Governor Chafee to EngageRI: What Are You Hiding?
Tuesday, January 08, 2013
Governor Lincoln Chafee has added his name to the growing list of critics who are concerned about pension reform advocacy group EngageRI’s refusal to release the names of its donors.
“In this time of public cynicism, it is regrettable that EngageRI would not embrace transparency,” Chafee said Monday. “This decision begs the question: ‘What / who are they hiding?’”
Chafee’s comments came on the same day that EngageRI defended its decision to keep its donors anonymous, arguing that they are not required to releases names based on their status as a 501(c)(4) organization.
“We believe that our supporters (financial and other) are proud of EngageRI and we encourage them to support us publicly,” said John Galvin, chair of EngageRI. “However, we respect the right that any donor to a 501(c)(4) entity has to remain anonymous, supporting a mission without being subject to the ‘political fray.’ Like most, if not all nonprofits, we’re willing to let our record speak for itself and accept the support of both those that wish to do so publicly as well as those that wish to remain anonymous.
Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Houston billionaire John Arnold gave between $100,000 and $500,000 to EngageRI, which played a pivotal role in convincing lawmakers to support a pension reform package crafted by General Treasurer Gina Raimondo. The organization has spent over $700,000 lobbying for pension reform since it was founded in 2011.
The story led pension reform critics to question who else has contributed to EngageRI, but the organization has consistently defended its practices.
"What I don't think the folks at EngageRI appreciate is each time they try to defend their decision they just sound defensive,” said National Education Association of Rhode Island government relations director Patrick Crowley. “Each time they say they are following the rules they make it clear they have a separate set of rules.”
But Galvin suggested that actions taken against key supporters of EngageRI may be of one the reasons donors wish not to have their names revealed.
“While boycotts and other forms of retribution have frequently been used to further legitimate and worthy social, economic and political goals, we believe that the harassment and boycotts inflicted upon some EngageRI supporters like Collette Vacations, Crossroads, Family Services and a number of local chambers of commerce last year in an effort to intimidate them from taking a position on pension reform both crossed the line of fairness and is an understandable reason why some supporters may want to remain private,” Galvin said.