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Rhode Island Has the Worst-Funded Republican Party in America

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Despite a solid slate of candidates running for federal office (including one who held a double-digit lead over the Democratic incumbent as of March), Rhode Island has by far the worst-funded Republican Party in the country, according to a GoLocalProv review of federal campaign finance reports.

The state GOP had just $538 in its account as of June 30, more than 39 times less than any other state Republican Party and just under 3,100 times less than the amount Wisconsin (which leads the way with $ 1,667,602) held in its federal account.

The stark contrast in funds between Rhode Island’s GOP and every other state GOP paints a clear picture of just how difficult a path Ocean State Republicans running for federal office have to getting elected. By comparison, the state’s Democratic Party had $21,389 in its account as of May 31, but it has also spent over $333,000 during the election cycle. The Republicans have spent just $52 and still carried $11,512 of debt, according to the party’s most recent filing.

Even in a year where Brendan Doherty appears to be the frontrunner in Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District and 2nd District candidate Mike Riley and Senate candidate Barry Hinckley have all shown a willingness to make large personal contributions to their campaign, state GOP party chairman Mark Zaccaria indicated the party intends to focus on local races.

“We have dedicated ourselves to the General Assembly races here in Rhode Island,” Zaccaria said. “One of the reasons we have the lowest amount, nationally, in our Federal Operating and Federal Victory accounts is that we have the smallest staff of any of the state organizations. That is, our capacity to focus on fundraising for our federal candidates is limited.”

Zaccaria, who lost the party’s executive director Pat Sweeney earlier this year (he is now running Hinckley’s race), said another reason the party has such a tiny balance is that it doesn’t leave any money in its campaign account.

“Should a contribution come in, we try to make short work of parsing it out to the appropriate campaigns,” he said.

Zaccaria Received Zero Party Dollars

Zaccaria knows firsthand the struggles a candidate running for House or Senate can face with the state’s Republican Party. After the GOP failed to field a candidate to challenge Congressman James Langevin in 2006, he ran against the incumbent in both 2008 and 2010 and was trounced each time.

When Zaccaria became the party’s third chairman in less than a year last December, he was immediately made aware that errors in campaign finance reports dating back to 2002 showed just how little the Republicans had in their account. At the time, he said an audit proved that “human errors” caused a “$45,000 problem.” He also indicated that federal candidates were going to be on their own during the 2012 election cycle.

“It says to Barry Hinckley he’s not going to get much of a contribution from the RIGOP,” Zaccaria said. “And in my two runs for Congress, I believe I can give you exactly to the penny the total amount of support I got from the state Party. It was zero.”

A Serious Problem

While the lack of financial support from the party likely makes it more difficult for candidates running for office, both Doherty and Hinckley each raised more than $200,000 during the 2nd quarter that ended June 30. Doherty, who is challenging first-term Democrat David Cicilline in a district that overwhelmingly voted for President Obama in 2008, has been able to gain the support of prominent national Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner and Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown.

Still, Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C, said the GOP’s weak infrastructure in Rhode Island is another barrier for local Republicans.

“It is a serious problem that the Rhode Island Republican party gets virtually no help from the national committee,” West said. “This forces candidates to raise their own money and build their own infrastructure. Unless they have the ability to raise money or bankroll their own operations, it makes it very difficult for Republicans to be competitive in the Ocean State. “

The state GOP has said that its goal for 2012 is to win control of 45 seats in the General Assembly. The party is working closely with a group known as the Republican Strike Force, which helped to recruit dozens of candidates now running for the House or Senate.

Zaccaria: We’ll Get Some Money

Earlier this year, Riley, the Republican challenging Langevin this time around, said he trusts the work Zaccaria is doing as head of the party. Riley, who has said he is willing to spend over $1 million of his own money in an effort to unseat Langevin, said he supports the party’s local-first strategy.

“I am also confident that all Rhode Island voters are searching for leadership,” Riley said at the time. “They are no longer satisfied with just one party. They are keenly aware of those who participated in the ‘employee benefits bubble’ of the last two decades. They know which office holders have stood in the way of tax payer rights and those office holders who, instead stood strongly by their biggest contributors. I know Mark Zaccaria can and will lead this party and its state candidates in a successful effort to place more prudence and discipline in the statehouse."

Despite the lack of funds, Zaccaria remains upbeat and said he expects to raise at least some federal money during the election cycle. He said his hope is that the money doesn’t face any restrictions because the party’s small staff may struggle to oversee the efficient use of such funds.

“We may well receive some unrestricted federal money this cycle,” he said. “If we do we will get it off to one or more of our federal candidates toute de suite.”


Dan McGowan can be reached at [email protected].



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