$75K sent to boost Lt. Gov. McKee as Regunberg airs TV ads

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Rhode Island's Democratic primary for lieutenant governor is heating up, with tens of thousands of dollars flowing into the state to boost incumbent Dan McKee after challenger Aaron Regunberg started airing his first TV ad.

R.I. Board of Elections filings show two investors donated $75,000 in recent days to 50CAN Action Fund PAC, a group that supports charter schools, to support McKee. The organization reported $50,000 from Tony Davis, a New York City resident, and $25,000 from Andrew Boas, a Westport, Connecticut, resident.

Boas and Davis are the top board members at Achievement First, a network of public charters that operates in Rhode Island. It has not yet been reported how 50CAN, which was also active in Rhode Island's 2014 election season, will spend the money.

Regunberg - who has criticized McKee's long-standing support for charter schools, and who has the endorsements of both Rhode Island teachers' unions - seized on the donations. "Like in 2014, Dan McKee’s Wall Street friends are pouring dark money into Rhode Island to advance their agendas," he said in a statement.

McKee's campaign did not respond to a request for comment. The outside money could help the incumbent close some of the financial gap separating him from his challenger. As of Aug 14, Regunberg's campaign had $250,000 on hand, while McKee's had $149,000, according to Board of Elections filings.

Regunberg, a Providence lawmaker, went on the air last week with the first TV commercial of the campaign, a 60-second spot titled "Open the Doors" that paints him as an opponent of State House insiders. His campaign has bought about $100,000 of airtime to show the spot from Aug. 14 through Aug. 27, FCC filings show.

Meanwhile, the McKee campaign has been on the attack over a recent Facebook post by the Regunberg campaign that highlighted an Eyewitness News story about the candidates' positions on competitive electric suppliers. McKee has worked to encourage residents to switch to the alternative suppliers, but Massachusetts' attorney general has recently moved against the companies.

Regunberg's campaign was asked to remove a banner it placed on top of a screenshot of the story after a complaint by the McKee campaign, and the lieutenant governor has used the dispute to accuse his opponent of promoting "fake news."

"Pairing such an abuse with his refusal to condemn such deceptive actions calls into question whether he supports and is part of Donald Trump's attack on our news media professionals," McKee said.

Jake London, Regunberg's campaign manager, described the accusation as "a wild claim," and said it was "outrageous" that McKee had promoted "the same companies that the state of Massachusetts is trying to ban for predatory practices."

"So in classic Trump fashion, he's trying to distract from his record by making things up, even using Trump's own charge of 'fake news' to distract from the very real news that he's been aiding the overcharging of vulnerable Rhode Island ratepayers," London said.

McKee and Regunberg are scheduled to debate Sept. 7 on WPRI 12's Newsmakers, and have also agreed to a debate on WPRO radio. Regunberg has criticized McKee for not agreeing to additional debates, including one on RIPR and another on the "State of the State" public-access show.

The primary is Sept. 12. The winner will face Republican Paul Pence, Moderate Joel Hellmann and two independents, Ross McCurdy and Jonathan Riccitelli, in November.

"Money is both the essential ingredient for political communication and the poison that infects our political systems," Pence tweeted Wednesday. "We shouldn't criticise politicians for raising money, but we need to pay close attention to the motives of the donors and how it influenced politicians' policies."

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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