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Cynthia Needham
By Cynthia Needham October 27, 2010

Cicilline "argued against Megan's Law and voted against mandatory registration of sex offenders"

A new round of attack ads in the race to replace U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy is not a product of one campaign or the other; it comes from a little-known political organization known as Americans For Common Sense Solutions.

On its website, the group describes itself as a local operation run out of downtown Providence.

Christopher Stenberg, named on the website as the group's executive director, did not return multiple calls, nor could we find any office affiliated with his name at several Westminster Street addresses.

The group registered in July with the Internal Revenue Service as a 527 non-profit organization. It has not registered with the Federal Election Commission which would be required if it were supporting a particular candidate.

But its strongly worded advertisements on TV and radio leave no doubt about the organization's disdain for Democrat David Cicilline, who is running for the seat against Republican John Loughlin.

In the radio spot, a woman's voice says:

"Even though Republicans and Democrats fight about almost everything, they didn't fight about this. Except David Cicilline. As a state representative, David Cicilline argued against Megan’s Law and voted against mandatory registration of sex offenders.

"We don't know why David Cicilline took a position to protect sexual predators and we don't know if he will argue or vote against other common sense legislation if he becomes a congressman."

Megan's Law is the colloquial name for state laws that require the police to provide information to the public about sex offenders. That includes mandatory registration of sex offenders and notification to residents when a sex offender moves into the neighborhood.

The law was named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old who was raped and murdered in 1994 in New Jersey by a convicted sex offender who moved to her neighborhood after being released from prison.

The statutes governing Megan's Law differ from state to state.

In 1996, Rhode Island lawmakers took the existing sex offender registration law, which required convicted offenders to register with local police departments, and added language requiring police to notify the community. That vote took place while Cicilline, now the mayor of Providence, was still a state representative.

So how did he vote? The short answer is, he was one of three representatives who voted against it.

But Cicilline's campaign now says the candidate opposed the bill because it applied to teenagers as well as adults.

In other words, "if a 13-year-old touches another 13-year-old, he could be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life," Eric Hyers, a Cicilline spokesman told us.

To say Cicilline "argued against Megan's Law" is "a disgusting and vile claim" if you don't explain that his objections were limited to one particular section, Hyers said.

It's difficult to verify what prompted Cicilline's no vote nearly 15 years ago.

A Providence Journal story on the issue indicated that Cicilline indeed spoke up about his concerns that adolescent offenders would face long-term consequences. He was quoted as saying "I don't know that it will do anything to protect our children" from molesters.

The General Assembly did not start videotaping its sessions until several years later and the legislative Journal from that day merely says Rep. Cicilline engaged in a debate about the bill, without providing details.

The bill's journey did not end there. Three years later, in 1999, Megan's Law was amended to limit community notification to adult offenders, thereby carving out an exception for teenage offenders, the group Cicilline had concerns about.

This time, the Providence representative voted in favor of it.

When the law was further altered in small ways two more times during Cicilline's tenure in the legislature, in 2000 and 2002, he again voted in the affirmative.

The record shows that Cicilline voted against Megan's Law when it first passed. But his later votes suggest that he either had a change of heart, or, as his spokesman tells us, he found the bill more palatable once teenagers were excluded.

The ad from Americans for Common Sense Solutions is misleading. It doesn't mention what Cicilline's objections were to the original law, nor that he subsequently voted in favor of it three times.

PolitiFact's definition of a Barely True statement says it "contains some element of truth, but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."

That sounds right to us. Barely True.

Featured Fact-check

Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.

Our Sources

Americans for Common Sense Solutions radio ad

Interviews, Cicilline campaign spokesman Eric Hyers, Oct. 20-25, 2010

Megan's Law as passed in 1996

Megan's Law as amended in 1999

Interviews, Tom Evans, state librarian, on history of Megan's Law legislation, Oct. 25-26, 2010

House of Representatives Journal from Thursday July 18, 1996, faxed by House press office

House of Representatives Journal from June 24, 1999

House of Representatives Journal from June 28, 2000

House of Representatives Journal from June 4, 2002

Federal Election Commission, description of what independent groups are require to file disclosures

Internal Revenue Service, Political organization disclosures, Americans for Common Sense Solutions

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Cicilline "argued against Megan's Law and voted against mandatory registration of sex offenders"

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