“I’m very proud that over my almost 30 years of public service, I have had no scandals,” Chafee sheepishly said in his introduction at the showdown in Las Vegas.
But that’s not entirely true.
He was in hot water once for using a $6,000 slush fund to buy many strange things, including multiple frogs for an office aquarium.
Chafee liberally used the fund in the 1990s during his seven-year term as the mayor of Warwick, Rhode Island’s second-largest city. According to a 2000 report from the Providence Journal, Chafee’s aides wrote out $350 checks from that account in 1993 and 1994 to secure seats at the Providence Newspaper Guild Follies, an annual event for members of newspaper unions.
Chafee also spent thousands on flowers and bought 10 toboggans for a Christmas party for children of the city’s unionized workers.
But beyond the charitable, albeit controversial, use of this mayoral “discretionary fund,” Chafee also spent at least $40 a month to maintain a fish tank in his office. And he once added to the amphibious ambiance by purchasing four frogs at the seemingly low price of $1.99 each.
In 2000, when Democratic mayoral candidate and brother of actor James Woods, Michael Woods, called for a state police investigation into the use of the line-item fund, Chafee defended his actions.
“It shows goodwill and that the city is involved,” Chafee told the Providence Journal. “This is a budgeted item that is open to public hearing every year… Nobody ever in my seven years asked that that line item be taken out. Everybody knew what it was about. They asked questions. What is this about? It’s the mayor’s discretionary fund for charities. Nobody said let’s get rid of it.”
The frog news broke as Chafee was running for Senate and initially dropped him down from 56 percent to 50 percent against his Republican opponent, Robert Weygand. Chafee ended up winning by a landslide 16 percent margin.
The fate of the frogs and the office-confined aquarium where they dwelled remains a mystery (although some indoor frogs can live as long as 21 years), as Chafee did not have the opportunity to discuss his interest in amphibians during the Democratic debate.
As he closed out what was an unequivocally disastrous night, Chafee reiterated “I have had no scandals. I have high ethical standards. And what I’m most proud of is my judgment.”
Particularly when it comes to office pets.
The Chafee campaign has not responded to a question about the frogs’ current status.