Republicans slam Raimondo over Facebook ad

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Republican Governors Association slammed Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo on Thursday for using taxpayer money on a Facebook ad to promote a New York Times story about her.

The sponsored ad, purchased by the quasi-public Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, was first noticed by an Eyewitness News reporter on Wednesday:

The Times article, by veteran reporter Katherine Q. Seelye, suggested Rhode Island is showing new signs of economic dynamism under Raimondo’s leadership, though it also reported criticisms of her use of taxpayer subsidies for businesses and her handling of the troubled new $364-million computer system for benefits.

On Thursday morning, Republican Governors Association spokesman John Burke called the article a “puff piece” and argued that “utilizing taxpayer funds for PR purposes is not what the people of Rhode Island expect from their governor.”

“With Rhode Island’s economy lagging behind the rest of the country, failed Democrat governor Gina Raimondo is so desperate to promote herself that she’s now using taxpayer money to do so,” Burke said.

Commerce Corporation spokesman Brian Hodge quickly pushed back, saying the agency spent just $50 on the ad.

“The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation places advertisements and promotes social media posts to support Rhode Island’s business attraction efforts,” Hodge said. “Katherine Seelye’s recent New York Times story is objective and substantive validation that businesses should be taking a fresh look at Rhode Island.”

“It’s a very small investment to make sure that our pro-growth story reaches the widest possible audience so we can pitch Rhode Island as a place to grow,” he added.

The RGA spent big money trying to defeat Raimondo in 2014 and has made clear it sees her as a prime target again in 2018. The group recently announced a new digital advertising campaign targeting Raimondo and other Democratic governors over their records on jobs.

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is widely expected to seek the GOP nomination for governor again in 2018, which would set up a rematch of the 2014 election. Other potential challengers include businessmen Gio Feroce and Karl Wadensten, attorney Robert Flanders and House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan.

Raimondo has been stockpiling cash ahead of next year’s race, and had amassed $1.8 million in her campaign account as of Dec. 31 – big money in tiny Rhode Island nearly two years out from Election Day.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram