R.I. CPA Society president fined for campaign finance violations

The head of the Rhode Island Society of Certified Public Accountants has been fined for a pile of missing campaign finance reports, along with unreported donations and spending by the group’s political action committee, according to a consent order approved by the R.I. Board of Elections on Tuesday.

Melissa Travis, president of RISCPA, will pay a $1,000 personal penalty for campaign finance violations, although the amount may be reduced to $500 if she meets upcoming reporting deadlines and agrees to forfeit $1,000 in previously unreported donations. The consent order comes after an audit of RISCPA’s PAC, of which Travis is the chairwoman, which detailed a pattern of missed deadlines, unreported donations and spending from January 2021 to July 2023.

Among them: seven missing campaign finance reports, typically due quarterly with extra deadlines before and after elections; $3,800 in unreported individual donations; and $4,257 in unreported campaign spending, including 22 donations to political candidates. One political candidate received $1,050 in donations from the PAC in 2022, which exceeds the $1,000 limit in state law.

The audit also uncovered $164 in receipts from unknown sources that were unreported.

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Travis in an interview Tuesday night cited personal illness which forced her to step away temporarily from overseeing RISCPA’s campaign finance account and delegate responsibility to two other employees.

Since learning of the violations, Travis said both employees were fired, and new people hired in their places. She has also returned to her regular oversight of the society’s campaign finance reports, with additional “corrective action” in accordance with the agreement with the election board

“We took full responsibility, we took action to resolve this and we’re going to make sure it never happens again,” she said. “It’s got my name on it, so I get to pay the fine.”

Travis has 30 days to forfeit $1,164 from the PAC’s campaign account for unreported donations and receipts from unknown sources; she must pay the $500 fine within 90 days. Failure to pay the penalty within 10 days of the agreed-upon deadline will add another $500 to the fine, according to the consent order.

Nancy Lavin is a staff writer for the Rhode Island Current.