Spending ramps up ahead of CD1 primary

Latest FEC reports show Carlson in the lead for most spent, most cash on hand

By: - August 25, 2023 3:58 pm

Candidates in the 1st Congressional District race are draining their coffers ahead of the Sept. 5 primary, according to the latest campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. (Getty Images)

The clock is ticking down until the Sept. 5 special congressional primary, which means the spending is ramping up among the 14 candidates vying for the open seat.

Leading the pack is Democrat Don Carlson, who spent more than half a million dollars on his campaign according to the latest reports filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Reports reflecting fundraising and spending from July 1 to Aug. 16 were due Thursday.

Even after spending $560,447.72 in that time, Carlson also boasts the biggest campaign war chest heading into the final countdown to the Sept. 5 primary, with $265,674.53 as of Aug. 16, according to the latest report. 

Carlson’s spot at the top of the heap comes after a $600,000 personal loan the Jamestown renewable energy investor put into his own campaign earlier this year. Carlson also received $56,134.93 in donations during the pre-primary reporting period, all of which came from individual donors.

Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos is shown during a 1st Congressional District debate in East Providence on July 24, 2023. (Michael Salerno/Rhode Island Current)

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, a Democrat, was the top fundraiser during the latest reporting period, receiving  $192,918.50 in individual donations as well as $48,000 in PAC funding for a total of  $240,918.50, according to her report.  

The PAC funding included a $5,000 contribution from the Laborers’ International Union of North America PAC, plus $2,500 apiece from the Save Democracy PAC, Great Chain PAC, Democrats Reshaping America and La Bamba PAC. Her campaign has also benefited from $800,000 in outside spending on TV ads, though this is not reflected in the FEC report. Matos’ campaign was left with a $126,254.05 balance after spending $329,664.69. Matos also previously loaned her campaign $20,000.

Matos has openly acknowledged the outside money boosting her campaign account and airwave presence while blasting Democratic rival Aaron Regunberg for the family-funded Super PAC boosting his campaign. 

The former Providence representative has repeatedly denounced corporate money in politics, but had $125,000 in mailers spent on his campaign’s behalf through a super PAC started by his father-in-law. Matos’ campaign filed an FEC complaint alleging Regunberg violated federal campaign finance rules by illegally coordinating with the Progress Rhode Island PAC for the funding, and soliciting PAC money through a “red box” on his website which has since been taken down. 

Regunberg, in turn, has denied the allegations and continued to focus on his message of taking money out of politics. 

Matos has not escaped unscathed from attacks, either, with an ongoing criminal investigation into alleged signature fraud on her campaign nomination papers. And this week, Carlson is also facing criticism after a WPRI-12 report unveiled he was asked not to return to teaching at his alma mater, Williams College, after allegedly sending inappropriate text messages to a student.

Carlson in a statement and corresponding video published on Friday denied any romantic relationship with the student, though he acknowledged an “awkward conversation” in which he misinterpreted comments made by the student about a dating website. 

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“The bottom line is that I never had any romantic relationship with that man or with any student present or former at any institution to which I’ve been affiliated and no cash changed hands,” Carlson said. “And that’s all that happened. However, another student who wasn’t part of the conversation somehow got wind of parts of it and put their own assumptions in and took a report to the Dean. I’ve never seen that report and I’ve never known what was in it. I’ve never had the chance to respond or tell my side of the story until now.”

Despite barbs traded during debates and through campaign statements, none of the candidates, nor their outside supporters, have spent money attacking a rival, according to the FEC reports.

Aaron Regunberg is shown during a 1st Congressional District debate in East Providence on July 24, 2023. (Michael Salerno/Rhode Island Current)

Regunberg’s campaign received $20,000 in funding from various political action committees during the pre-primary reporting period, including the pro-Israeli JStreet PAC, the Progressive Choices PAC and the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC,  according to his latest report. His campaign also received $139,028.94 in individual donations. 

Regunberg had $191,265.02 cash on hand as of Aug. 16 after spending $364,878.21 during the pre-primary stretch.

Other Democratic candidates who reported PAC funding in the latest reporting period included Gabe Amo, a former White House Staffer, and former Naval War College Professor Walter Berbrick.

Amo’s campaign got a $10,100 boost in PAC funding, half of which came from the Congressional Black Caucus PAC.

Amo also received $131,476.50 in individual donations for a $141,576.50 fundraising total during the pre-primary stretch, according to his report. His campaign war chest sat at $155,242.31, after spending $298,105.24.

Here’s where the rest of the Democratic candidates stand after the pre-primary reporting period. 

  • Providence City Councilman John Goncalves ended the reporting period with $80.958.69 cash on hand, after raising $50,069.30 and spending $80,958.69, according to his report. Goncalves’ contributions also came entirely from individuals. 
  • Pawtucket Sen. Sandra Cano raised $43,201.40, entirely in individual contributions, and spent $233,917.04, leaving her with $59,556.47 cash on hand, according to the latest report. Cano also loaned her campaign $80,000 in a prior reporting period. 
  • Former South Kingstown Rep. Spencer Dickinson had $29,577 in his campaign account, after putting in a $45,200 personal loan, according to his handwritten report. Dickinson did not receive any donations during the reporting period, and spent $15,622.79.
  • Providence Sen. Ana Quezada had $29,385.69 cash on hand at the end of the reporting period, after raising $15,890.00 and spending $29,622.36, according to her report. Quezada’s report was filed Friday morning, after the midnight filing deadline, which may later result in a fine as determined by the commission, according to Myles Martin, an FEC spokesperson.
  • Berbrick reported $25,592.64 in his campaign account as of Aug. 16, after raising $35,641.66 and spending $89,009.79 during the six-week reporting period, according to his report. Berbrick’s donations included $6,000 in PAC funding from VoteVets and Cross Partisan PAC I, along with $29,641.66 in individual donations.
  • Stephanie Beauté, a senior program manager in the tech industry who ran for Secretary of State in 2022, ended the reporting period with $5,056.68 cash on hand, according to her report. Beauté received $10,000.00 in individual donations, and spent $10,780.40.
  • Woonsocket Rep. Stephen Casey had $1,817.07 cash on hand as of Aug. 16, after raising $37,450 and spending $35,633.97, according to his report.

Republican Gerry Leonard, one of two Republicans in the race and the Rhode Island GOP’s endorsed candidate, reported $111,082.62 cash on hand as of Aug. 16, according to his report. Leonard boosted his campaign with a $50,000 personal loan, alongside $40,284.13 from individual donors. He spent $10,508.62.

Democrat Allen Waters and Terri Flynn did not raise or spend enough money (more than $5,000) to be subject to financial disclosure rules in the pre-primary reporting period. 

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.