NMG’s Smith exposes ex-mayor’s kids “charity,” wins Best of States

NMG member Michelle Smith won last week’s Best of the States award for back-to-back exposés of how former Providence

Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith

Mayor Buddy Cianci’s children’s charity isn’t really helping kids.

Cianci for years has been selling his Mayor’s Own Marinara Sauce, with the claim that sales are “Benefiting Providence School Children” and that his charity has helped hundreds of students attend college.

Smith, the supervisory correspondent in Providence, became suspicious, investigated and found that no money from sauce sales had been given to the scholarship fund in recent years.

First, she got a Cianci advisor to concede to her that the label could be seen as false advertising. The she got Cianci to admit that, “There’s a certain public relations aspect to it all to me. … I can’t deny that.”

Next she pulled hundreds of pages of public documents and got watchdogs to analyze the charity’s finances.

Finally, after pressing Cianci’s lawyer for two weeks and showing up at a Cianci event, she wheedled the layers into giving her nonpublic documents with specific financials.

The result? A story about the marinara sauce and a second-day story examining the charity’s finances, which showed it distributes only a tiny amount of assets in scholarships each year and spends most of its money on expenses, not benefits to children.

The stories, accompanied by Smith’s photos, got great play in the area, as well as editorials in the Providence Journal and Boston Globe.