EngageRI forms PAC to fund pols; spent $617K for pension bill

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Engage Rhode Island, the deep-pocketed advocacy group that successfully pushed passage of the new pension law, spent more than $617,000 over two months to promote the legislation and has now formed a political action committee to support lawmakers who voted for it.

EngageRI shelled out $93,327 in November after spending $524,657 in October on two months’ worth of lobbying, advertising, campaign materials and other expenses in support of the pension bill, according to a lobbying report the organization filed Thursday with the secretary of state’s office.

On Nov. 17, the day the pension bill passed the House and Senate, Engage Rhode Island formed an offshoot organization called Engage RI PAC that will be able to support individual candidates. Engage Rhode Island, the original group, is organized as a 501(c)4 nonprofit and thus barred from advocating for individual politicians.

“We’ve said all along that we would support candidates that supported pension reform, and the PAC gives us the vehicle to do that in a direct way,” EngageRI spokesman Jon Duffy told WPRI.com.

‘We’re not going anywhere’

As a political action committee, Engage RI PAC can donate up to $25,000 a year collected from individuals and corporations under Rhode Island law, he said. The maximum annual contribution allowed is $1,000 and the PAC will be required to disclose its donors. Duffy was unable to say how much money the PAC has raised so far.

“There’s a history of advocacy groups coming and going and we think it’s really important that Engage Rhode Island show we’re not going anywhere,” he said. “This pension battle is ongoing.” (That’s especially true on EngageRI’s website, which as of Thursday still said the General Assembly “is currently reviewing” the pension bill.)

Engage RI PAC’s chairperson is Paul Choquette Jr., vice chairman of Providence-based Gilbane, and its treasurer is John Galvin, chief financial officer of Pawtucket-based Collette Vacations. The PAC’s other directors are Ed Cooney, Kas DeCarvalho, James Long Jr., Constance Pemmerl and Dan Sullivan.

More than half the money spent by EngageRI in October and November – $381,719 – went to Duffy’s public relations firm Duffy & Shanley for advertising, though in many cases that money was then spent by the firm to buy television, print and digital commercials. (EngageRI has bought ads on WPRI 12 and WPRI.com.)

EngageRI’s union-backed opposition in the pension fight, the Rhode Island Retirement Security Coalition, never 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.

No other issues for now

Duffy declined to specify how much Engage Rhode Island the 501(c)4 had raised beyond “six-figures,” but said he was pleased with the impact it had on the pension debate.

“I believe we had a very positive result and a very positive impact on the conversation,” he said. “Our goal was to be a positive force in the debate and I think we were able to do that. … We stayed focused on pension reform and our desire to educate Rhode Islanders on it, and I think the bill that was passed was very good.”

Asked whether EngageRI plans to broaden its advocacy to include other issues, Duffy said: “As of now, we are singly focused on pension reform.”

The spending figures for EngageRI do not include money the group spent in September, the month it was formed but before it hired lobbyists and came under state disclosure rules.

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

14 thoughts on “EngageRI forms PAC to fund pols; spent $617K for pension bill

    • Hope for what? So that the rich can get richer? What has happened to the voice of the people in our state and our country? Advocacy groups such as EngageRI which are funded primarily by huge corporations are buying legislation and buying politicians. How much power is the average middle-class person going to have in the political process? Not much! You have ended up hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing. “Remember when teachers, public employees, NPR and PBS crashed the stock market, wiped out half of the 401ks, took trillions in taxpayer funded bailouts, spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico, gave themselves billions in bonuses, and paid no taxes? Yeah, me neither..” It is time to change the dialogue. Take a look at the statistics about income disparity in this country. Look at the gains and the losses in salaries! It is not the union workers, and keep in mind that the union workers are the decent middle class people in this society. They are your neighbors, your teachers, your firemen, your police, – they are not the villains. Stop demonizing them.
      Your teachers and your state workers were not the ones who were abusing the system. Yet groups such as EngageRi felt compelled to spin this so that we were. We were in favor of a fair reform law that would sustain the system for all. This was not fair. It was immoral, heartless, and unforgivable. So, now we hope that we will be able to keep our homes that we will be able to make ends meet, when it is too late for us to do anything about it. What kind of society does this to their citizens and takes pride in it? Shame on you.

      • Union greed knows no bounds. We need someone or something to check it’s abuses!
        RI’ers have been getting the shaft from these thugs for a lifetime. Let’s give someone else a chance to speak up for us.

      • Bob, do realize that these union members are predominantly females? The thugs are of a bygone era. Many of them are single retired state workers and will be living at the poverty level based on the lost of their COLA. If they lose their spouses they are not eligible for their SS because of their pension. I don’t view them as thugs. I wouldn’t regard union leaders fighting for the rights that all workers deserve as greed. You need to do some reading. Turn off the radio. It is this type of ignorance that has put the country in the position that it is in. Can you honestly disregard the corporate greed? Your mean spiritedness is unsettling. I don’t want corporations speaking for me – thank you!

    • People need to realize that the average person maybe makes $24-$28k a year in RI…That’s becoming poverty level with taxes going up, rent going up, food going up, gas fluctuating, etc. And NO ONE I know has pensions–it’s either 401k, IRAs or NOTHING!
      Take a look at the want ads…It’s all just store jobs, restaurant jobs and call center jobs OR part time jobs, “on call” jobs or “per diem” jobs with no benefits….ALL CRAP!!

      In the news, robberies of stores and houses are increasing….food pantries are up 58% of people that are using them….People are stressed, tired and for us that work are underpaid for what we do..

      Seeing that a disgusting organization like EngageRI spent $617K to keep the rich richer is a bloody shame. Talk about a terrorist organization? They are helping to destroy and keep people hostage in favor of big Goverment. They are a bunch of facist and should be taken down….Where’s occupy Providence in regards to this situation?

  1. The robber barons are running the country and now are trying to run RI.
    Their last big campaign was to give themselves Big cuts in RI state taxes.

  2. EngageRI is a pathetic and I look forward to its full disclosure of donors so that I, my family and friends can boycott them.

  3. Unfortunately, the only way to fight the status quo and the Unions is to have a corporate funded org. like EngageRi get in the fight. I do see a potential downside to that, but at this point, anything to stop the greedy all devouring monster that is the government, is great. At the same time, I do not believe in demonizing the average union workers, who are the backbone of the country. Also, EngageRI should not just give knee jerk support to anyone who voted for pension reform. While some of them did the right thing in this one vote, if they have been part of the entrenched problem, we can’t afford to re-elect them. We now need to address the health care issue and compounding COLA’s on wages, and many other entitlements and also reform the tax code and plug the holes for the very rich. It’s all gotten very out of control, we can only take one step at a time in fixing the problems, and we have a long way to go.

    • Dave, why do you call the unions greedy? Have you been reading about the disparity in income in this country? Have you seen the statistics about the increase in the CEO’s pay while the income of the average worker has gone down? Read Robert Reich. He is brilliant and has a lot of good ideas about fixing the economy. Too many people have been brainwashed by the Tea Party’s agenda. They are not economists. If they educate themselves, they will just find that they are the puppets for the huge corporations who want more for the people at the top while they continue to steal from the middle class and impoverish millions. It is tragic. Privatization of government agencies is not the answer. It is a huge scam.
      If you go to http://www.alecexposed.org it is very frightening. It is important that we save our democracy and the middle class.
      At least you offer an intelligent commentary without blaming everything on the public sector. You’re right – we do have a long way to go. Happy Holidays.

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