PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – He hasn’t formally declared his intention to run for governor, but Providence Mayor Angel Taveras is already trying to set the rules for the race.
The first-term Democrat on Wednesday asked any Democrat mulling a run for the state’s top job to sign a “People’s Pledge” to limit spending by Super PACs and other groups during the 2014 election season, a practice that has become incresingly controversial since a Supreme Court decision opened the door to unlimited campaign spending by outside groups.
“We shouldn't allow outside special interests – whether it is deep-pocketed contributors or Wall Street entities - to spend freely through Super PACs or other independent expenditures,” Taveras said in a statement. “We can’t allow Wall Street or special interests to use Super PACs as a backdoor to buy their own Rhode Island government.
- Read: Rhode Island People's Pledge (pdf)
Super PACs are the common term for independent expenditure-only committees, which are restricted from contributing directly to or coordinating with any candidate. Because there is no legal mechanism to prevent Super PACs from running ads, a People’s Pledge can only discourage outside spending, not forbid entirely.
Taveras’s pledge is similar to the one taken during the 2012 U.S. Senate Race in Massachusetts, where then-incumbent Republican Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren agreed to donate money to a charity selected by the opponent every time they were aided by an outside group’s television, radio or online advertisement.
In Rhode Island, any candidate signing the pledge would agree to contribute half of the amount spent by any outside group’s advertisement – including direct mail – to a charity selected by their opponent within three days of the ad’s discovery.
The result in Massachusetts was a cleaner race that was influenced by significantly less outside money than other high-profile Senate races around the country, according to a report released by good government group Common Cause earlier this year.
The report, which compared the Brown-Warren race with campaigns in Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, found that outside spending in Massachusetts accounted for 9% of the campaign’s overall spending, compared to 34% of spending in the other three states. Common Cause also found that roughly 84% of all campaign ads in those state were negative, compared with 34% in Massachusetts.
Taveras is widely expected to challenge General Treasurer Gina Raimondo in a Democratic primary for governor in 2014. Clay Pell, the grandson of former U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell, is also considering entering the race. On the Republican side, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is expected to formally enter the race next month. Moderate Party founder Ken Block has already declared his candidacy, but hasn’t said whether he’ll run as the standard bearer for his party or challenge Fung in a Republican primary.
Raimondo, the key architect of the 2011 overhaul of the state’s pension system, has lapped the potential field of candidates when it comes to fundraising. The first-term treasurer reported just over $2 million in her campaign account as of June 30, compared with Taveras’s $692,000. Fung and Block had $257,000 and $74,000 in their respective war chests.
To date, Raimondo is the only potential candidate who has attracted attention from any outside group Taveras hopes to handcuff with the pledge. In July, former congressional candidate Kate CoyneMcCoy launched the “American LeadHERship PAC” to support female candidates running for governor in various states. On its website, the group has highlighted Raimondo’s accomplishments while criticizing Taveras for raising taxes and issuing pink slips to every teacher in Providence a month after taking office.
Raimondo has also been linked to EngageRI, the pension reform advocacy group that spent $740,000 supporting the treasurer’s efforts to reform the pension system. The group, which also had a PAC that contributed $2,000 to Raimondo and $1,000 to Taveras, dissolved earlier this year.
In a statement, Raimondo campaign spokesman Collin Berglund said the treasurer "won't even consider" the pledge until the campaign sees a full accounting of the amount analyst Edward Siedle was paid to release a a scathing report on the state's pension fund by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employee (AFSCME).
"The union leaders and special interests who opposed pension reform deny the state was in crisis," Berglund said. "They would have let more cities and towns go bankrupt and have taxpayers pick up the bill. Their well-funded efforts to smear Gina Raimondo is politics at its worst, and it’s hypocritical of Mayor Taveras to try to reap the benefits of those attacks while offering this charade of a pledge."
Taveras himself has benefited from independent expenditures in the past. In 2010, a local faction of the Service Employees International Union spent $5,588 on a negative mailer about former House Finance Chairman Steven Costantino, who was running in a Democratic primary for mayor against Taveras, according to a WPRI.com review of filings with the R.I. Board of Elections.
The 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowed Super PACs to raise and spend unlimited money to advocate for or against political candidates. All told, more than 1,300 Super PACs reported total receipts of $828,224,595 and total independent expenditures of $609,417,654 during the 2012 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington D.C.-based research group that tracks political spending.
In Rhode Island, state law requires outside groups to report their spending within 60 days of a general or special election and within 30 days of a primary. The law also requires the groups to disclose their source of funding.
“Super PACs and independent expenditures are extraordinarily unpopular with Rhode Islanders and citizens across the country who are concerned about unchecked outside money in campaigns,” Taveras said. “As Democrats, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
Copyright WPRI 12
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