EngageRI spent $524,657 to push pension bill in October alone

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Engage Rhode Island, the deep-pocketed new advocacy group pushing passage of the Raimondo-Chafee pension bill, spent nearly $525,000 to promote the legislation in the month of October alone.

EngageRI shelled out more than half a million dollars to pay for 31 days’ worth of lobbying, advertising, campaign materials and other expenses on behalf of the pension bill, according to a lobbying report the organization filed Tuesday with the secretary of state’s office.

The bulk of the spending – $348,819 – went to EngageRI’s public relations firm Duffy & Shanley, though in many cases that money was then spent by the firm to buy television, print and digital advertisements. (EngageRI has bought ads on WPRI 12 and WPRI.com.)

Other major expenses included $31,350 to pay for a poll conducted by Benenson Strategy Group and $30,000 for lobbyists Christopher Boyle and Cara Cromwell. EngageRI also hired Winding Creek Group, a St. Louis-based Democratic voter outreach firm, and Petel & Co., a Washington-based direct-mail firm founded in 2008 by Karen Petel, a Democratic political operative and Central Falls native.

Both Benenson and Patel were hired as political consultants by Treasurer Gina Raimondo during her victorious first-time campaign for office last year.

EngageRI’s union-backed opposition, the Rhode Island Retirement Security Coalition, has not registered with the secretary of state’s office as a separate organization and did not report its spending. Both groups refuse to disclose their financial contributors.

The spending breakdown does not cover money EngageRI spent in September, the month it was formed but before it hired lobbyists and came under the state disclosure rules, spokesman Jon Duffy told WPRI.com last week.

The organization will have more money available next year to spend backing lawmakers in their reelection races if they face challenges for voting in favor of the pension bill, Duffy said.

The House and Senate are scheduled to debate and vote on the pension bill Thursday.

Related: EngageRI raises over $500K; saving cash to defend lawmakers (Nov. 10)

This article has been updated and expanded.

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