NORTH SMITHFIELD – The election may long be over, but for two political opponents in northern Rhode Island, differences remain, along with questions regarding campaign tactics and leadership qualities on both sides.
The Rhode Island Board of Elections voted unanimously on Tuesday to dismiss complaints by the state Republican Party against Paul Jones, who ran as a Democrat for state representative against incumbent Rep. Brian Newberry in the November election.
Jones ultimately lost in his bid challenging Newberry, who has held the seat representing North Smithfield and Burrillville since 2008.
The complaint, filed following the election results by the chairperson of the party, alleged that the candidate failed to properly account for expenses in campaign finance reports, stating the omissions were in violation of laws governing the activities. In a letter sent to BOE Campaign Finance Director Richard Thornton, Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Cienki pointed to Facebook ads, mailers and information published by Mark Berger of public relations firm Berg’s Eye Communications in Jones’ District 48 campaign.
A North Smithfield resident who has already announced plans to run again in 2024, Jones said this week he felt vindicated by the board’s decision to dismiss the allegations.
“Mr. Newberry had a chance to set the tone of his agenda after this recent election, and all he did is reconfirm he is unfit for his office,” Jones said. “Instead of marking out legislative goals or setting forth a vision for helping the residents of North Smithfield and Burrillville, Mr. Newberry and the RIGOP spent their time launching a sloppy, misguided attack for the sole purpose of trying to intimidate me from running for office in the future.”
Asked if he had a response to the statement, Newberry said, “Mr. Jones spent six months lobbing personal insults at me. I ignored them then and will continue to ignore them now.”
NRI NOW contacted Thornton earlier this month in hopes to gain insight on the allegations and procedure for investigating a complaint, but the campaign finance director explained that he can only comment in cases where the board ultimately deems a candidate is guilty of violations.
For his part, Newberry noted that his 2022 opponent has filed five amendments to the finance report since the complaint letter was sent last month.
“I have no idea what they based their decision on, though I note the fact they voted at all means the staff thought there was enough smoke to send it for their review,” Newberry said. “Many complaints are summarily dismissed at staff level.”
Newberry also maintained that the board has a, “long history of being lenient.”
“Their goal, a good one I should add, is to ensure compliance, not punish people and make it even less attractive to run for office,” Newberry said. “Perhaps seeing Jones’ long history of failed election campaigns for nearly every office in town and the large debt he is now carrying, they took pity on him.”
Jones, who was serving on the North Smithfield School Committee prior to his run for the District 48 seat, ran for town administrator in 2020, and finished third in a non-partisan primary ultimately won by current Administrator Paul Zwolenski. He also came in 8th out of 9 candidates in a bid for the North Smithfield Town Council in 2016.
But in reaction to the comment Jones noted he’s not alone in losing past elections.
“Brian has brought up my electoral history, which is absolutely fair; however, he himself ran – and lost – twice in row before being elected in 2008,” Jones said.
Among the allegations in initial complaint were questions regarding Berger’s promotion of Jones’ campaign on social media and other forums, including a Shop in RI story, and this week, the owner of the PR firm also weighed in.
“It appears the Newberry campaign waited until after the election … to levy these baseless accusations on Mr. Jones’ campaign and my involvement,” Berger said in a statement. “Everything was done above board and out in the open.”
Jones maintains the Republicans’ complaint was baseless from the start.
“This was demonstrably false,” said Jones of the accusations. “I was immediately able to produce receipts and supporting documents proving the RIGOP wrong.”