The Boston Globe

Magaziner calls for a ‘people’s pledge’ to limit ‘dark money’ donations, but opponents point out he’s leading the fund-raising pack`

Edward Fitzpatrick | The Boston Globe >>

PROVIDENCE — State Treasurer Seth Magaziner on Tuesday said he is disappointed that most of his fellow Democratic candidates for governor aren’t joining him in a “people’s pledge” aimed at limiting outside political groups from dumping money into the 2022 Democratic primary.

But his opponents are accusing Magaziner of hypocrisy, saying he is leading the pack in fund-raising, using the “people’s pledge” issue to raise more money, taking money from corporate lobbyists, and has yet to repay the hundreds of thousands of dollars he previously loaned his campaign.

The idea for the pledge comes from a US Senate race in Massachusetts in 2012, when Democrat Elizabeth Warren and then-Republican Senator Scott Brown entered a groundbreaking pact to keep third-party political groups from dumping buckets of cash into the race.

Magaziner said “dark money Super PACs” have influenced other Rhode Island elections, including the 2014 and 2018 lieutenant governor primaries won by now-Governor Daniel J. McKee. “Super PACS funded by interests like the Sackler Family, owners of notorious opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma, spent nearly $250,000 in support of Dan McKee’s campaigns,” he said.

“I’m disappointed that most of my opponents have not responded to our efforts to keep dark money out of the race for governor of Rhode Island,” Magaziner said in a statement. “I am deeply concerned about the ways in which unlimited outside money is impacting our democracy, and as Democrats, we have the power to do something about it.”

Michael Trainor, spokesman for McKee’s 2022 gubernatorial campaign, said, “Until he answers the question about the elephant in the room – the $700,000 he loaned his campaign in 2014 – he is the last person who should be talking about transparency.” He questioned where Magaziner received such a large amount of money.

In response to criticism of Super PACS backing McKee in 2014 and 2018, Trainor said, “That shows he is behind in this race and has to start attacking early.” He said McKee gave $4,000 in donations he received from Purdue Pharma executive Jonathan Sackler and his wife to local recovery groups.

Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea was the only candidate to write back to Magaziner about the “people’s pledge.”

“What I said in the letter is that I agree the (US Supreme Court’s) Citizens United decision has been detrimental to American democracy, as someone who has spent 30 years fighting for transparency in government,” she said.

But Gorbea said she told Magaziner that the pledge doesn’t go far enough. “If he really wanted to have a conversation about leveling the playing field, he should agree to eliminating self-funding of campaigns and pay back his personal loan of about $700,000 by Jan. 1,” she said.

Also, Gorbea said she was surprised Magaziner sent out a fundraising email that said no other candidates had taken him up on the pledge.

“He should really return the money he raised from that email to show he is doing the pledge in good faith, not as a gimmick for fundraising and media attention,” she said.

Kolby Lee, a spokesman for Matt Brown’s gubernatorial campaign, said, “It’s unbelievable that Seth Magaziner still wants to talk about the issue of corporate money when he takes tens of thousands of dollars from corporate PACs and lobbyists, including from lobbyists for some of the most greedy and dangerous corporations in the country.”

Magaziner’s contributors lobby for Lockheed Martin, Purdue Pharma, the multinational gambling company IGT, plus companies such as Sea 3 and Marshall Properties that “are fighting to expand dangerous fossil fuel facilities and destroy green space in Rhode Island,” Lee said.

“If Magaziner is serious about ending the corrupting influence of money in politics, he needs to start by returning the tens of thousands in corporate cash that he’s taken since his last election, in addition to pledging to never take these types of donations again,” he said.

Lee said Brown and state Senator Cynthia Mendes, a lieutenant governor candidate, are the only candidates in their races who have pledged not to take corporate PAC, corporate lobbyist, or fossil fuel money.

Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz, who had $5,600 in his campaign account at the end of the third quarter, said, “I find it comedic that a candidate who represents the top 1 percent in this country, and who has invested over $600,000 of their own money into their campaign account, would precede any call to action without first removing their dark money from the governor’s race.”

Muñoz said that if his fellow candidates want to reject “dark money,” they should start by limiting personal contributions to $100,000, refunding any amounts beyond that limit, and participating in the state matching funds program.

“Dark money and personal trust funds should no longer be used to hold Rhode Island back,” he said. “Progress is coming, and it will be powered by the people-powered campaign.”

Joshua Karp, campaign adviser to former CVS executive Helena Foulkes, said, “We don’t have any comment on this.”

Patricia Socarras, spokeswoman for Magaziner’s campaign, said, “It’s disappointing our opponents are trying to deflect the conversation away from their unwillingness to keep dark money super PACs out of the race for governor – the same kind of dark money PACs that fueled McKee’s campaigns in 2014 and 2018.”

Magaziner is willing to include a ban on personal loans in a “people’s pledge,” Socarras said. “But unfortunately, our opponents are more interested in political posturing than coming to the table to negotiate a deal,” she said.