RI Dems have 10-to-1 financial edge over GOP

Gina Raimondo after winning Democratic primary for RI Governor.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Republican Allan Fung had a big edge over rival Democrat Gina Raimondo at the start of this week, judging by how much money was in their campaign accounts. But Raimondo’s political party will go into the final days of the race far better-funded.

The R.I. Democratic State Committee had $304,623 cash on hand as of Monday, while the R.I. Republican State Committee had just $30,683, according to filings each group made with the R.I. Board of Elections and reviewed by WPRI.com. That extra cash will allow the Democrats to spend far more on coordinated get-out-the-vote operations in the coming days.

A big reason for the Democrats’ outsized financial advantage: the Democratic State Committee raised $332,983 between Oct. 7 and Oct. 27, while the Republican State Committee raised only $8,111 over the same period – meaning the Democrats raised 41 times more money.

The Democratic Party’s state committee kept its 10-to-1 financial advantage despite spending vastly more money of late on behalf of Raimondo and its other candidates: $317,314 between Oct. 7 and Oct. 27, compared with just $3,240 spent by the Republicans over the same period.

The Democratic State Committee’s expenditures over the last three weeks included $105,399 with Benenson Strategy Group, Raimondo’s polling firm, and payments to cover wages for former Raimondo campaign staffers. The Republican State Committee said its only expenditures out of its R.I. Board of Elections account over that period were on advertising buys with The Valley Breeze and Smithfield Publishing Inc.

The $304,623 in the Democrats’ state party account could help Raimondo overcome the sizable financial edge possessed by Fung’s campaign. The two candidates’ latest Board of Elections filings showed Fung’s campaign had $272,314 on hand as of Monday, while Raimondo’s had just $32,557.

When the amount of money in the gubernatorial candidates’ own campaign accounts is combined with the amount in the party committees’ accounts, Fung’s seeming advantage turns into a slight disadvantage – Raimondo and the Democrats had $317,314 cash on hand as of Monday, while Fung and the Republicans had $275,554.

The filings reveal how Raimondo and other top Democrats have moved to take advantage of the higher limits on contributions to state party committees, which can accept up to $10,000 from an individual, compared with the state limit of $1,000 on donations to individual candidates.

The Democratic State Committee said it received $10,000 each from Texas billionaire John Arnold and his wife, Laura; famed attorney David Boies, whom Raimondo hired as treasurer to help defend the 2011 state pension law in court; Gemin X Chairman and CEO Peter Dolan; Sakurako Fisher, daughter-in-law of the founder of retailer Gap Inc.; CVS Health founder Stanley Goldstein; and Samson Energy’s Stacy Schusterman, as well as labor groups including the National Education Association Rhode Island teacher’s union.

In addition, separate Federal Election Commission filings show Rhode Island’s Democratic Party also has an advantage when comparing the two parties’ federal campaign accounts. The R.I. Democratic State Committee’s federal account had $167,000 cash on hand as of Oct. 15, while the R.I. Republican State Central Committee’s federal account had $45,782, FEC disclosures show.

While the rules are complicated, in general money spent out of a party’s federal account has to benefit a candidate for federal office, such as a U.S. senator or congressman, and not just a candidate running for state or local office.

Fung’s campaign manager told The Providence Journal he was concerned that some of those who made donations to the Democratic State Committee had previously made donations to Raimondo’s campaign. He also referenced the GOP’s earlier complaints about a joint advertisement by Raimondo and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed that was paid for with money from the federal party account.

Peter Baptista, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Democratic Party, dismissed the complaints from Fung’s side.

“This is a complete misrepresentation of how the campaign finance system works,” Baptista told WPRI.com. “We’re in full compliance. This claim [about the Reed-Raimondo ad] was unanimously dismissed already by the Board of Elections.” He suggested the Fung campaign is trying to distract from negative news stories.

Both Raimondo and Fung are also benefiting from more than $1 million being spent by outside groups to influence voters’ choices in the race for governor. The Democratic Governors Association disclosed Tuesday it has spent $710,000 so far in an effort to elect Raimondo, while the Republican Governors Association and an Ohio nonprofit have together shelled out more than $550,000 on Fung’s behalf. A super PAC formed to aid Raimondo, American LeadHERship, had spent $411,825 on her behalf as of Tuesday.

Another campaign account controlled by Raimondo – the one for Gina PAC, her political action committee – had $50,851 cash on hand as of June 30 after raising no money during the spring quarter and spending $12,160 on donations and campaign contributions, according to its most recent Board of Elections disclosure.

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

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