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Taveras + Fung Nearly Tied in State Employee Donations

Thursday, March 06, 2014

 

State employees are pouring tens of thousands of dollars from their own pockets into the race for Governor, with Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung hauling in the most, state campaign finance records show.

Fung, a Republican, and Taveras, a Democrat, are nearly tied at approximately $10,000 in individual contributions each. General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, also a Democrat, ranks third with about $8,500 in donations from state employees, which includes rank-and-file workers along with political appointees and management-level employees.

GOP contender Ken Block, a Barrington businessman who formerly ran under the Moderate Party banner, had just one, for $50. The third Democratic candidate, Clay Pell, who announced his run in late January, had no state employee donations listed so far. The first fundraising report that will reflect donations after his formal announcement is not due until the end of this month.

A conflict of interest?

When Taveras was running for mayor in 2010, he made candidate contributions from public employees, particularly those who worked for the city of Providence, an issue in the race. Then-campaign manager Lauren Nocera told GoLocalProv that taking money from city employees raised ethical concerns. “With Providence’s terrible legacy of pay to play and corruption, the voters should stick with the candidate who refuses to play the insiders’ game and raises money from the people—not the special interests. That’s Angel Taveras,” Nocera said.

Yesterday, Taveras’ gubernatorial campaign did not respond to several requests for comment. But political pollster Victor Profughi told GoLocalProv that the “contradiction” between his position in 2010 and now could be used against him by one of his opponents.

So far none of the other candidates in the race have made similar pledges, at least not in the current race for Governor. But one advocate suggested that those who want to prove they will be independent decision-makers should avoid contributions from public employees, especially those at the state level.

“We do think that it raises an ethical question and we do think that it could potentially put any one of the candidates in a compromising position when it comes to their positions on certain issues,” said Lisa Blais, spokeswoman for OSTPA, a taxpayer advocacy organization. “We don’t think that candidates should be taking contributions from employees who work for the state they hope to govern. It is just a direct conflict of interest.”

On the GOP side of the race that will be less of a potential issue for Block than Fung, who had a total of $10,375 in state employee donations, slightly ahead of Taveras, who was at $10,170, according to the records reviewed, which encompassed years prior to 2010 in order to offer a full portrait of their fundraising history of the candidates and capture any previously raised funds that may be applied to the current race. (Fung campaign manager Patrick Sweeney declined comment.)

That Fung has more in state employee contributions came as little surprise to Profughi, however, who said Fung’s bipartisan reputation may have helped him. “It’s hard to separate candidate from party but I think that in Fung’s case he’s really not been a particularly partisan player,” Profughi said, adding that Fung is also a likeable candidate with a “squeaky clean image.”

“I think that translates into contributions,” Profughi said. “I think that’s almost by accident they happen to be government workers too.”

Outside money gotten focus so far

The state employee donations do not reflect the overall fundraising trend in the campaign so far. Raimondo, while ranking third in employee donations, remains in the lead in the money race, with $2.7 million cash on hand at the end of 2013, according to the latest available fundraising figures. Pell and Taveras had roughly $1 million each in their war chests, with most of Pell’s cash coming from a $1 million so far.

Block and Fung both had under $1 million, with about $676,000 and $453,000 in their respective campaign war chests, according to their latest finance report filings.

Fundraising has been a political issue in the race, but so far the focus has been on money from sources outside the state, not inside state government. In late October, Taveras issued a call for Raimondo to agree to limit the influence of outside money from so-called super PACs—an agreement known as the People’s Pledge. Raimondo postponed a decision, saying the field of candidates was not yet finalized. Now, after Pell’s entry, the three Democratic campaigns are reportedly close to an accord on the People’s Pledge.

Although donations from state employees has not been an issue in the Rhode Island gubernatorial race so far, it has come to the fore in at least one other similar race recently. Last month, Illinois gubernatorial candidate Pat Quinn, a Democrat, refused to accept money from an organization headed by a state employee. (The donation was forwarded to a charity, rather than returned.) In explaining the decision, a campaign official said the “campaign doesn’t accept contributions from state employees,” according to an AP report.

A review of Rhode Island campaign finance reports shows that a number of the state employee donations hail from Statehouse or state department insiders. Tom Coderre, the chief of staff for state Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, donated to Raimondo in 2010. Paiva Weed also contributed more recently to Raimondo’s campaign before her formal announcement. Raimondo’s own former chief of staff, Joseph Pratt, is also listed as a contributor in 2012, one year after he was hired by her office.

Fung’s donor rolls also show a number of senior-level state employees. The day after last Christmas he received $25 from Craig Stenning, the director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals. Another management-level donor is Namvar Moghadam, who heads capital projects for the Department of Administration. And the chief of legal services for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Cindy Soccio, also donated to Fung last summer.

The pattern continues for Taveras. Both Paiva Weed and her chief of staff have contributed to his campaign for the most recent election cycle. Also among his state employee contributors are Charles Williams, an administrator at the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals; Marisa White, the personnel director for the state judiciary; and Joseph Abbate, the director for law revision for the Joint Committee on Legislative Services for the General Assembly, according to state payroll records.

 

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