • 7/28/08 $150
  • 7/28/08 $150
  • 8/22/08 $50
  • 8/22/08 $50
  • 9/20/08 $100
  • 9/20/08 $100
  • 3/07/09 $100
  • 5/18/09 $100
  • 9/13/11 $100
  • 9/29/13 $100

 

8 Contributions from Michelle Antonucci, 60 Pine Ridge Drive, Cranston (PayChex Inc. of EP as employer).  Made from 2008-2013 for $1,060.

  • 6/19/08 $100
  • 8/06/08 $150
  • 8/06/08 $150
  • 9/23/08 $50
  • 9/23/08 $50
  • 4/16/09 $200
  • 10/26/10 $60
  • 10/03/13 $500

 

2 Contributions from Gail Antonucci, 119 Woodview Drive, Cranston (Homemaker)

  • 6/18/08 $100
  • 5/18/09 $100

 

contributions from Kevin Antonucci, 70 Garden Hills Drive, Cranston (City of Cranston)

  • 7/28/08 $150
  • 7/28/08 $150
Prev Next

Lt. Alan Loiselle

9 Contributions in name of Alan Loiselle, 20 Eastgate Drive, Warwick (City of Cranston as employer)

  • 6/5/08 $186.83 (In-kind, listed as “Hardware and supplies for headquarters”)
  • 6/16/08 $200
  • 6/23/08 $53.37 (In-kind, see above)
  • 7/28/08 $150
  • 7/31/08 $133.36 (In-kind, “Building materials and supplies”)
  • 5/18/09 $100
  • 9/16/08 $127.12 (In-kind, “Building equipment and supplies”)
  • 8/30/10 $100
  • 10/24/10 $50

 

1 Contribution from Robert Loiselle, Loiselle Insurance Agency, Pawtucket.

  • 10/29/08 $100

 

1 Contribution from Martin Loiselle, retired, 180 Potters Ave., Cranston.

  • 6/16/08 $100
Prev Next

Lt. Carl R. Ricci

7 contributions from a Carl R. Ricci, 76 Northview Ave. Cranston (Phred’s Drugs as employer)

  • 8/20/09 $300
  • 8/30/10 $100
  • 10/30/09 $125
  • 2/25/10 $150
  • 2/23/11 $150
  • 2/21/12 $150
  • 2/21/13 $150

 

Prev Next

Captain Sean Carmody

2 contributions from Sean P. Carmody, 129 Allens Ave. Cranston (City of Cranston employer)

  • 9/21/08 $100
  • 10/08/08 $200

10 contributions from Melissa Augaitis, 10 Basil Crossing, (Employer, Perspectives Corporation)

  • 6/16/08 $200
  • 3/26/09 $100
    2/25/10 $300
    8/30/10 $250
    10/17/10 $200
    2/23/11 $200
    2/29/12 $150
    6/3/13 $250
    6/25/13 $250
    9/29/12 $500

1 contribution from Maureen Carmody, same address, no employer

  • 7/28/08 $100

 

Prev Next

Chief Marco Palombo

4 Contributions in name of Michelle Palombo, 4 Jennifer Circle, Cranston (homemaker)

  • 9/18/08 $50
  • 9/13/11 $150
  • 6/25/13 $200
  • 7/22/13 $200
 
 

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