The leading Democratic candidates for governor of Rhode Island agree on many key policy points, but not on how a political campaign should be financed.
To compete in what is expected to be the most expensive primary in state history, Clay Pell, Gina Raimondo and Angel Taveras have tapped different sources to pay for television advertisements and get-out-the-vote operations.
Raimondo, the top fundraiser in this cycle, has built a record-breaking money-raising machine well-equipped to take advantage of her national business connections.
Pell, the political neophyte, has tapped his own personal fortune for more than $3 million in loans to date, more than making up for his relatively modest donations.
And lacking both the personal wealth and corporate support of his opponents, Taveras has focused on local individuals and groups to try to keep up.
With all three piling up solid account balances this year, the different ways they’ve raised money has itself become a campaign issue.
On the short end of the money race so far, Taveras has pointed to Raimondo’s outside support as more proof of a Wall Street agenda, while Pell has had to answer questions about the influence of personal wealth on government.
On a smaller scale, the same dynamic exists in the Republican primary, where Allan Fung has attacked Ken Block’s decision to bankroll much of his campaign spending.
What this year’s big-money campaigns have helped obscure, however, is that outside, independent-expenditure groups known as super political-action committees, which had been expected to play a big part in the race, have not done so.
A year ago, political pundits predicted that the super-PAC era had arrived in Rhode Island with the formation of the Raimondo-aligned American LeadHERship PAC.
But PACs so far have been largely missing from a governor’s race in which candidates have raised and spent money directly and not relied on outside groups to launch attacks for them.
“We haven’t seen any outside groups do any broadcast media in this race, and I think that is unexpected,” said John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island.