PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Republican rival Allan Fung on Tuesday accused Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo of having a “cloud of corruption” hanging over her after a prominent supporter allegedly suggested state vendors should pony up campaign contributions to get work from the state.
The Providence Journal reported that former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino, now the state’s Democratic national committeeman, suggested at a private gathering of Raimondo backers that local executives and lobbyists with business before the government should donate if they want state contracts. Paolino insisted he was joking around with longtime acquaintances and had been misquoted.
“I never used those words,” Paolino said. He said he told David Cruise, a former state senator and Raimondo adviser who is now working for a law firm, he “has made a lot of friends and he should be able to sell [fundraiser] tickets, just like I would tell anybody else.” Tying contributions to state contracts is “not appropriate” and “I would not talk that way,” he added.
Fung seized on the report about Paolino’s remarks on Tuesday.
“I’m calling on Governor Raimondo to disclose the names of all of those in attendance at this meeting, so that they can be asked if they have been pressured to enter into a quid pro quo agreement that will financially benefit the governor’s campaign,” Fung said in a statement.
“Furthermore, given the cloud of corruption now hanging over her office, I call on her not to accept campaign donations from employees of any state vendor, or their family members, for the rest of the campaign,” Fung added. He later said she should list all state contractors who have donated to her campaign, and refund any contributions from them.
Emily Samsel, a spokeswoman for Raimondo, did not dispute Paolino’s comments but tried to downplay the significance of the gathering where he made them. “The event was a standard political breakfast for campaign supporters – totally free,” she said in an email. She noted that Raimondo “has proposed multiple campaign finance reforms to hold candidates for office to the highest ethical standards.”
Raimondo opponents have long sought to make her fundraising prowess an issue in the eyes of voters.
The governor currently has more than $4 million in her campaign account, many multiples more than any of her rivals, and she has cultivated a national donor network. In recent months, she has defended accepting donations from the CEO of the company behind the controversial Burrillville power plant and from a URI Foundation board member who held a senior role at Deloitte, the company that built the troubled UHIP computer system.
Samsel sought to turn the tables on Fung, noting that he has accepted thousands of dollars in donations from municipal employees who work for him in Cranston, and that during his early years in politics he raised money from MetLife employees when he was a lobbyist for the company.
Fung spokesman Andrew Augustus acknowledged that Fung continues to accept campaign donations from city employees and contractors in Cranston, but said “that’s not the point. The point is a Raimondo ally is implying a quid pro quo for state work with vendors, contractors and lobbyists.”
As for Paolino, he said he didn’t blame the Fung campaign for making hay out of the report. “This is a political season, and when anyone thinks they can have a clean shot, they take it,” he said.
Eight other candidates have also filed to run for governor this year: Democrats Matt Brown, Paul Roselli and Spencer Dickinson; Republicans Patricia Morgan and Giovanni Feroce; Moderate Bill Gilbert; and independents Joe Trillo and Luis Daniel Munoz.