Political Scene: Deep pockets helped finance governors’ meeting – News – providencejournal.com


Sixteen of the donors had registered lobbyists at the State House during the last legislative session. They include: CVS Health, IGT, AT&T, Amgen, National Grid, Twin River, Amica Mutual Insurance Company, Bank of America, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The governors who descended on Providence en masse last week are gone, along with the platoon of shiny black SUVs that General Motors donated to shuttle their security details around.

Now: a look at some of the corporate donors to the clambake-and-policy extravaganza that Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo hosted for the National Governors Association. 

Sixteen of the donors had registered lobbyists at the Rhode Island State House during the last legislative session. 

They include: CVS Health, IGT, AT&T, Amgen, National Grid, Twin River, Amica Mutual Insurance Company, Bank of America, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Citizens Bank, General Motors, Mutualink, Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Delta Dental of Rhode Island, Gilbane, and the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, according to a comparison of the sponsors list provided by the NGA and the state’s lobbying database. 

Another contributor, Alex and Ani, did not have its own lobbyist, but Adler, Pollock & Sheehan was registered to lobby — unsuccessfully, as it turned out — for another of founder Carolyn Rafaelian’s ventures: “Dionysus Acquisition D/B/A Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard.” 

A handful, when asked, readily disclosed how much they donated to the governors event, including lottery giant IGT, which has been paid $43 million so far by the state for running the Rhode Island Lottery’s technology network last year.  

“The governor invited IGT to join with other leading local companies to serve on a host committee for the NGA Summer meeting. We agreed and [company Chairman] Don Sweitzer represented IGT on the committee. At Don’s recommendation, IGT became a lead local sponsor at the $250,000 level,” spokesman Robert Vincent told The Journal. 

CVS also made a $250,000 contribution, which spokeswoman Carolyn Castel describes as an “investment in showcasing all that our state offers to the nation’s governors and attracting a top-tier event that can boost the local economy.” National Grid gave $75,000, which, spokesman Mike Ryan notes, came from shareholders and not ratepayers.

But the owners of the Twin River Casino — who scored a potential $43 million win at the State House this year — are unwilling to disclose how much they gave.

Asked why, Twin River spokeswoman Patti Doyle said:  “You know, they just don’t disclose that sort of thing. Even when it [is] contributions to the RI Food Bank, Lincoln Senior Center or a host of other worthy causes throughout the state.” 

The owners’ split of the state-sponsored gambling at Twin River last year was $121.5 million from the video-slots, $116.3 million from the table games, according to the state Lottery.  

The state got the lion’s share of the rest: $265,513,319 from the video-gambling; $22,414,434 before expenses from the table games. 

State lawmakers also allow the casino to offer “promo points,’’ which is the industry jargon for free play. 

In response to previously reported pleas from Twin River executives, the lawmakers agreed this year to raise the cap on Twin River’s promo points from 10 percent to 20 percent of the prior year’s “net terminal income” from the video slots, plus $750,000.

Translation: once passed, the budget bill currently in limbo will boost Twin River’s “Maximum Promo Points’’ to $88,003,707, an increase of $42,947,022 over the last fiscal year, according to the state Lottery. 

A second Twin River gambling property — Newport Grand — will also benefit from permission to offer up to $9,977,144 in promo points, “an increase of $4,801,664 compared to Fiscal Year 2017.’’  (Actual amounts in both cases are subject to the state Lottery director’s approval.)

Put another way: Were it not free, the state would keep roughly 61 cents of every dollar a gambler played and lost on these giveaway turns.

This was the pitch that George Papanier, president and CEO of Twin River Management Group Inc., made to the lawmakers in May: “First – Free Play is the most important and valuable tool we have to maximize revenue. Second — we don’t have enough of it; and third — without the ability to get more through this legislation, we cannot expect to successfully compete in a growing competitive market.’’

“We are at a moment in time where we have the opportunity to go on the offensive, to grow our business and solidify customer relationships prior to the opening of new Massachusetts competition,” he argued. 

Twin River’s intersections with state lawmakers and the Raimondo administration followed parallel paths. 

Asked by The Journal who approached Twin River for a donation to the governors’ conference, Doyle said:  “We were approached in mid to late January by Gabe Amo, who we understood to be director of public engagement for the Governor.” 

Over the next several months,  Twin River pitched its promo-point expansion plan to lawmakers. “And, you should know,’’ Doyle said, “no testimony was provided by the administration either for or against” the free-play bills introduced by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin and House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi.  

Did Twin River pitch the idea to anyone in Raimondo’s administration? 

“We work closely with the Division of Lotteries, so officials there were aware of the legislation,” Doyle said. “Beyond that, I don’t believe so.”

For the record: Raimondo spokesman David Ortiz said the governor’s office asked its chief legal counsel, Claire Richards, for her advice, “and was assured there was no problem soliciting money for the conference. Though there’s no prohibition against it, the administration steered clear of companies seeking — or already in the pipeline for — financial incentives from the Commerce Corporation.”

A side note: Remember the SUVs? 

RIP the legislation that Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Shekarchi introduced this past winter to make automobile manufacturers reimburse dealers “more fairly” for work done under warranty, as the backers described.

It went poof, after a hearing in which the Auto Alliance — a trade group for GM and other automakers — panned it.

More say no

The number of Rhode Island lawmakers who have said “No thank you” to a $200.59 raise has grown.

A week ago, Political Scene reported that 19 of the state’s part-time representatives and senators had declined the raise from $15,429.72 to $15,630.31 a year that kicked in automatically by virtue of a provision in the state constitution.  

The count is now 24 with the addition of Sens. Frank Ciccone and Donna Nesselbush, and Reps. David Coughlin, Gregory Costantino and Jeremiah O’Grady.

Magaziner engaged

State Treasurer Seth Magaziner is engaged to marry his long-time girlfriend, Julia McDowell.

They met as undergrad classmates at Brown. A native of Pittsburgh, she is currently pursuing an MBA at Yale. They have not chosen a wedding date.

Mum on health care

Political Scene first asked Cranston Mayor Allan Fung where he stood on the congressional GOP’s attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare on June 29.

That was the day a coalition of Republican and Democratic mayors from across the country urged Washington to: “Consider the impact this bill will have on Americans — which the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated will cause 22 million to lose their health insurance and gut efforts to create strong, healthy communities.”

That same week, the Democratic Governors Association placed a digital ad on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube questioning why Fung, a past — and possibly future — GOP candidate for governor of Rhode Island, had been silent.  

“Rhode Island voters want to know: Does he support the Senate health care bill or does he oppose it?” DGA Communications Director Jared Leopold asked. Fung did not reply. 

A Journal reporter caught up with Fung at the State House last Monday, at an unrelated event. Asked face-to-face if he is simply unwilling to talk about the national GOP’s health-care replacement drive, he said: “What I’m simply willing to talk about is Cranston, and Rhode Islanders and particularly any issues that are important to us.

“The important issue right now … is figuring out the budget dollars, because our budget dollars are locked,” he said of the current impasse in Rhode Island.

kgregg@providencejournal.com

(401) 277-7078

On Twitter: @kathyprojo

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