EngageRI raises over $500K; saving cash to defend lawmakers

Engage Rhode Island, the new advocacy group pushing passage of the Raimondo-Chafee pension bill, has raised more than $500,000 and plans to spend some of it in next year’s election to support lawmakers who back the bill, WPRI.com has learned.

The 501(c)4 nonprofit’s fundraising haul was confirmed by two people familiar with its finances. EngageRI spokesman Jon Duffy declined to provide a specific dollar amount, but reiterated that the organization has raised “six figures.”

Union leaders – who successfully defeated a number of incumbents in 2010 – have made clear they’ll target vulnerable state lawmakers when they’re up for reelection in 2012 if they support the bill. But Duffy suggested EngageRI will have sufficient funds to counter organized labor during next year’s campaign.

“We have kept money in reserve because we think EngageRI needs to stick around,” he said. “There’s some legislators that are going to need support going forward. We will be there.”

And EngageRI won’t be the only supporter of the pension bill with deep pockets next year. Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s campaign war chest surged to $513,584 as of Sept. 30.

Both EngageRI and the Rhode Island Retirement Security Coalition, an ad hoc group of labor unions opposed to the Raimondo-Chafee bill, have declined WPRI.com’s request for details about where their money is coming from and how much they’re spending.

The EngageRI board’s co-chairs – Margaret Holland McDuff, CEO of Family Service of Rhode Island, and Ed Cooney, vice president of Providence-based Nortek – were the driving forces behind establishing the organization, Duffy said last month.

In recent weeks, EngageRI has bought television and radio commercials, online and newspaper advertisements and direct mail solicitations in a bid to build public support for the legislation. (The group has spent money with WPRI 12 and WPRI.com.) The House and Senate finance committees are set to vote on the legislation Thursday.

More details about EngageRI’s spending will be made public next week when it files a mandatory report with the secretary of state’s office. The report will detail the group’s spending during the month of October, when it began employing lobbyists to support the bill, Duffy said. Another report will be filed for November, he said.

• Related: Pro-Raimondo group EngageRI to spend six figures (Sept. 29)

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