General Assembly Candidates Have Spent Nearly $2 Million
Thursday, November 01, 2012
Incumbent State Representatives and Senators have outspent their challengers by a nearly two-to-one margin this election season, with sitting lawmakers spending just under $1.3 million in campaign funds since the beginning of the year, according to a GoLocalProv review of campaign finance reports.
In total, the nearly 200 incumbents and candidates running for the state legislature have combined to spend $1,938,999.53 in 2012 (note: only candidates appearing on Tuesday’s ballot were counted).
Leading the way is House Speaker Gordon Fox, who spent $114,642.24 between Jan. 1 and Oct. 30. Speaker Fox, who faces a challenge from Independent Mark Binder, has spent more than double any other candidate for the House of Representatives, including $45,209.04 last month alone. Binder, who has been highly critical of Fox’s handling of the 38 Studios loan guarantee, has spent less than $11,000.
Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed is second on the list of the state’s biggest spenders at $85,941.17. Her long shot Republican opponent, Geoffrey William Cook, has only reported spending $11.99 in 2012.
While the two most powerful members of the state legislature have poured thousands of dollars into their own races, a significant portion of both Fox and Paiva Weed’s funds have gone to lawmakers or candidates involved in other races. For example, since Sept. 1, Fox has made $500 contributions to State Rep. candidates Mia Ackerman, Michelle Bergin and Kathy Fogarty (three challengers to sitting Democrats) as well as Representatives Cale Keable, Lisa Tomasso and Joy Hearn.
Still, not all the top spenders are sitting lawmakers. Of the top 15, five are challengers, including State Senate candidate Frank Lombardi, who has dropped more than $72,000 on his heated District 26 race against Republican Sean Gately. Lombardi’s brother, John, spent nearly $50,000 to win a three-way Democratic primary in House District 8. District 44 House candidates Greg Costantino spent over $43,000 to upset Deputy Majority Leader Peter Petrarca and still faces a Republican (James Archer) on Tuesday.
Lawmaker Wants Ban on In-Session Fundraising
The spending numbers in 2012 appear to be keeping pace with 2010 when the average State Senate winner spent $25,064 and the average House winner spent $17,308. But some lawmakers say the campaign spending (and the fundraising associated with campaigns) has gotten out of control.
Last week, State Rep. Spencer Dickinson said he plans to introduce legislative that would ban fundraising events during the legislative session if he is re-elected. Dickinson, a Democrat who has clashed all year with Speaker Fox, has spent nearly $9,000 between his Democratic primary and his general election race with Republican James Haldeman.
“This makes us all look bad,” Dickinson said. “And it’s time to take some specific steps to regain the people’s trust. This is a big step in the right direction and I’m ready to put it in and go to bat for it.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 28 states place restrictions on giving and receiving campaign contributions during the legislative session. Both Fox and Paiva Weed said they opposed to those types of restrictions earlier this year.
“Over 50% of the states have passed a law prohibiting members of the GA from fundraising during the legislative session. Rhode Island does not,” Rhode Island Professor of Political Communication Valerie Endress told GoLocalProv last year. “The logic behind the ban is that accepting campaign contributions at the same time assembly members are casting votes may lead to a conflict of interest. It’s all about the appearance of impropriety—and rightfully so. Individuals, lobbyists, or interest groups may have legislation pending, and campaign contributions may be seen as a way to gain additional leverage.”
Time to Public Fund Campaigns?
One potential solution to excessive spending and fundraising would be to publicly finance campaigns, an issue Speaker Fox recently suggested he would be willing to consider. While the state does supply qualifying statewide candidate with matching funds, Common Cause, the state’s leading good government group, has argued in favor of public financing for years.
“We believe there should be a system of public financing so that qualified candidates don't have to worry about this,” Common Cause executive director told GoLocalProv. “We have also supported the concept of banning fundraisers during the legislative session, although we have not proposed a bill on that yet.”
Last year, Marion, who worked closely with House and Senate leadership to pass a new campaign finance disclosure bill during the 2012 legislative session, said he fundraising often appears to get in the way of the work lawmakers are elected to do.
“We think members of the General Assembly spend way too much time fundraising, and it's a big distraction from their duties as lawmakers,” Marion said. “Many nights of the legislative session we see legislators leaving committee hearings to attend fundraisers, which is disappointing to say the least. Even worse, we see leadership having large fundraisers right at the end of the session before many of the most important issues in the state are being decided.”
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