Foulkes on defense over Mitch McConnell donation, 38 Studios

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Helena Foulkes during an appearance on CBS in 2018.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — One day after entering the Democratic primary for governor, former CVS Health executive Helena Foulkes found herself on the defensive over a 2014 political donation as well as her actions during the collapse of 38 Studios.

Foulkes, 57, announced her candidacy on Wednesday in a letter and video message.

In a series of Twitter messages Thursday, Foulkes apologized for contributing $500 in 2014 to the re-election campaign of Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. The GOP was poised to take back control of the Senate that fall.

“Over the years I’ve made campaign contributions — mostly to Democrats, but to some Republicans, too — because, like most Rhode Islanders, I wanted a government where people from both parties could work together and get things done,” Foulkes wrote.

“One of the last Republicans I contributed to many years ago was Mitch McConnell and it’s something I deeply regret and would never do again,” she continued. “It was before he colluded with Donald Trump to destroy the Supreme Court and more. I sincerely apologize.”

Records compiled by the watchdog group OpenSecrets show most of Foulkes’ political donations have been to Democrats over the years, including a number of Rhode Island elected leaders, as well as Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Kennedy III, among others.

But the records show she also gave to a handful of other Republicans, including $250 to then-Gov. Don Carcieri in 2006 and $200 to state Rep. Barbara-Ann Fenton Fung last October. And in 2014 she was on the host committee of a fundraiser for Catherine Terry Taylor — the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor against Dan McKee that year.

During her time at CVS, Foulkes contributed regularly to the company’s political action committee, which The Wall Street Journal reported in 2018 had emerged as one of the largest donors to President Trump’s re-election campaign. (Foulkes left CVS that year to lead the Hudson’s Bay Co., parent of Saks Fifth Avenue.) She has also donated significant amounts to the political action committee of retailer Home Depot, where she has served on the board since 2013.

Voting records provided by the secretary of state’s office show Foulkes has been a registered Democrat since statewide records begin in 2002. For most of those years she was registered in Providence, but in recent years she moved her voting address to Narragansett.

The records show while Foulkes has voted in every general election since 2000, she has missed multiple primary elections, voting only in the September state primaries in 2014, 2012 and 2002. She also voted in the presidential primaries in 2004 and 2000.

Separately on Thursday, former Gov. Lincoln Chafee renewed his criticism of Foulkes dating back to the collapse of Curt Schilling’s video-game company, 38 Studios.

Chafee had been harshly critical of the proposed $75 million loan guarantee for the company during his 2010 campaign, and after taking office he installed Foulkes as vice-chair of the R.I. Economic Development Corporation, the agency responsible for the deal.

But Foulkes abruptly resigned from the EDC board on May 24, 2012, at the height of the 38 Studios crisis. “I have discussed with the governor his plans for the board at the EDC, and I think it is best at this time I resign,” she said in a brief statement issued by CVS at the time. “I wish him good luck in this very difficult challenge.”

Behind the scenes, Foulkes had been among those urging the board to consider authorizing additional tax credits for 38 Studios that could theoretically yield enough cash to keep the company afloat, in an effort to protect the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars already at risk.

But Chafee was adamantly opposed to any further government support for Schilling’s firm, and it soon closed up shop. Later litigation recouped just under $50 million of the money lost by taxpayers in the bond deal.

In an interview Thursday with The Boston Globe, Chafee argued Foulkes “should face hard questions about 38 Studios” in light of her support for the tax credits Schilling sought. She told The Globe, “I think Linc and I remember this differently.”

Foulkes is one of five Democrats who have announced plans to challenge McKee in next year’s gubernatorial primary, along with Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, former Secretary of State Matt Brown and Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram

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