Providence Mayor Angel Taveras -- who faces a fundraising disadvantage in his expected Democratic gubernatorial primary battle next year with state Treasurer Gina Raimondo -- is calling on Raimondo to shun third-party spending by sources including super PACs and national and state party committees. Raimondo's campaign organization says Taveras' pitch "isn't a good faith offer."
In a statement released by his campaign organization Wednesday morning, Taveras calls on Raimondo to sign the "Rhode Island People's Pledge" and says, "Similar agreements have been proven to work in statewide campaigns in Massachusetts."
The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision made possible what is expected to be an unprecedented amount of political spending from outside groups in Rhode Island's 2014 election -- a situation perceived as a considerable advantage for Raimondo.
On the other hand, Collin Berglund, spokesman for Friends of Gina Raimondo, cites how "Union leaders and special interests are already funding personal attacks against Gina Raimondo. We won't even consider this sort of pledge until we see a full accounting of how much Ted Siedle has been paid by AFSCME Local 94 as well as by their allies in Washington, DC, and the Mayor's campaign donates that amount to Crossroads RI on behalf of Gina Raimondo."
The statement on behalf of the treasurer's political organization continues:
"The union leaders and special interests who opposed pension reform deny the state was in crisis. 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' campaign spokesman, Peter Baptista, offered this response to the response from the Raimondo camp:
"Senators Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown were able to work this out. If a Democrat and Republican can come to an agreement, why can't two Democrats have a conversation about prohibiting third party spending? The Treasurer talks as if she thinks Citizens United was good for America and Rhode Island. We would be surprised if most Democrats feel that way. It’s really a simple question that Treasurer Raimondo has a chance to simply answer—Does she believe Rhode Island voters deserve a campaign free from special interest spending or does she want a campaign that is controlled by the special interests? If she believes Rhode Island deserves better, she should join Mayor Tavares in signing this pledge."
A Super PAC created by Raimondo supporter Kate Coyne-McCoy went on the offensive over the summer by boosting the treasurer and running down Taveras.
As it stands, Raimondo has compiled more than $2 million in her war chest, while Taveras trails with less than $700,000. (Third-quarter fundraising reports are due to be filed at the end of this month.) With many Democrats opposing the Citizens United decision, Taveras calls his proposal a way to act on that belief:
"Well, if you’re against it, let’s let our actions reflect it," he said during an interview at a law office on Weybosset Street. "This is one way that our actions can reflect that. I think your actions should reflect your values. So this is about limiting the influence of outside interests and super PACs here in Rhode Island."
Taveras denies his proposal is a stunt meant to leverage his fundraising disadvantage. He says it's about Democratic values and following the lead set by US Senator Elizabeth Warren, who signed onto a "People's Pledge" in her race with Republican Scott Brown. "This has to do with independent third-party super PACs that are typically big interests and special interests and Wall Street and other people," Taveras says, "who are giving unlimited funds to these super PACs that are a relatively new phenomenon."
Taveras says he doesn't believe he has been the beneficiary of third-party spending while preparing for a possible statewide run and doesn't consider the $20,000 spent by AFSCME's Council 94 for Ted Siedle's critical report on Raimondo to be a third-party allocation favoring his potential campaign. "I think that's a a long leap," he says.
Asked whether general support from RI's labor movement could be considered third-party spending, Taveras said, "I think this about everyone, and that would mean that there would be no super PACs on either side. With respect to advocating for a candidate or not a candidate, that is something we can certainly look at in terms of what people are doing."
Taveras says he shared his proposal with reporters ahead of Raimondo since there aren't yet any declared gubernatorial candidates among Democrats. "I think this is important in terms of where we stand on elections, irrespective of whether we're candidates or not candidates," he says.
Taveras outlines his "People's Pledge" concept in a three-page document.
It calls for Raimondo and Taveras to support a pact in which "they do not approve of such independent expenditure advertisements and/or direct mail, and want these advertisements and/or direct mail to immediately cease and desist for the 2014 Gubernatorial election cycle (the present through November 5, 2014) ..."
The proposed pledge goes on to describe "an enforcement mechanism that runs not to the third party organizations, but, instead, to the Candidiates' own campaigns." The mechanism, in short, would compel the benefit of third-party contributions by, within three days of an occurrence, to pay half the amount of the contribution to a charity chosen by the opposing candidate (provided that that candidate doesn't benefit from the charity.)
The Hill found that despite a "People's Pledge," outside groups spent extensively in the special Senate election to fill John Kerry's US Senate seat in Massachusetts earlier this year.
Money is not always decisive in Rhode Island gubernatorial elections; Democrat candidate Frank Caprio raised a ton of money in 2010, but ultimately placed third in the election. Nonetheless, a deep war chest remains vital, particularly in a lower-turnout primary.
This post has been updated.