These are the 27 RI politicians with the most campaign cash

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – As the old saying goes, money is the mother’s milk of politics. And some Rhode Island leaders have more of it than others.

Last week was the deadline to file campaign-finance reports with the R.I. Board of Elections, giving a look at how much cash politicians had on hand as of June 30. WPRI.com obtained a list of all the officials with more than $50,000 on hand.

A few things to keep in mind: these figures only account for state-level politicians, since Rhode Island’s four members of Congress file their reports at the federal level. (U.S. Sen. Jack Reed leads that group, with $1.7 million in his own account and $24,000 in his PAC.) And under Rhode Island’s fundraising rules, politicians can accept up to $1,000 from an individual each year – so they can get $4,000 from the same person over the four-year election cycle if he or she is so inclined. Thus money raised in the early years of a cycle is money that can’t be raised later.

Here’s a look at who has the most campaign cash in Rhode Island these days.1. Gina Raimondo – $1.45 million

Rhode Island’s first-term Democratic governor has been a champion fundraiser since she entered politics in 2009 to run for general treasurer. Capitalizing on her ties to the finance industry and an elite Rolodex, Raimondo has raised $8.8 million over the last seven years, an eye-popping sum for a non-federal official in tiny Rhode Island. She needed every penny to win a tight race for governor in 2014, and since then she’s been steadily rebuilding her war chest, with an eye on her expected bid for re-election in 2018. The big cash hoard could help Raimondo scare off credible challengers, though it may not be enough without a strong approval rating. (Raimondo also has $26,000 in her PAC, though it’s seen little actively lately.) And for all those who speculate she might use the money to run for Congress, don’t forget that state donations can’t be used in a federal campaign.2. Joe Shekarchi – $528,188

Joe Shekarchi is only in his second term as a Democratic state rep from Warwick, yet he’s managed to amass more than a half-million dollars in campaign contributions. Despite a relatively short time in elected office, the 54-year-old lawyer has been a prominent wheeler-dealer for more than two decades, and today he’s a rare Smith Hill figure with close ties to both Raimondo (he managed her first campaign) and Speaker Nick Mattiello (he serves as House Labor Committee chairman). It’s widely thought Shekarchi would like to be mayor of Warwick, though he’s unlikely to go for the job unless Republican incumbent Scott Avedisian retires. He could also be a future candidate for speaker or attorney general. But Shekarchi won’t have to spend much this year – he’s unopposed for re-election to the House.3. Nick Mattiello – $365,649

Mr. Speaker is always a magnet for campaign contributions, and Nick Mattiello is no exception. His abrupt ascension to the House’s top job in March 2014 triggered a flood of donations, with more than $100,000 pouring into his campaign coffers in his first quarter as speaker; a year earlier, when he was only majority leader, he’d taken in just $15,000 during the same period. The Democratic lawmaker has repeatedly made clear he loves the job and hopes to remain as speaker for quite awhile yet. He’ll need to spend some of his cash this year, though, as he faces a spirited re-election challenge in his Cranston district. This isn’t all the campaign money Mattiello controls, either: the House Democratic leadership PAC holds another $106,000.4. Patrick Lynch – $288,071

Remember Patrick Lynch? The 51-year-old Democrat served two high-profile terms as attorney general, but left public life in 2010 after abandoning a challenge to Frank Caprio for the party’s gubernatorial nomination. Dropping out of that race relatively early left Lynch with a sizable pile of campaign cash that he hadn’t tapped. Still, over the last five years he’s spent down about $86,000 of the campaign money he had when he left office, often using it to make donations to other politicians. Will he throw his hat back into the ring someday? Lynch, now a lawyer in private practice, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.5. Jorge Elorza – $276,131

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is halfway through his second year at City Hall, and is already showing signs of fundraising prowess. The first-term Democrat’s campaign cash balance is about $40,000 higher than predecessor Angel Taveras’s was at the same point in his term, an impressive feat considering Taveras was at the time the most popular politician in Rhode Island and already seen as a possible 2014 gubernatorial candidate. Nobody is talking about an Elorza bid for governor in 2018, but it’s entirely possible the 39-year-old Democrat could draw one or more serious opponents in his bid for a second term as mayor that year.6. Michael McCaffrey – $175,117

The first state senator on the list is Michael McCaffrey, a Democrat who’s held his Warwick seat for almost 22 years. McCaffrey has had a powerful post as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee since 2003, and he’s often discussed as a possible successor to Teresa Paiva Weed as Senate president, though he’d have some tough competition (see below). McCaffrey was unopposed in 2014 but had to fight off a tough primary challenge from Laura Pisaturo in 2012. This year he’s unopposed in the primary but does have an independent challenger, Ronald Loparto, on the November ballot.7. Joe Polisena – $159,818

Johnston Mayor Joe Polisena has led Rhode Island’s 12th-largest community for nearly a decade, after previously serving as a state senator for a number of years. A Democrat, Polisena’s victory margins have edged up during his time in office, from 61% in his first re-election campaign in 2008 to 73% two years ago. This is the first election year when Polisena hasn’t had to face voters: Johnston switched its mayor from two-year terms to four-year terms starting in 2015, so he isn’t on the ballot again until 2018.8. Seth Magaziner – $157,354

General Treasurer Seth Magaziner is midway through his second year and continues building up his campaign account after a very expensive fight to win the office in 2014; he still owes himself $700,000 in personal loans he made to his campaign that cycle. Magaziner, a Democrat, looks like he’ll be the third treasurer in a row to acquit himself well in the fundraising game, following the path tread by Gina Raimondo and Frank Caprio before him. As a Democratic incumbent for a low-profile office, the 33-year-old will likely start his 2018 re-election race as a favorite, and he’s already widely seen as a possible candidate for governor or other higher office down the road. It doesn’t hurt that his family has longstanding close ties to the Clintons.9. Dominick Ruggerio – $124,768

Another veteran state senator, Dominick Ruggerio is one of Rhode Island’s most powerful politicians, even though his name may be less familiar than others to the general public. The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Ruggerio is widely seen as a strong contender – perhaps the strongest – to succeed Teresa Paiva Weed as Senate president whenever she eventually decides to move on. A top official with the Laborers union, Ruggerio represents North Providence and Providence and is the longest-serving member of the General Assembly, having first won office in 1984. He is unopposed for re-election this year. This isn’t all the campaign money Ruggerio can tap, either: a leadership PAC he chairs holds another $55,661, more than Paiva Weed has in hers.10. George Caruolo – $120,489

A true blast from the past, former Democratic Rep. George Caruolo served in the Rhode Island House from 1981 to 1998, spending his last five years as majority leader. A prominent East Providence lawyer and powerbroker, Caruolo has been out of office for almost two decades yet still holds onto a six-figure pile of campaign cash. (Plus, he bragged in 2012, he didn’t hold a fundraiser during his final year in office: “I could have left with even more money.”) Caruolo seems unlikely to ever seek office again – he didn’t respond to a request for comment – but he’d certainly have a running start if he changed his mind.11. Teresa Paiva Weed – $111,754

Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed has held the upper chamber’s top job since Joe Montalbano lost his re-election bid in 2008, and despite persistent speculation that she’s preparing to give up the gavel, the Newport Democrat is once again a candidate for re-election this fall. Paiva Weed faces Sav Rebecchi, an independent; she won a comfortable 11-point victory over Republican Mike Smith in 2014 despite some arguing she’d suffer from that year’s backlash against the failed Newport Grand casino expansion. This isn’t all the campaign money Paiva Weed can tap, either: a leadership PAC she chairs holds another $40,855.12. Allan Fung – $107,430

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is one of only two Republicans on this list, a testament to his high profile leading Rhode Island’s third-largest city and as the 2014 GOP nominee for governor. (His Warwick counterpart, fellow Republican Scott Avedisian, has only $34,000 in his campaign account.) Fung was vastly outspent by Gina Raimondo and her allies in the gubernatorial contest two years ago, but he still built up a broader fundraising network as a statewide candidate, and it’s now coming in handy as he seeks to defeat Democrat Michael Sepe and win a new four-year term this November. (Fung currently has a three-to-one cash advantage over Sepe.) Fung hasn’t ruled out seeking a rematch against Raimondo in 2018, though some Republicans wonder if he’s been too damaged by the Ticketgate affair to try again.13. Stephen Ucci – $105,782

One of the less familiar names on the list, Democratic Rep. Stephen Ucci has been in the Rhode Island House since first winning election in 2004, representing Johnston and Cranston. A corporate lawyer, Ucci was seen as a swing vote in the 2014 race for speaker between Nick Mattiello and Mike Marcello. One reason Ucci has been able to amass so much money: remarkably enough, he hasn’t been challenged for re-election since 2006. And this year is no exception: Ucci is unopposed once again.14. John DeSimone – $101,748

House Majority Leader John DeSimone is a wily State House veteran who rose to new prominence in 2014 when Nick Mattiello agreed to make him his No. 2 in exchange for some crucial votes that helped secure Mattiello the speakership. First elected in 1992, DeSimone is an old-school Providence Democrat who’s faced only token opposition in recent elections. But this year is shaping up to be different: Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, a special-education teacher, is challenging DeSimone in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary. Ranglin-Vassell hasn’t had to file any campaign-finance reports yet, but it would be a shock if DeSimone didn’t have considerably more money than her.15. Charlene Lima – $93,613

Rep. Charlene Lima is close to Speaker Mattiello, a fellow Cranston Democrat; he made her a deputy speaker, and she now sometimes steps in for him on the rostrum when he’s busy. A true State House character, she’s been in the news lately alongside her dog for a successful push to allow pets at restaurants. She’s also one of only five women on the list. Lima has won re-election easily in recent years and is unopposed this fall.16. Charlie Lombardi – $86,581

North Providence Mayor Charlie Lombardi has been leading Rhode Island’s ninth-largest community for nearly a decade. But the diminutive Democrat has a real race on his hands this year judging by the buzz and the signage, as Town Councilwoman Kristen Catanzaro seeks to dislodge him in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary. It’s the first time Lombardi has faced an opponent since he took office in April 2007, succeeding Ralph Mollis, who’d been elected secretary of state. With no polling it’s impossible to say how the race stacks up, but incumbency won’t be the only advantage for Lombardi: he has five times more money than Catanzaro heading into the final stretch.17. Brian Patrick Kennedy – $86,367

Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy is a familiar face to State House insiders but relatively little-known outside the chamber. The 55-year-old Hopkinton Democrat was first elected in 1988, making him now the longest-serving member of the Rhode Island House. Chairman of the House Corporations Committee since 1994, Kennedy is known for taking a close interest in legislation related to the insurance industry. Unopposed in the 2014 election, Kennedy had a relatively close re-election race back in 2010, though he won with 56% of the vote. This year he’s facing a challenge from Michael Geary, an independent.18. Bill Walaska – $74,404

Sen. Bill Walaska, like Mike McCaffrey, was first elected in 1994 and has held his seat ever since. The Warwick Democrat, now 70, is one of the more conservative members of his caucus as a former member of ALEC. He is currently facing an energetic primary challenge from Jeanine Calkin, a progressive who was active in Bernie Sanders’ campaign locally. Walaska is battling cancer but is working to hold onto his seat.19. Chris Blazejewski – $73,668

Rep. Chris Blazejewski, a Democrat who represents part of Providence’s liberal East Side, has always been seen as a politician with a bright future as an articulate, Harvard-trained lawyer. Blazejewski was out in the cold for a while after teaming up with Mike Marcello in a failed effort to deny Nick Mattiello the speakership back in 2014, but Mattiello has since brought him back into House leadership. A Republican, Mike Teoli, is challenging Blazejewski this November.20. Aaron Regunberg – $72,767

Like Chris Blazejewski, Rep. Aaron Regunberg is a young Ivy League-educated Democrat who represents part of the East Side. Unlike Blazejewski, Regunberg is not a member of leadership, though he appears to have good relations with Speaker Mattiello. Regunberg made his name as an activist and is now a leading voice among House progressives; he was one of the few elected officials in Rhode Island to publicly back Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton this year. He is unopposed this fall.21. Robert Craven – $69,335

It won’t be surprising if Rep. Robert Craven builds up his campaign account over the next two years: the North Kingstown Democrat is widely expected to make a run for attorney general in 2018, when Peter Kilmartin will be barred by term limits from seeking re-election. (Just last week, Craven issued a press release calling on Kilmartin to release the 38 Studios documents – as did Sen. Steve Archambault, another possible AG candidate.) First, though, Craven will need to survive this year’s election – he is being challenged for his seat by Republican Mark Zaccaria, former chairman of the state GOP.22. Joshua Miller – $66,100

Sen. Joshua Miller, a Democrat who represents parts of Cranston and Warwick, is a veteran liberal lawmaker; he won his Senate seat after its prior occupant, Elizabeth Roberts, was elected lieutenant governor in 2006. Miller is known for being out front on issues such as the legalization of marijuana and increased gun regulation, as well as for being the owner of Trinity Brewhouse and Local 121. He is running unopposed this year.23. Joe Trillo – $66,065

Rep. Joe Trillo, one of two Republicans on this list, is among the best-known personalities at the State House thanks to his trademark tirades on the House floor and, lately, his chairmanship of Donald Trump’s campaign in Rhode Island. But Trillo won’t be back in 2017: he announced in June he would not seek a new term, setting up a clash between Democrat Evan Shanley and Republican Stacia Huyler. Trillo says he’s not sure yet what he’ll do with all of his remaining cash – he’s loaned his campaign almost $50,000 over the years – but plans to use some of it to help GOP candidates this year. Asked whether it’s possible his name may appear on a ballot again someday, Trillo told WPRI.com: “Yeah – absolutely.”24. Dan McKee – $63,931

Another on the long list of Democrats who won their first terms in 2014, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee is a former mayor of Cumberland. He’s perhaps the best-known elected advocate of charter schools in Rhode Island, which has given him some deep-pocketed supporters. But it also means he’s likely to face a union-backed challenge from the left in the 2018 primary, as his critics hope to prevent him from eventually seeking the governor’s office (or inheriting it if Gina Raimondo leaves before a hypothetical second term ends).25. Sue Sosnowski – $61,518

Sen. Sue Sosnowski, a South Kingstown Democrat, was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and is seeking a new term this fall. A farmer by trade, Sosnowski made headlines last year when she was targeted by the Humane Society for opposing a bill increasing the regulation of chicken coops. She’s also close to Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed. Her tightest recent election came in 2010, when she edged out independent Kevin O’Neill with 51% of the vote.26. John Lombardi – $52,092

Rep. John Lombardi has been a fixture in Providence politics for more than quarter-century now, with 26 years on the City Council including almost a decade as its leader and a brief stint as acting mayor during the interregnum between Buddy Cianci and David Cicilline. He suffered a bruising loss to Angel Taveras in the 2010 mayoral primary but bounced back two years later to win the House seat he currently holds; he’s unopposed for re-election this fall. Lombardi’s name is always in the mix for future races, and he hasn’t done anything to tamp down speculation he might challenge Jorge Elorza two years from now.27. Nellie Gorbea – $50,716

Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea is the fourth of Rhode Island’s five statewide general officers to make the list of best-funded politicians. (The fifth member of their group, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, falls short with only $38,000 even as he leaves open the possibility he’ll seek a different office in 2018.) Gorbea, a Democrat, was the first Latino elected to statewide office in New England and is widely seen as a future candidate for higher office, with some already imagining a post-Raimondo 2022 primary pitting her against Seth Magaziner. And if anyone proves that money isn’t everything in politics, it’s Gorbea – her 2014 primary run against Guillaume De Ramel was widely seen as quixotic thanks to his huge financial advantage, yet in the end she prevailed thanks to a savvy campaign.Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes The Saturday Morning Post and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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