The campaign manager for independent Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate Lincoln Chafee resigned Thursday after he acknowledged he received unemployment benefits while listed on the payroll of the Chafee campaign.
J.R. Pagliarini stepped down after inquiries from the media, although he maintains no intentional wrongdoing occurred, according to Mike Trainor, the acting campaign manager, and a statement from Pagliarini. They both called it a political attack, with Trainor saying it was orchestrated by Democratic rival Frank Caprio's campaign.
"This is a chapter out of Karl Rove's playbook," Trainor said. "Attack the strength of your opponent."
Caprio campaign spokesman Nick Hemond said no one in the campaign was involved.
Trainor attributed the overlap in the payroll and unemployment benefits to a peculiarity of the campaign's payroll system: He was put on the payroll a month before he was actually paid, and his first paycheck came after his jobless benefits had stopped. However, Pagliarini resigned because he did not want political discussion of the matter to become a distraction.
Pagliarini's departure less than three weeks before the Nov. 2 election is the latest bad news for the Chafee campaign in the race to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Don Carcieri. Caprio, the state's general treasurer and Chafee's main opponent in the race, has been criticizing him relentlessly for his disclosure last week that his old Senate campaign failed to pay taxes for five years due to his treasurers' misunderstanding of tax regulations.
Pagliarini was laid off last year from a job with the state board of higher education, whose chairman is Caprio's father.
He received his last unemployment check on Jan. 2 and officially started with the Chafee campaign on Jan. 4, Trainor said. The campaign's payroll system delays payments for several weeks for new employees, so he was listed on the payroll Dec. 19, Trainor said. But he was not paid until Jan. 15, after he had stopped receiving unemployment.
"I respect J.R. very much, and I am certain that after due process is provided to him the true facts of the situation will become clear," Chafee said.
Pagliarini called it a "false attack."
"Those political operatives who created this story chose to wait until a few short weeks before the most important election in recent history ... to leak documents to make it appear I am someone other than the person I am, and who I am known to be," he said in a statement. "As is often the case with last-minute political attacks, when the full story is told I will be vindicated."
Trainor said one of the media organizations that asked about the benefits, WJAR-TV, had presented the campaign with "illegally obtained records" about Pagliarini's unemployment benefits, which are private under state law. Pagliarini's lawyer, Steve Erickson, called on the state police, attorney general's office, U.S. attorney's office and FBI to investigate because the records are confidential under state and federal law.
He said it appeared the records were released from the higher education board. He also called for the state Department of Labor and Training to do a forensic audit of its computers to track the leak.
Laura Hart, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor and Training, said the department had launched an internal investigation. Steve Maurano, a spokesman for the Board of Governors of Higher Education, said no one there was aware of any documents having been leaked.
Hemond said that to his knowledge, Caprio's father, Judge Frank Caprio, chairman of the Board of Governors for Higher Education, had no involvement in the leak.
There have been no reliable polls in the race, which pits Chafee and Caprio against Republican John Robitaille, a former Carcieri aide, and Ken Block, an entrepreneur who is running with the nascent Moderate Party. But Caprio has dominated fundraising in the race, having raised $2.7 million. Chafee has raised far less, and has loaned himself $1.1 million to wage the campaign without any party support.
Robitaille and Block have trailed far behind in the money race, with Caprio and Chafee flooding TV airwaves with their ads.
Pagliarini worked for Chafee when he was a Republican U.S. senator, until Chafee lost re-election in 2006. He then became a deputy chief of staff for Carcieri before moving to the higher education board in 2008.
Pagliarini's resignation was not brought up at a Brown University candidates' forum that broke little new ground. Caprio accused Chafee of deferring action on the state's pension liability to future generations. Chafee responded that Caprio's pension plan was risky and potentially illegal and reminded the audience of Caprio's years in the General Assembly, which Chafee blamed for the state's financial woes.
Associated Press Writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.