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Spending nears $3.9 million in special Rhode Island, Utah races

In solid blue and red districts, primaries will likely fill House seats

A controversy about forged ballot signatures may have hurt Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, a Democrat who had been considered a leading candidate in the special primary in Rhode Island's 1st Congressional District.
A controversy about forged ballot signatures may have hurt Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, a Democrat who had been considered a leading candidate in the special primary in Rhode Island's 1st Congressional District. (Daniela Altimari/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Candidates running in the off-year special election primaries for House seats in Rhode Island and Utah have already spent nearly $3.9 million, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission this week. 

And outside groups that don’t face the same limits as candidates have spent another $1.2 million on the race to fill Rhode Island’s 1st District seat, which has been open since Democrat Rep. David Cicilline resigned in June, and nearly $70,000 in Utah, where three Republicans are vying to fill the 2nd District seat that GOP Rep. Chris Stewart will vacate on Sept. 15.

Neither seat is expected to flip to the other party. In 2020, President Donald Trump won Stewart’s district by 17 points, and lost Cicilline’s by 29 points. That makes the primaries on Sept. 5 potentially the most important elections to fill the seats. Here are highlights from the new FEC filings.

Rhode Island

In the crowded Democratic field in Rhode Island, renewable energy investor Donald Carlson had the most money to spend, with total receipts of nearly $970,000 thanks largely to a $600,000 loan he made to his campaign. Carlson also benefitted from $27,000 spent by the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund PAC on direct mail. He had about $265,000 on hand as of Aug. 16.

Former state Rep. Aaron Regunberg raised nearly $630,000 and had about $191,000 left in his account on Aug. 16. 

Regunberg has the endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who will campaign with him in Providence on Sunday. Regunberg has said he would not take corporate PAC money, but got $37,000 from other political committees, including $5,000 each from the PACs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Medicare for All and the Progressive Turnout Project. A super PAC launched by his father-in-law called Progress Rhode Island also spent $119,000 so far on Regunberg’s behalf, and the PAC of the Working Families Party spent another $150,000 on digital ads backing him.

Former White House aide Gabe Amo has brought in more than $604,000 since entering the race and had $155,000 left to spend. Earlier this week, Amo’s campaign released an internal poll putting him second behind Regunberg among Democratic voters.

Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos raised $578,000 since entering the race, including $90,000 from the PACs of labor unions, candidates and other party groups. She had about $126,000 left as the campaign entered its final weeks. 

Matos’ campaign benefitted from the most spending by outside groups, which are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts as long as they do not coordinate with candidates. So far more than $800,000 has been spent supporting Matos by CHC BOLD PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; Elect Democratic Women; and Women Vote, the independent expenditure arm of EMILY’s List. Much of that was spent on TV ads in the run-up to the start of early voting, which began Aug. 16.

Matos, the only contender who holds statewide office, was widely seen as the frontrunner. But Amo’s poll suggests a scandal involving ballot signatures that became public in July may have hurt her campaign. The survey put Matos at 11 percent, behind both Regunberg and Amo and tied with state Sen. Sandra Cano. 

Matos’ campaign is under investigation for forged signatures to get her onto the primary ballot. She has said she played no role in collecting the false signatures and blamed the matter on a vendor.

Cano raised about $307,000 and had nearly $60,000 on hand. She has not benefited from outside spending but has received endorsements from dozens of elected officials from across the district.

Utah

Among the Republicans running in Utah, former state legislator Becky Edwards has taken in the most money, nearly $680,000, and had the most cash on hand as of Aug. 16, with about $228,000. Her total includes $30,000 that she loaned to her campaign.

Bruce Hough, a former state chair of the Republican Party and the father of “Dancing with the Stars” siblings Julianne and Derek Hough, brought in nearly $539,000 and had about $85,000 left as of Aug. 16. But more than half of his total receipts came from the roughly $335,000 he loaned to his campaign.

Celeste Maloy, a former counsel in Stewart’s office, raised about $307,000 and had about $90,000 left. With $55,000, she took in the most from political committees, including $5,000 from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association PAC, plus donations from leadership PACs of GOP members including Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Earl L. “Buddy” Carter of Georgia and Diana Harshbarger of Tennessee. Maloy also has the backing of Stewart.

The only outside spending in the race has been $45,000 by a PAC helping Maloy and $24,000 by one supporting Hough.

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