PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democrat Gina Raimondo had a not-so-secret weapon this fall as she waged her successful campaign for governor against Republican Allan Fung: the vastly superior financial resources of her political party.
The Rhode Island Democratic State Committee, which is the state Democratic Party’s campaign spending arm, spent $785,465 out of its state account from July 1 through Dec. 1, a WPRI.com review of R.I. Board of Elections filings shows.
By contrast, the Rhode Island Republican State Committee spent just $56,640 out of its state account over the same period. That gave the Democrats’ state-level campaign efforts a nearly 14-to-1 financial advantage over their GOP rivals during the fall.
And the financial gap between the parties was even larger when their federal campaign accounts are examined.
The Rhode Island Democratic State Committee spent $384,372 out of its federal account from July 1 through Oct. 15, while the Rhode Island Republican State Committee spent just $35,680, their most recent Federal Election Commission filings show.
Put it all together and the Rhode Island Democratic Party spent more than $1.1 million from July 1 through the fall, while the Rhode Island Republican Party spent less than $100,000, a more than 12-to-1 financial advantage for the Democrats. (Both numbers will likely grow when the federal numbers are updated in final post-election filings.)
The party financial numbers put more context around the fact that Fung’s campaign slightly outspent Raimondo’s down the stretch, with the Republican spending $1.4 million and the Democrat spending $1.3 million from September through November. While Fung had more money than Raimondo on his own, her side’s resources outmatched his side’s overall.
The Democrats’ financial advantage was built on a foundation of $10,000 donations from nearly 40 individuals and political action committees to the party’s state-level committee, taking advantage of the higher contribution limits for parties versus candidates, who can only receive $1,000 a year from an individual or PAC.
Among the contributors who gave $10,000 to the Democrats’ committee were former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, hedge-fund billionaire John Arnold, CVS founder Stanley Goldstein, Campbell’s Soup heiress Helene Van Beuren, Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs, the National Education Association Rhode Island and AFSCME Council 94.
The Republicans’ state account received no $10,000 contributions in recent months. The GOP’s largest donors were Charlie Townsend, a retired North Scituate telecom executive, and his wife Alison, who gave $5,000 and $6,000, respectively, the reports show.
The Rhode Island Democrats’ coordinated ground game that those resources funded was widely credited with helping deliver the party its most sweeping victory for the state’s top offices since 1960. Peter Baptista, who ran the coordinated campaign, declined to comment on his side’s financial edge.
Robert Paquin, the Rhode Island Republican Party’s executive director, acknowledged the financial gap was stark. “It’s shocking, 14- or 15-to-1, wow,” Paquin told WPRI.com. “But we’re making strides.”
Paquin said the GOP needs to put a plan in place that will work to reduce the Democratic Party’s financial advantage over multiple election cycles. “As we look toward our push to 2020 as kind of a milestone year, we could easily be closer to the 2- or 3-to-1 ratio by then if we get our act together,” he said.
Paquin said Republican leaders need to boost low-dollar donations from middle-class supporters while reaching out more aggressively to business leaders who can provide bigger contributions.
“We’ve for many years let the Democrats define us,” he said. “I think now, especially with me being here, we’re standing on our own, we’ve got the guts to say, hey, no, this is what the GOP is, and in order to get those business people to come here and have the business climate change, we’re going to have to convince them that this is the future, and that it’s a process just like when they built their businesses.”
The Rhode Island Democratic State Committee’s spending in the second half of this year was more than triple the amount the party spent in 2010, the last time a gubernatorial contest was on the ballot, likely in part due to Raimondo’s prodigious fundraising capabilities.
The Democrats spent $785,465 out of their state account from July through November with Raimondo at the top of the ticket, up from $249,546 in 2010 when Frank Caprio was their nominee.
By contrast, the Rhode Island Republican State Committee spent only half as much this year out of its state account than it did in 2010, when John Robitaille was the GOP nominee. The Republicans spent $56,640 out of their state account from July through November this year, compared with $118,165 during the same period in 2010.
Paquin said the Republicans focused their party spending in large part on helping candidates for the General Assembly, and noted that a bright spot for the GOP on election night was the defeat of six incumbent Democrats in the Rhode Island House.
The governor’s race also saw significant spending by outside groups, which also appears to have benefited Raimondo more than Fung.
Three outside groups that invested significant sums to help Raimondo spent a combined $1.1 million on their efforts, according to R.I. Board of Elections filings: the Alliance for a Better Rhode Island, a group partly backed by the Democratic Governors Association that spent $624,224; the American LeadHERship super PAC, which spent $411,825, some of it during the primary; and the SEIU 1199 union, which spent $84,128.
The sole outside group that spent a significant amount of money to elect Fung was Mid America Fund, which was funded mostly by the Government Integrity Fund Inc., an Ohio nonprofit that never disclosed its donors, as well as by the Republican Governors Association. Mid America Fund reported spending $859,920 on Fung’s behalf.
When all the various sources of campaign spending are combined, it appears likely that more than $8 million was spent since the start of last year to win Raimondo the Democratic nomination and then the governor’s office, compared with somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million spent to assist Fung.