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Thursday, August 4, 2022

Campaign money, money, money

Sad but true, money drives politics

By Will Collette

Candidates for public office were required to file CF-1 forms by August 1 reporting on their income, expenses and balance for the quarter ending June 30. All but three local candidates did so. Despite the time lag, these figures give us a pretty good idea about the status of local races.

In Charlestown, nearly every elected office is being contested in what is shaping up to be another “Battle of the PACs.” The campaign finance reports also show the resurgence of the long-dormant Republican Party in Charlestown.

Two far-right Republican General Assembly incumbents face strong progressive Democratic challengers, plus there are two open seats vacated by the two top Republican leaders in the General Assembly and, just based on the financial reports, both seats seem likely prospects to flip Blue.

Senate District 38 (Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown)

This is the local race getting the most statewide attention. Long held by Westerly Republican Dennis Algiere, his decision to retire set off a flurry of declarations. After signatures on nomination papers were fully validated, three Democrats will go into a September 13 primary and then will face well-known Westerly pol Caswell Cooke running as an independent and novice Republican Westin Place.

So far, that five-person field has raised $67,199.67, but it’s more interesting to see how that money was distributed:

First, Charlestown’s Victoria Gu raised $50,000 in the quarter ending June 30 with a balance of $49,339.89. Almost all of that money came from the Asian-Pacific community around the country.

Running a distant second is independent Caswell Cooke with $9,167.23. Cooke was a long-time Republican until Donald Trump’s 2016 election win when he disaffiliated from the Republican Party.

Third is Westerly Democrat Michael Niemeyer with $7,691.89. He is running under the auspices of the RI Political Coop.

Fourth is current Westerly Town Council President, Democrat Sharon Ahern. She shows only $1000, her own money, in her campaign account. She entered the race late so her lack of cash is not surprising.

Finally, there is Republican Westin Place who has apparently not yet filed a CF-1 report. That will probably cost him a fine and raises some question about how serious he is about campaigning.

House District 36 (Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown, Block Island)

This race is for another open seat left behind by Republican House Minority Leader Blake “Flip” Filippi.

In this race, Democrat Tina Spears of Charlestown is running hard and reports a June 30 balance of $23,189.08.

Her opponent is recent Charlestown transplant John Pacheco III. Instead of a CF-1, Pacheco filed an application for filing exemption based on his declaration that he does not plan to raise much money. His campaign fund is currently in debt. He declared $262.75 cash on hand and $2,682.45 in debt. It appears that these numbers are carried over from his political career as Town Council chair in Burrillville. He bought a house in Charlestown on December 29, 2020.

So far, he has shown no signs of being a serious candidate. Without money, he can’t run a competitive race.

Senate District 34 (Hopkinton, Richmond, Charlestown, Exeter, West Greenwich)

This is the seat currently held by right-wing nut Sen. Elaine Morgan of Hopkinton. She was recently in the news after the state Board of Elections nailed her for taking money out of her campaign funds for personal use. She was required to put the money back and pay a $1,200 fine. With payback, she reports a balance of $16,160.

She faces progressive Democrat Jennifer Douglas of Charlestown, another RI Political Coop member. Jennifer reports a June 30 balance of $6,681.34.

Normally, serious campaign finance crimes end political campaigns as it did for Matt Brown in his 2004 Senate campaign. Brown was out of Rhode Island politics for years until he created the RI Political Coop in 2019 to make a comeback. But Republican Elaine Morgan might be able to count on the GOP’s tendency to reward law-breaking. We’ll see which way it goes when she files her next report on October 11.

House District 39 (Richmond, Hopkinton, Exeter)

Technically, this isn’t a Charlestown race but it might as well be since incumbent right-wing loon Justin Price of Richmond has been running in a pack with Blake Filippi and Elaine Morgan since they were all elected in 2014. 

Adding to that Charlestown feeling is that Price got his seat by ousting a great legislator, Larry Valencia, who did at one time represent the northern half of Charlestown.

Anyway, Price who hopefully may be indicted for his acknowledged participation in the January 6 Trump coup attempt reports a June 30 balance of $4,543.57. 

He has a rematch with Democrat and RI Political Coop member Megan CotterShe reports an impressive June 30 balance of $35,561.93. If money truly equaled votes, Price is toast. However, this is a very conservative district.

Charlestown Municipal races

CCA logo?
The November 8 general election has two political action committees squaring off for control of the town: the ruling Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) and the good government Charlestown Residents United (CRU). Click HERE to see CRU’s slate of candidates.

Nearly every elected position is up for grabs. Most candidates, other than those who are for-real independents, will be financed through one of the two PACs perhaps with help from Charlestown Democratic Town Committee (CDTC) or the resurgent Charlestown Republican Town Committee (CRTC).

These four political entities report these June 30 balances:

    Charlestown Citizens Alliance: $7,164.55

    Charlestown Residents United: $5,420.03

    Charlestown Republicans: $3,803.91

    Charlestown Democrats: $1,507.18

The campaign finance reports show the CCA hasn’t even gotten started on fund-raising yet. Their usual practice over the past 12 years has been to hit up major donors, especially rich absentee property owners, from July to Election Day. The Charlestown Democrats also haven’t done much fund-raising yet.

Mageau does what Mageau does
One of the only actual independents in the race is  👈 town curmudgeon Jim Mageau running for Town Council. He was ousted by the CCA in 2008, has been disowned by both parties and seeks a comeback. Maybe or maybe not.

Mageau dissolved his campaign finance account in June 2013 and hasn’t filed anything since. Including this year where he had enough signatures on his nomination papers to qualify for the General Election ballot. 

If he’s going to run any sort of campaign at all, he’ll need to get his account in order with the Board of Elections or he will face fines.

Over the coming weeks, I will be running articles comparing the candidates especially because there are a lot of new faces and names on the ballot in Charlestown.

In case you are wondering, I am neither dispassionate nor unbiased in this election. I am NOT the League of Women Voters because I do think there are sharp differences among the candidates. Elaine Morgan and Jennifer Douglas are polar opposites, as are Justin Price and Megan Cotter.

So, the race is underway and may the BEST candidates win.