Who’s Delivering the Big Money Influencing RI Races in 2016?
Tuesday, November 01, 2016
GoLocalProv.com looked at the independent expenditure filings on the Board of Election's online database, to see who has donated (and which groups spent what) to support -- or defeat -- a candidate or bond.
Slides: See Who's Delivering the Big Money BELOW
The five bond questions on Rhode Island ballot total $225 million if approved (or, as the Libertarians warned, $364 million with debt service.)
However, finding who spent - or gave - was not always simple, as the independent expenditure section is not searchable.
Common Cause on Record
"Ideally, there’s a better way," said John Marion with Common Cause Rhode Island. "The main campaign finance database — ERTS — the state has a contract for the system. I believe that contract expires in the near future. I've heard Board members express desire for improvements."
"Ballot advocacy [is] in the ERTS system, but it's done via posting PDFs," said Marion. "The hope is that when [the Board of Elections] replace the current software for candidates and campaigns they’ll roll into the new system that includes [independent expenditures.]"
"It should be unified — I want to know how much they gave, same with vendors. I know ERTS predated ballot advocacy law. There was one in  and updates in 2012," said Marion. "The best practices for putting data online is not to be in PDF that are not searchable. It's good that its not in a file cabinet, but it can catch up with 2016."
Related Slideshow: Big Money Influencing Races, Bond Initiatives in RI in 2016
Who's paying top dollar to advance their electoral agenda in Rhode Island?
Independent campaign expenditures are reported on the state's ERTS system - but unlike regular candidate or contributor filings, they are not searchable except by filing date.
Below are some of the "biggest spenders" in that category in 2016 (anything $1000 or more needs to be reported).
Whether a group is advocating for, or against, a ballot item or candidate, or an individual (or individuals) is contributing to an advocacy group to advance an agenda, here are some of the biggest spenders.
Who: Planned Parenthood Votes Rhode Island
When: October 22
For: In support of Cathie Cool Rumsey, Larry Valencia, James Seveney, Julie Casimiro, and Margaux Morriessau.
Details: The liberal women's reproductive rights organization reported the media spend two and a half weeks before the election, having gotten donations from Elizabeth Chace, Myrth York, Merrill Sherman, Brett Smiley, Rep. Edith Ajello, the Teamsters Local 251, and others.
Who: The Roosevelt Society
When: October 27
For: 15 GOP candidates (see here)
Details: The conservative leaning group reported a recent expenditure to former GOP Chair Jeffrey Deckman's Capability Accelerators, which Deckman confirmed was for direct mail. And who made it possible? $25,000 in donations came from former GOP candidate for Providence (and former statewide GOP chair candidate) Dan Harrop, and Deborah and Nancy Harrop.
Editor's Note: Harrop clarified that the Roosevelt Society had made the following error in filing with the state, following the story publication on Tuesday.
"There was a mistake on the CF8 I submitted, not in terms of total money spent or donors or candidates supported, but (correction going in) Jeff at Capability was paid $4500 for set up of the mailers, and SuccessMail (not Capability) got the remainder for the actual mailings (printing and postage)," said Harrop.
Who: The Gaspee Project
For: Their October 25 mailer was in support of 5 candidates -- and to defeat 15. (See here)
Details: The group sprouted partly as an advocacy off-shoot of the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity the "free market think and do tank."
"Gaspee has spent about $33,600 on mailings and radio ads, with a promise to conduct one more major round of each later this week. Our top 5 reported donors are: Warren Galkin, Ellen Kenner, Walter McLaughlin," said Mike Stenhouse. "Despite bogus claims from the RI Democrat party, 100% of our donations are from in-state individuals and businesses, comprised almost entirely of smaller contributions from hundreds of concerned citizens and small business owners."
Stenhouse said more reports will be filed; the RI Truckers Association just reported a $5,000 expenditure to the Gaspee Project this past week.
Who: URI Alumni Association
When: September 2016
For: Friends of Question 4
Details: The "Friends" advocacy group reported the alum donation in October, when it reported over $50,000 in expenditures including to PR firm New Harbor Group. Question 4, which would approve $45 million in general obligation bonds to support renovations at Bliss Hall at URI as well as building an "affiliated innovation campus."
5) $87,500 (tie)
Who: Bruce Waterson
For: RI Ports Coalition (Question 5)
Details: Waterson, the Chief Operating Officer of ProvPort's for-profit sister company Waterson Terminal, appears at least three times for giving contributions of $50,000; $25,000; and $12,500 to the bond advocacy effort. Question 5 would approve $50 million in bonds for Quonset -- and $20,000 to ProvPort. As GoLocal reported in August, "Non-Profit ProvPort Paid $11 Million in Management Fees to For-Profit Company."
5) $87,500 (Tie)
Who: Ray Meador
For: RI Ports Coalition (Question 5)
Details: Like his counterpart Waterson on the for-profit side, "non-profit" ProvPort President Ray Meador has poured tens of thousands into the ballot campaign in an effort to try and secure $20 million for the port. When the addition was tacked on at the last minute at the General Assembly, it met some strong opposition.
"Something is not right. Who's it going to benefit? The landowners. Last night when they explained it in less than ten minutes, they didn't have the explanation done well. They haven't worked out the details, but they know that they want it. It should have have been properly vetted and it wasn't -- that's the problem," said Rep. Patricia Morgan. "It's always, we need money, let's go get the taxpayer."
Who: United Way of Rhode Island
When: As of September 2016
For: Vote Yes on 7 (Affordable Housing Bond)
Details: The social service organization was listed about the group of donors to the affordable housing bond as of September 23. Approval of the $50 million bond would go towards affordable housing programs as well as going towards urban revitalization and blight remediation.
Who: Alan Hassenfeld
For: RI For Gun Safety & RI Coalition for Ethics Reform (Question 2)
Details: The now Florida resident has poured big money into efforts in Rhode Island, including advocating for gun control candidates and for the ethics reform measure on this year's ballot.
Hassenfeld has given $59,000 for the effort to garner approval for Question 2 (to restore Ethics Commission oversight over the General Assembly) and $87,500 to RI for Gun Safety and targeted races, to defeat Malik and Desimone at the time, and to support Tanzi and Finn.
Who: URI Foundation
When: September and October
For: Friends of Question 4
Details: The educational enrichment, advancement, and scholarship arm of the state's public university has poured a quarter million to date into the Question 4 effort (for campus improvements) after a $50,000 outlay a month earlier. In total, the bond obligation being put forth before voters for the higher education question is $45,500,000. The URI Foundation had come under scrutiny in January when it gave Governor Raimondo $7,000 for a trip to Davos, which she returned.
Who: Twin River Management Company
When: Total to Date
For: Question 1 -- Casino in Tiverton
Details: The management company for Lincoln's Twin River Casino is nearing the $2 million spend mark to win approval for new full-scale casino Tiverton through approval of Question 1 on the ballot statewide (as well as an additional question for Tiverton residents to approve).
Twin River is promising jobs and revenue and staving off casino competition from Massachusetts; some Tiverton residents still aren't convinced. Twin River is paying a pretty penny on PR and ad buys to get the vote.
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