Matos campaign alleges ‘illegal coordination’ in Regunberg Super PAC funding

Complaint asks federal election regulators to investigate

By: - August 18, 2023 4:29 pm

The rivalry for the Democratic nomination for Rhode Island’s open 1st Congressional District seat between candidates Aaron Regunberg, left, and Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos right, grew more intense Friday after Matos filed a formal complaint against Regunberg with the Federal Election Commission. (Michael Salerno photos/Rhode Island Current)

As criticism continues over the Super PAC boosting Aaron Regunberg’s congressional campaign, a rival candidate is asking federal election regulators to investigate.

Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos’ campaign on Friday filed a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission, alleging illegal coordination between Regunberg and Progress Rhode Island. The Super PAC created by Regunberg’s father-in-law has poured $119,000 into Regunberg’s campaign through a series of mailers. Regunberg, who has vocally denounced corporate money in politics, continues to deny knowing about or asking for the funding. But the Matos campaign contends otherwise.

“It would appear highly unlikely that a contribution of this size from an immediate family member to a Super PAC solely set up to help a candidate would be unknown to that candidate, begging the question: did candidate Regunberg illegally solicit this contribution from his father-in-law?” the complaint states.

Federal election law stops candidates or campaigns from actively soliciting more than $5,000 from Super PACs.

The complaint also alleges that Regunberg coordinated with the family members who started the Super PAC to skirt these contribution limits, pointing to a campaign photo of Regunberg used on the Super PAC-funded mailer, though it was not publicly available before the mailer went out. Furthermore, the complaint points to a “red box” – a button on campaign websites that offers messaging and candidate information to Super PACs interested in funding them – that was briefly available on Regunberg’s website before being removed, as evidence of illegal coordination.

Asked about the red box during a Democratic debate on Aug. 17, Regunberg denied ever having one.

In an emailed response on Friday, Matt DaSilva, Regunberg’s campaign manager, called the complaint “ridiculous and unserious from a desperate candidate whose campaign has been dogged by ethical questions and is currently under criminal investigation.”

Matos has faced her own controversy in recent weeks over allegedly forged signatures on her nomination papers, which are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General and Rhode Island State Police.

DaSilva also countered allegations about coordination between Regunberg and the Super PAC, saying the photo in question was publicly available for weeks before the mailer went out. He shifted attention to the $800,000 in Super PAC funding for Matos’ campaign, as well as a red box on her campaign website.

Matos during the debate Thursday acknowledged the funding from groups including Congressional Hispanic Caucus BOLD PAC, Emily’s List and Elect Democratic Women, which she said reflected support for her stance on key issues.

“Aaron’s campaign is proud to not be accepting a dime in corporate PAC or corporate lobbyist money, unlike the Lieutenant Governor’s, who has taken many thousands of dollars from lobbyists at firms representing Big Pharma, oil and gas corporations, utilities, banks, and other corporate interests,” DaSilva said. “Those corporate lobbyists aren’t contributing to Aaron, because they know he can’t be bought.”

Matos’ complaint also alleges that the Progress Rhode Island Super PAC violated the federal disclosure laws requiring political action committees to report funds spent on candidates within 48 hours of dissemination. 

Regunberg’s campaign did not address this allegation specifically.

The FEC reviews every complaint, though it only takes action on those deemed within its jurisdiction and that meet other criteria, according to its website. In those cases, respondents have 15 days to correct the complaint after being notified. Failure to do so results in the opening of an examination with potential for further enforcement.

Miles Martin, an FEC spokesman, could not give a timeline for review, only saying, “it varies.” Martin could also not confirm whether the commission had received Matos’ complaint as of Friday afternoon.

The primary is Sept. 5, with a Nov. 7 general election.


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Nancy Lavin
Nancy Lavin

Nancy Lavin is senior reporter covering state politics, energy and environmental issues for the Rhode Island Current.