Republican Fung Gave Thousands to RI Democratic Candidates

Friday, November 01, 2013


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Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who is expected to run for the Republian nomination for Governor, has given to many of the most prominent Democrats in Rhode Island, including William Irons, David Cicilline, Steven Costantino, Gordon Fox, and as recently as 2010, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.

Fung, who is expected to make his official announcement on Monday, will face Ken Block in the GOP primary.  Block, the former Moderate Party founder and candidate for governor in 2010, announced earlier this week he was joining the Republican ranks in his bid for the office.  

Former Chairman and Executive Director of the Rhode Island Republican party Jeffrey Deckman thought that some in the party might take issue with the contributions.

"That's feeding the evil empire, as far as the GOP is concerned," said Deckman. "Those people he gave to are the standard bearers of the party that's been bankrupting the state."

Deckman continued, "It's Benedict Arnold like. It's flipping notes to the opposition. A lot of Republicans have been fighting long and hard, and he's giving the Democrats the bullets to shoot them with."

According to records, Taveras gave Fung more than $1500 in contributions between 2002 and 2008, as well.  

"The Fung/Tavares mutual contributions came about because they are friends from high school. There is nothing unusual about that. Fung's other contributions aren't significant enough to be a big issue. $500 is not $5,000 or $50,000," said Jennifer Duffy with the Cook Political Report. "Fung could certainly argue that he has been reaching across the aisle, but he probably has better examples. If Block wants to use this as an issue, he can do that, but I suspect he will be busy with his decision to run as a Republican and some of the things he has said about the party in the past.

Fung, Block Contributions

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According to the Rhode Island Board of Elections records, in 2002, while a paid lobbyist for MetLife, Fung gave $200 to then Democratic Senate President Irons and $250 to then Providence State Representativ Cicilline; in 2007, Fung gave $200 to former Democratic State Representative Costantino and $150 to then-candidate for Attorney General Patrick Lynch; and in February 2008, gave $150 to Democratic Speaker of the House Fox.  

In 2010, Fung gave $1000 to Mayor Angel Taveras.  

"As counsel for MetLife, the Mayor attended democratic events in which he donated to individual candidates on behalf of his client. In 2006, prior to becoming Mayor, Angel Taveras served as Mayor Fung’s attorney during his recount and in 2010, Angel did not have a Republican opponent," Fung's campaign spokesperson Pat Sweeney told GoLocal.

"Over the last decade, [Fung] has made 81 donations to various Republicans totaling nearly $20,000. Further, he has continuously funded the Republican Cranston City Council candidates and also the Cranston Republican Headquarters. Moreover, the Mayor is now approaching 3,000 total donations for his committee, with over ninety four percent (94%) of his donations from within the state. This only goes to show that the Mayor has strong Rhode Island grassroots support, particularly from Republicans. Our potential opponent would like to make an issue out of this because he has no record to run on at all as a Republican because he just became one on Monday and is trying to run against a very popular Republican."

Ray McKay, President of the Rhode Island Republican Assembly, said however the Democratic contributions could "raise questions" within the party about Fung's allegiances.  

"Donating to whomever a person wants, it's an American right," said McKay. "Fung was a lobbyist with MetLIfe, they give to both sides, it's part of their job." Regarding the most recent contribution to Taveras, he said, "It could be quid pro quo...I know they're both friends."

"I don't know all the facts, however, if it comes out that [Fung] has given to the Democrats when we've had Republican candidates, I would find that extremely disappointing," said McKay. "If you had resources, and didn't give to your own, and gave to the opposition, again, I would be disappointed."

Block's campaign records with the Board of Elections showed donations predominantly to Moderate Party candidates, as well as Republicans David Bates and Robert Paquin, and Democratic Central Falls Mayor James Diossa. 

Giving to Both Sides - Asset or Liability?

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Darrell West with the Brookings Institution offered his thoughts on the contibution situation. "If Fung has a hard-right opponent in the GOP primary, it would be an issue over who is the real Republican. Giving money to Speaker Fox and Mayor Taveras would be a fighting issue for conservative voters. They would see that as a sign of RINO behavior and not a serious party person."

West continued, "But if Fung’s only GOP opponent is Ken Block, I don’t think this will be a big issue. Block himself moved from the Moderate Party to the Republican Party so he won’t be in a very strong position to argue that GOP voters shouldn’t trust Fung."

Brown Professor of Politics Wendy Schiller said, "I think Fung can sell it as an effort to be bi-partisan; and he has the benefit of having his chief opponent, Ken Block, just switching parties. So the choice for GOP voters as it stands now would be two candidates who have each shown an independent streak when it comes to the Republican Party."

"In a political atmosphere in which poll after poll demonstrates the public’s distaste for hyperpartisanship and party maneuvering, the fact that the Mayor has donated to Democrats may ultimately be viewed by the public as an asset, rather than a liability," said Rhode Island College Professor of Communications Val Endress. "One might look upon his record as proof that he is capable of establishing a meaningful, working relationship with members of the opposing party. This is particularly important in this state in which a Republican Governor must seek the cooperation of a state legislature dominated by Democrats. At least as far as the public is concerned, there’s very little political capital to be gained by demonstrating strong party allegiance."

On the issue, John Robitaille, former GOP gubernatorial candidate, had the following to say.  

"Regarding the campaign contributions, Mayor Fung has friends on both sides of the political aisle, as does Ken Block. Is anyone questioning who Ken has supported financially in the past? Neither contributed to my campaign and I hold no grudges," said Robitaille. "I think we should focus on who can best get the job done and break off the rear view mirror. We have bigger issues to face and much more probing to do before we decide who the Republican nominee will be." 


Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Taveras Has to Answer When Running for Gov of RI

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#10 Fundraising

Can Taveras Keep Up with the Big Boys and Girls in Fundraising?

In America today, one issue that is a factor in nearly every election is fundraising. To date, Taveras has yet to demonstrate any consistent ability to keep up with the leading fundraisers in RI.

Taveras will have to compete with General Treasuer Gina Raimondo, who has $2 plus million on hand and a likely run from Clay Pell (grandson of US Senator Claiborne Pell and whose wife is Olympic skater Michelle Kwan).

Raimondo is on pace to raise $5m and Taveras presently has just $692,000 on hand and would be on pace to raise less than $2 mliion. 

Pell's family has access to nearly limitless dollars - back in the 1990's Pell's grandfather was ranked as one of the wealthiest members of Congress.

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#9 Curse

Can Taveras Break the Providence Mayor's Curse?

For more than 60 years, no Providence Mayor has been successful running for Governor of Rhode Island. You have to go back to the 1950 election when Dennis Roberts was elected Governor.

Since Roberts, a number of Providence Mayors have taken their shot at running for Governor and each has failed mightily.

Most notably, Buddy Cianci's run against J. Joseph Garrahy - Cianci got less than 30% of the statewide vote.

Joe Paolino was expected to win the Democratic primary in 1990, but was beaten badly by Bruce Sundlun and then Warwick Mayor Frank Flaherty.

Sundlun went on to win the general election and Flaherty was later named to the state Supreme Court.

Taveras will have to break a very long curse.

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#8 Hire or Fire

Can Teachers Trust Taveras - and Will Voters Trust His Relationship with the Teachers Unions?

In the midst of the city's political meltdown, Taveras just into his first few months in office fired all the teachers in Providence.

Taveras received strong public support, but within months he capitulated to pressure from the teachers' unions.

Three years later, he is emerging as the candidate of the teachers' union leadership. Will teachers trust him in a statewide race and will voters trust him if he is perceived as too close to union bosses?

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#7 Hispanics

Will Hispanics Vote as a Block in the Primary for Taveras? Are They Influential Enough in the General?

Conventional wisdom is that Angel Taveras will get a big boost from the Hispanic voting block in the primary, but more recently Council members Luis Aponte, Danian Sanchez and Sabina Matos have all openly battled with the mayor on his tax increases and efforts to close pools in low income wards around the city.

While Taveras can rebound and the impact may be large in the primary, the percentage of voters who are Hispanic in the general election is just 7% according to Pew Research:

  • Rhode Island’s population is 12% Hispanic, the 13th largest Hispanic population share nationally.
  • There are 54,000 Hispanic eligible voters in Rhode Island—which ranks 35th in Hispanic eligible voter population nationally. California ranks first with 5.9 million.
  • Some 7% of Rhode Island eligible voters are Hispanic, the 13th largest Hispanic eligible voter population share nationally. New Mexico ranks first with 39%.
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#6 Temperament

Can Taveras Handle the Campaign Pressure and the Office Pressure of Governor?

Taveras had no experience as a chief executive in business or government before taking office in 2011 in Providence. He has increasingly gotten into some very non-productive scrapes.

In 2012, his law office delivered a document to GoLocalProv as part of a FOIA request and those documents included the social security number of every retiree of the City. Instead of taking responsibility he sent his lawyers to court to try to block GoLocal from writing about the mishandling of social security numbers. The judge ruled against Taveras.

In 2013, Taveras has tried to demolish a commuity swimming pool in South Providence because, according to Councilman Danian Sanchez, Sanchez would not vote for Taveras' tax increase.

Will Taveras be able to prove to voters he has the right stuff?

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#5 Base outside Prov

Can Angel Taveras Build a Political Base Outside of Providence?

While Taveras has a strong political base in Providence, it is unclear if he can build a strong political network in critical Democratic strongholds like Woonsocket, Pawtucket, East Providence, Johnston and North Providence.

It is well known that both Democratic Mayors in North Providence and Johnston have had a strained relationship with Taveras.

This strain has played out over critical matters like mutual emergency aid and in 2012, North Providence, Johnston and East Providence all cancelled emergency aid compacts with Providence.

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#4 Women Voters

Can Taveras Compete for Women Voters?

When Taveras ran for Mayor he won the critical block of East Side Democratic women. Part of his success with this critical block of voters was the support he enjoyed from Democratic power Myrth York. 

The two-time Democratic nominee for Governor went all in for Taveras in 2010, but she no longer is active in the inner circle and reportedly would have supported Governor Lincoln Chafee in the primary.

Taveras will need to compete with Raimondo who has already signed former EMILY's list bigwig Kate Coyne-McCoy.

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#3 Star Power

Can Taveras Keep Up with Clay Pell's Star Power?

In 2010, Taveras ran under the motto of "from Head Start to Harvard."  His claim on the American dream proved a successful juxtaposition to two Democrats who had the same political base - Federal Hill (Steven Costantino and John Lombardi).

Now, Taveras may face the fresh-faced Clay Pell. His bio exceeds Taveras as he can claim the legacy of his grandfather's work and hit the circuit with his superstar wife, Olympian Michelle Kwan.

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#2 Issues and Vision

Can Angel Taveras Articulate a Vision for Rhode Island?

Taveras earned good scores for managing the City of Providence's financial crises, but never seemed to develop major policies for economic development, schools, parking, crime, reducing the cost of government or improving the efficiency.
The Superman building's closure happened on his watch, technology company Dassault Systèmes is moving out of Providence, and no major employers were recruited into the city other than the scrap yard on Allens Avenue.
Taveras will need to define a forward looking vision for Rhode Island.
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#1 Crime and Education

Can Taveras Explain His Record on Crime and Education?

The biggest problem for Taveras is his record in Providence.
Most people care about the basics - their jobs, education for their children, how safe their neighborhood is.  These vary questions could be Taveras' Achilles' heel.
According to GoLocal's study of the FBI crime data, Providence is ranked #2 for violent crime per capita in Rhode Island.
The condition of Providence's schools may be worse. Of the 24 schools ranked as poor (de facto failing) in Rhode Island by the Department of Education, 6 of them were Providence Schools and in the rankings of the best high schools in the state, most of Providence's schools consistently litter the bottom of the rankings.
Taveras lead the city to win the $5 million Bloomberg award. But in a Governor's race one of Taveras' opponents is sure to ask, "Mr. Mayor, are you going to bring the same policies you used on crime and education in Providence to the rest of the state?"

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