You don’t need to dig through campaign finance reports to spot the stylistic differences between Gov. Dan McKee and his predecessor, Gina Raimondo, apparent in any of their press conferences.
But if you do peruse the midyear Board of Elections filings released last week, you’ll see two Democrats with different approaches to raising campaign cash.
McKee, the longtime mayor of Cumberland, sticks closer to home for donations, while the former Rhodes scholar, Raimondo, cast a national fundraising net.
New York City, Chicago, Silicon Valley — Raimondo was a road warrior for much of her pre-pandemic time in office. And even if she couldn’t jet off to fundraisers in Fort Lauderdale or Los Angeles, she was never at a loss for wealthy contacts if she had to dial for dollars.
In summer 2017, for example, a little more than a year before standing for reelection as McKee is now, Raimondo raised more than $1.1 million in the first half of the year, $649,000 of it from out-of-state addresses. New York donors gave her $134,000 over that period, California $117,000 and Illinois $88,000.
Those interstate contributions exceeded McKee’s $605,000 in donations from all ZIP Codes between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year.
Of course, McKee, who was sworn in at the start of March, didn’t have his full fundraising operation going until the second quarter, and the pandemic has limited in-person fundraising travel.
But it’s unlikely that, in any year, McKee will raise nearly 60% of his donations from outside Rhode Island.
Since becoming governor, McKee hasn’t traveled out of Rhode Island, for any reason. (For the purposes of this column, Seekonk shall not be considered outside Rhode Island.)
Of the $605,000 McKee has raised this year, $472,559 of it came from Rhode Island donors, or 78%. He received the second-most in donations, $69,000, from Massachusetts.
And even within Rhode Island, McKee doesn’t stray too far from home.
He raised $43,000 from his home town of Cumberland, population 35,0000. That was more than the $35,000 from Cranston (pop. 81,254,) $30,000 from Warwick (pop. 80,993) and $9,000 from California (pop. 39 million.) Providence (pop. 179,494) donors gave McKee $52,000.
McKee’s donor list also doesn’t feature the big names that routinely have given to Raimondo, such as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, lawyer David Boies or Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg.
One exception to this is longtime Raimondo donors John and Laura Arnold, who funded the Engage RI group that promoted Raimondo’s pension system overhaul when she was treasurer and gave the maximum $1,000 contributions to McKee in June. Like McKee, the hedge-fund-trader-turned-philanthropist John Arnold is a charter school supporter.
McKee’s focus on local donors could leave an opportunity for other candidates to raise money out of state.
General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, whose finance background is most similar to that of Raimondo, raised 34% of his $569,500 in the first half of the year from outside Rhode Island. Some examples include max donations from Wisconsin State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and former Rhode Island attorney general Peter Kilmartin, of Sarasota, Florida.
Magaziner raised a larger portion of his money out of state than McKee’s 22%, but nothing approaching Raimondo territory. Whether that would change if he were governor is anyone’s guess.
Of the three incumbent statewide officeholders expected to run for governor, Nellie Gorbea raised the most from out of state, with $166,500 of her $364,000 derived from outside Rhode Island.
Fundamentally, there isn’t too much of a difference between political contributions from in-state and out of state.
If you believe in the corrupting power of political contributions, you could argue out-of-town donors may have fewer expectations of favorable treatment from elected officials than the local lawyers, lobbyists, luminaries and labor leaders who typically give.
Silicon Valley is probably not that concerned with the latest Rhode Island marijuana dispensary lottery or auto body bill — although you never know.
Census data on the way
Did you note those population estimates of Cranston, Cumberland and Warwick stated above?
On Thursday, you can forget them. They’ll be obsolete.
That’s when new local level Census 2020 data is set to drop, filling in new numbers for researchers and population-based funding formulas while triggering the next wave of election boundary redistricting.
The numbers should answer whether Cranston’s population really did surpass Warwick’s in the last decade and how the state managed to keep its second congressional seat.
Regardless of what the numbers show, not everyone is pleased with how the Census Bureau is handling these high stakes statistics this year.
For the first time, the Census Bureau is intentionally blurring some of the fine-grained local population data to prevent cyber criminals, data thieves or the curious from trying to identify individual respondents.
Called “differential privacy,” this new security measure isn’t popular with some social scientists who use that block-level population snapshot in their research or the people who draw election maps.
Although differential privacy has been in the works long before Raimondo made the jump from Rhode Island governor and fundraising juggernaut to U.S. commerce secretary, some of the ire is now focused on the person whose agency oversees the Census.
Common Cause Rhode Island’s executive director, John Marion Jr., a Census watcher, describes the blurry data as a somewhat mixed bag from a good-government perspective.
“Differential privacy could make it more difficult for mapmakers to comply with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act by limiting their ability to precisely assign people to specific districts by race,” Marion wrote in an email. “At the same time, it may make it more difficult to engage in partisan gerrymandering by limiting the ability of mapmakers to assign people to districts according to their voting behavior.”
Indeed, mapmakers such as Kimball Brace, Rhode Island’s longtime consultant who is known for his subtle work with the redistricting pen, in an email called it a “major concern.”
As for the results themselves, Marion said some of the things he’ll be looking for on Thursday include whether Rhode Island’s Latino population continued to grow, whether decades of urban population decline has stopped and “how we did counting those populations least likely to participate.”
Then, of course, whether Cranston cements its spot as Rhode Island’s second-largest city or Warwick makes a comeback.
On Twitter: @PatrickAnderso_