Special Interest Spending Tops $1 Million in Rhode Island
Monday, October 15, 2012
Political Action Committees (PACs) run by unions, corporations, law firms and others groups have already spent nearly $1.2 million in 2012, with a significant chunk of those funds going directly into the campaign accounts of candidates and elected officials, according to a GoLocalProv review of campaign finance reports.
All told, the 243 active PACs in the state have combined to spend $1,196,289.64 this year, with more than half of that money coming from just 20 groups, including the National Education Association (NEA), the Rhode Island Realtors PAC and both the House and Senate Leaderships PACs.
“They donate with that in mind,” Rhode Island College Political Science Professor Dr. Kay Israel told GoLocalProv earlier this year. “Candidates are smart enough to know which way the wind (or more accurately the money) is blowing and seek donations from sources that would find their potential votes in line with those sought by the funders.”
Biggest Expenses: Donations, Consultants, Food
Of the top 20 spenders, 11 are union-backed PACs, three are run by elected officials and six were formed by groups in the private sector. Records show the top 20 PACs have combined to spend $606,685.90 in 2012.
The NEA’s PAC leads the way in spending with $79,459.78 between Jan. 1 and last week, with most of its funds going toward consultants, political campaigns and rent and utilities. Records show the PAC spent $16,744 with Checkmate Consulting, the East Greenwich-based firm run by Brad Dufault. The NEA also made max-out $1,000 contributions to legislative candidates Gregg Amore, Mike Morin, Adam Satchell, Dave Gorman, Rep. Spencer Dickinson, Lew Pryeor and Stephen Casey leading up their Democratic primaries. Records show the group also paid $2,500 to advertise on the Rhode Island’s Future blog.
The Rhode Island Laborer’s Political League is second on the list at $68,441.81. The PAC’s largest expense was a $5,000 contribution made on Oct. 5 to the state Democratic Party. The group also made $1,000 contributions to Congressman James Langevin, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio, Senator Frank Ciccone and State Rep. candidate John Lombardi.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union has spent $39,904.99, including $1,666.67 per month on consulting payments to Paul MacDonald, the President of the Providence Central Labor Council. The IBEW also contributed $500 to Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena, Rep. candidate Scott Pollard and Cumberland School Committee candidate Craig Duffy.
The largest expense for the Senate Leadership PAC, which has spent $39,411.61 overall, was a $7,566.16 payment made to the McGrath Clambakes catering company in July. The PAC also spent at least $2,000 at Venda Ravioli, Camille's and Mediterraneo on Federal Hill as well as $5,000 on consulting with Fleming & Associates.
The Realtors PAC has spent $31,831.66 throughout the year, with more than a third of those funds going to the National Association of Realtors in Chicago. The PAC also made at least $500 in contributions to Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy, Rep. Helio Melo, Rep. Nick Mattiello, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and Congressman Langevin.
Records show the AFL-CIO PAC has spent $29,440.35, including more than $5,000 with Stones’ Phones, one of the top Democratic consulting firms in the country. The PAC also donated at least $500 to Congressman Langevin, Rep. Deborah Fellela, Rep. Scott Guthrie and State Senate candidate Gayle Goldin. More than 20 others lawmakers and candidates have also received small contributions from the PAC this year.
House Speaker Gordon Fox’s House Leadership PAC spent $28,738.17, with its largest payment ($5,000) going to the state Democratic Party. The PAC also spent over $4,600 at Venda Ravioli, $1,000 at the Providence Marriot and $1,000 with the Hamilton Group, a fundraising firm run by Peter Baptista and Nick Hemond. A week before the Democratic primary, the PAC also gave $500 each to Michelle Bergin, Kathy Fogarty and Mia Ackerman, three Rep. candidates running against sitting Democrats (only Ackerman was successful).
The rest of the top ten includes the RI Dental PAC, the Correctional Officers PAC and the International Union of Operating Engineers, all of which have spent at least $24,950 in 2012.
Because it’s an election year, the state’s PACs are likely to easily surpass the $1.5 million they spent in 2011. And while Super PACs –groups which have the ability to spend limitless amounts of money with very little disclosure— have yet to make an appearance in the Ocean State, Israel said the local PACs still have plenty of influence.
“So, yes, PACs play too large a role, but the issue often is the cost of running for office at all levels and staying there,” Israel said. “For many officeholders government has become an occupation and not a service with the price of admission reduced to seeking and listening to those who can most easily afford to be heard. It may not be as expensive in Rhode Island, but the situation is the same.”
Rhode Island Tea Party President Susan Wynne agrees with Israel. In an interview last spring, Wynne said the PACs –particularly union-backed PACs— play a “major role in funding political campaigns.”
“In a heavily unionized state such as RI, the resources available from Union PACs to their selected candidates has been substantial and has allowed their candidates to wage formidable campaigns,” she said. “Many believe this has created an uneven playing field as well as had significant effect on election outcomes.”
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