PROVIDENCE — When does Governor Dan McKee’s “#RIMomentum tour” become a campaign event?
Is the “tour” that began this week an effort by the team at McKee’s State House to placing him in TV commercial-ready photo ops for his re-election campaign?
Or is Democrat McKee simply walking the hard-to-define line between incumbent power and the campaign as three of his opponents — Republican Ashley Kalus and Democrats Helena Foulkes and Nellie Gorbea — spend hundreds of thousands of dollars dollars in paid television advertising?
When asked, this was campaign manager Brexton Isaacs’ response to questions from the Journal: “As these are official side events, I would direct all your questions there.”
Response from McKee’s Director of Communications, Andrea Palagi: The “RIMomentum Tour” is not an ongoing campaign event.
Asked about an event scheduled for Friday afternoon at Farmer’s Daughter in South Kingstown, “a multi-generational, woman-owned family farm” to highlight state budget money for “employer-run skills training programs” , she said:
“This is not a political event, this is an event hosted by the office to communicate investments in the FY23 budget and how those investments will impact Rhode Islanders.
“It’s very common for a governor’s office after a budget is signed off,” she said. “We adopted the same strategy to highlight the RI Rebounds Governor’s Budget passed by the General Assembly earlier in the year.
“For these press conferences, no campaign funds are used, no campaign materials are distributed, and no campaign staff are present. This is entirely the work of the governor’s office and the provision of this information to Rhode Islanders.”
What McKee’s Opponents Are Saying
But Kalus took issue with the underlying theme of McKee’s #RIMomentum tour, saying, “Rhode Islanders don’t feel momentum, they feel unease.
“Dan McKee is doing his best Jimmy Carter impression. People know our state is on the wrong track…and this governor can’t bring about the change we need.”
Foulkes’ spokeswoman Audrey Lucas said, “If Helena was governor today, she would be more focused on getting things done for Rhode Islanders than driving a publicity tour.
“It’s been a week since Roe v. Wade was overturned. Instead of taking action like other Democratic governors, Governor McKee has yet to take executive action to protect abortion providers, even s ‘he promised to do it.
“And with a likely recession on the horizon and the rising cost of living hurting Rhode Islanders every day, it’s clear that now is the time for leadership and action – not celebration.”
“Status has its advantages”
John Marion, executive director of citizen advocacy group Common Cause RI, said:
“The incumbent has its advantages, and incumbents have long sought to exploit them. In the early 1990s, in response to certain scandals, the General Assembly saw fit to put essential limits on the use of office budgets for what amounted to free campaign advertising.
“Because the law prohibits them from spending money to promote themselves, they resort to seeking the kind of earned media that Governor McKee is seeking with his #RIMomentum tour.”
The law he cited prohibits elected officials from using “public funds from any official budget under their authority for any publication, publicity, broadcast or television broadcast of their photograph, voice or other likeness to be broadcast or distributed to the public”. during the 120 days preceding an election in which he is a candidate. »
But he also says the law “should not be construed to prohibit” an elected official from doing any of these things on an “official government website or social media presence…maintained in the normal course.” official government business exclusively for general information or transparency purposes.”
“The line between exercising public office and campaigning is sometimes difficult to draw,” Marion said.
“At the federal level, which has pretty good rules, incumbents have figured out how to exploit them by holding official events and campaign rallies in the same place, using warrant-holding to subsidize the campaign.
“Rhode Island certainly could have [tighter] rules than it currently does, but that would force incumbents to put limits on themselves, which they probably won’t. »
#RIMomentum Tour Stops
The announcement began: “Following the signing of the historic FY23 budget that relieves relief for Rhode Islanders and invests in the future of the state, Governor [McKee] …will kick off the start of his #RIMomentum Tour by announcing the start date for DRIVEEV.
“DRIVEEV is the Administration’s new electric vehicle rebate program… [to] support the adoption of electric vehicles by Rhode Island residents, small businesses, non-profit organizations and public sector entities. »
The following notice from the Governor’s Office began: “Continuing his #RIMomentum tour, Governor Dan McKee today signed the law historical legislation making Rhode Island the first state in the nation to commit to 100% renewable energy by 2033, the most aggressive renewable energy standard of any US state.”
According to the governor’s office, McKee “was joined at the signing by Lt. Governor Sabina Matos, North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi, Rhode Island AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Crowley and [the] bill sponsors. The site: the North Providence solar landfill.
It was Wednesday.
On Thursday, McKee hosted the next tour: a ribbon cutting at the new Boskalis Offshore Renewables office, located at the Cambridge Innovation Center in downtown Providence.
On Friday, he visited Farmer’s Daughter in South Kingstown to “highlight the significant workforce development investments contained in the FY23 budget he recently signed, which support the vocational training programs run by employers and include support services for job seekers”.
For comparison, Palagi, its director of communications, provided links to reports on events Governor Ned Lamont hosted about his activities next door in Connecticut, and Governor Kathy Hochul did it in New York.
“Governor Lamont has a ‘CT Difference’ brand for his budget which was signed off earlier in the year. His office has also hosted events to highlight budget items residents should know about, such as the version of her child tax credit status,” she said. .