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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Island Democrats may be in trouble over fund-swap

By Mark Niesse
Associated Press

Rhode Island official Matt Brown, running on a clean-government platform, is seeking a Democratic U.S. Senate nomination.

AP file photo

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A man who had contributed the legal limit to a Rhode Island candidate for the U.S. Senate gave money to the Democratic Party in Hawai'i and Massachusetts after the party had sent money to the candidate.

Richard Bready, chief executive of Providence-based Nortek Inc., wrote a $6,000 check to the Hawai'i Democratic Party after the party had given $5,000 to Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown, Hawai'i party treasurer Jane Sugimura acknowledged yesterday. Brown is running for the Democratic nomination to the Senate on a clean-government platform.

Bready already had given the $4,200 maximum to Brown's campaign before he made the contributions to Hawai'i and Massachusetts.

The disclosure of the donor's identity yesterday could be significant. Federal election laws prohibit money exchanges that are made in order to avoid campaign donation limits on individuals, Federal Elections Commission spokesman George Smaragdis said.

It's also illegal for an organization to pass on contributions in someone else's name, he said.

The commission would start an investigation if it received a complaint, Smaragdis said. He declined to say whether a complaint had been filed.

Hawai'i party Chairman Brickwood Galuteria said last week it was a mistake for the state party to give the contribution to Brown. He said the error was in supporting a candidate in a primary race rather than a general election, because the party doesn't usually take sides between two Democratic candidates.

But the Hawai'i party disputes that there was a deal in place to support Brown in exchange for Bready's contribution.

Brown faces former Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse for the Democratic nomination in the Rhode Island race.

The Brown campaign encouraged donors to give to state parties in Hawai'i, as well as Massachusetts and Maine, which contributed $10,000 each to Brown's campaign, said Matt Burgess, a spokesman for Brown.

Brown said last week he would return all $25,000 to the three states. Sugimura said the party has sent a letter to Brown's campaign asking for Hawai'i's $5,000.

Sugimura told The Associated Press bureau in Providence in two phone interviews last week that a Brown campaign staffer arranged a tit-for-tat deal in which the Hawai'i party gave a $5,000 donation to Brown in exchange for money to be received from Brown supporters. She later told The Associated Press in Honolulu that was not the case.

Bready also gave $5,000 to the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee federal fund on Jan. 5, one week after checks totaling $10,000 had been donated to Brown from the same account, according to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.

It was unknown until yesterday who had given the money to the Hawai'i party. Burgess said last week that members of the campaign did not know who gave to the state parties, and the campaign did not know if it was Bready.

Bready is a member of the Matt Brown for U.S. Senate Campaign Committee and a well-known Rhode Island philanthropist. In an interview with the AP last week, Brown described Bready as a friend.

Since Bready's donation to Massachusetts was first reported, he has not returned several messages seeking comment.

The Hawai'i Democratic Party already had sent the $6,000 back to Bready, Sugimura said.

Associated Press reporters M.L. Johnson and Ray Henry in Providence, R.I., contributed to this report.