Ex-Enron trader gave $100K to pro-Raimondo super PAC

Treasurer Gina Raimondo speaks at the kickoff event for her Democratic gubernatorial primary bid in Pawtucket in January 2014. (photo: Ted Nesi/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A super PAC formed to boost Treasurer Gina Raimondo raised $116,988 during the second half of last year, with most of the money coming from a deep-pocketed Texas couple who previously backed the pro-pension-overhaul group Engage Rhode Island.

The American LeadHERship PAC – created last year by political operative Kate CoyneMcCoy to support Raimondo’s campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination – received a $100,000 donation on Aug. 7 from John and Laura Arnold of San Marcos, Texas, according to Federal Election Commission records obtained by WPRI.com.

Arnold, a billionaire former Enron trader who later founded a successful hedge fund, has been a controversial figure in Rhode Island since it emerged that he and his wife made a six-figure contribution to EngageRI, a 501(c)4 formed by leaders in the business and nonprofit community to support Raimondo’s 2011 pension overhaul. EngageRI never disclosed its donor list and has since disbanded.

The PAC’s initial FEC filing said the $100,000 donation came from the couple’s nonprofit Laura and John Arnold Foundation, but it was amended a day later to say the contribution came from the Arnolds themselves as individuals.

The creation of American LeadHERship has drawn heavy criticism from the gubernatorial campaign of Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, which has argued the entity will bring significant outside money into Rhode Island to impact the outcome of the race. Taveras is pushing Raimondo and another candidate, Clay Pell, to sign a so-called “People’s Pledge” that would limit outside spending.

“The reason why Mayor Taveras proposed a People’s Pledge in the first place is to keep super PACs just like this out of Rhode Island elections,” Taveras campaign manager Danny Kedem told WPRI.com on Friday night. “Big-money special interests will push their agenda and that doesn’t reflect our values as Democrats.”

The Raimondo campaign moved quickly to distance itself from American LeadHERship.

“Citizens United is a disastrous decision, which is why we’re calling for a tough People’s Pledge with no loopholes, and we look forward to coming to an agreement that keeps all third-party money off our airways, out of our mailboxes and away from our doors and phones,” Raimondo campaign manager Eric Hyers told WPRI.com in an email late Friday.

John Marion, executive director of the good-government group Common Cause Rhode Island, is now taking a lead role in attempts to negotiate an agreement between the three campaigns to limit outside spending. All three candidates have said they’re open to such a deal.

“It is clear that in the era of Citizens United donors are increasingly finding their way to third-party organizations where there are few limits,” Marion told WPRI.com. “We look forward to assisting the campaigns as they negotiate a People’s Pledge that will limit the role outside groups play in our elections.”

The contribution from the Arnolds was one of five donations American LeadHERship received from July 1 to Dec. 31, the filing shows. The others were $10,000 from Dorrance Hamilton of Wayne, Pa.; $5,000 from Arthur Solomon of Jupitor, Fla.; $1,000 from former Bank Rhode Island executive Merrill Sherman; and $960 from Tim Dibble of Waltham, Mass.

American LeadHERship had $93,011 in its campaign account as of Dec. 31, the filing shows. The PAC said it paid CoyneMcCoy $17,000 for consulting services during the second half of last year and still owed her an additional $42,975. It also paid $3,506 to Rico Vota of Cranston for research and $3,250 to the Washington law firm Sandler, Reiff, Young & Lamb P.C. for legal fees.

CoyneMcCoy, a longtime friend of Raimondo’s, was in attendance at the treasurer’s campaign kickoff event earlier this month. Asked on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers earlier this month whether it was appropriate for CoyneMcCoy to be there, Raimondo said: “I saw Kate in the audience. She’s a friend. I had a lot of friends there and, you know, I was happy to have her.”

Raimondo said she hadn’t discussed the creation of American LeadHERship with CoyneMcCoy and has not spoken with possible donors about giving money to the PAC.

Separately, Raimondo’s campaign announced Friday the treasurer raised $485,507 during the final three months of 2013, bringing her cash on hand to $2.5 million. That gave Raimondo a significant advantage over her opponents Pell, whose campaign reported $1.1 million on hand, and Taveras, whose campaign reported slightly more than $1 million.

Ted Nesi ( tnesi@wpri.com ) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

This story has been updated.

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