Rhode Island Democratic candidate for governor Frank Caprio on Friday criticized his independent rival Lincoln Chafee over Chafee's acknowledgment that his old Senate campaign committee of $18,400 in back taxes and fees due to a misunderstanding of tax regulations by his campaign treasurers.
Caprio, the state's general treasurer, said the tax problem called into question Chafee's leadership and the people he would bring with him to the Statehouse if elected. He also said Chafee had two sets of rules.
"He wants the people of Rhode Island to pay more taxes, and he's failed to pay his own taxes," Caprio said.
One of the foundations of Chafee's campaign has been his proposal to impose a 1 percent sales tax on items that are currently exempt.
Chafee's deputy campaign manager, Mike Trainor, said Friday that Chafee doesn't want to raise taxes, but the reality is the state is facing a $300 to $400 million deficit "that demands thoughtful and immediate attention."
"He's had the courage to step up to the plate, unlike any of his competitors, and say, in addition to cutting expenses and reducing costs, we need new revenue," Trainor said.
Chafee and Caprio are in a heated contest for the governor's seat, which is being vacated by term-limited Republican Don Carcieri. Their other two opponents are Republican John Robitaille, a former top Carcieri aide, and Moderate Ken Block, an entrepreneur.
Chafee is a former Republican U.S. senator who lost re-election in 2006. The tax problem with his old Senate campaign committee came to light after an inquiry to his campaign by The Associated Press.
Chafee's campaign on Thursday acknowledged that the committee failed to pay federal and state taxes on approximately $64,400 of investment income from 2004 through 2008.
Chafee on Thursday called it an honest misunderstanding of complicated rules, and pledged to pay out of his pocket.
Wendy Schiller, a political science professor at Brown University, called the news an unfortunate development for Chafee, who has run on a platform of ethics and honesty, and whose campaign slogan is "Trust Chafee."
"That completely detracts and undermines his campaign message, which rests on the idea of trust and integrity," she said. "Caprio's not running a campaign completely focused on ethics and trust."