- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Leaked comments from a Republican anti-vaccination activist about her surprise endorsement of Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, the state’s most powerful legislator, are roiling his re-election campaign just a week before the election.

The state’s Republican Party filed a complaint Monday with the state Board of Elections asking it to investigate whether a campaign mailer sent by activist Shawna Lawton, a former Republican candidate for Mattiello’s Cranston seat, violated campaign finance laws.

Lawton, a political novice, lost September’s Republican primary to lawyer Steven Frias, a national GOP committeeman. She raised eyebrows last week when Cranston residents began receiving fliers in their mailboxes expressing her endorsement of Mattiello over Frias.

Suspicion over Lawton’s motives in supporting the Democrat grew on Sunday when the Providence Journal reported on leaked comments from a private online chat between Lawton and her political allies in the anti-vaccine movement. Lawton has been an advocate pushing for legislation to remove a requirement that Rhode Island schoolchildren receive the HPV vaccine before entering the seventh grade.

Lawton told her allies in private chats during October that she had met with Jeff Britt, Mattiello’s political consultant, and mentioned a “promise” made that could apparently advance the anti-vaccine cause if she supported Mattiello.

Lawton did not return calls for comment Monday. She refused to reveal who funded the mailer when asked last week by WPRO-AM, saying it would be released publicly during the next campaign finance reporting period in the winter.

She told the Providence Journal no promises were made during her meeting with Britt and explained her leaked comments as a way of trying to explain why she thought it was important to endorse Mattiello and gain some recognition for her cause.

Mattiello said he didn’t know about the mailer before it was sent and called the GOP’s complaint “meritless.”

“I have never met Mrs. Lawton nor have I made any promises to her in return for her support of my candidacy,” he said in a statement Monday.

He said vaccine issues should be in the realm of the Department of Health, not the Legislature.

He also called on Lawton to disclose the funding source of her mailer.

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