Ted Nesi ([email protected]) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — General Treasurer Seth Magaziner has a host of advantages as he seeks the Democratic nomination to succeed Jim Langevin representing Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District.
He has been a statewide officeholder for seven years, making him a familiar face to primary voters. He comes from a wealthy family with elite connections in Democratic Party circles as the son of Ira Magaziner, a longtime associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton. His campaign has raised over $1.4 million already, far more than the rest of the field.
The second-term treasurer is also the only candidate in the race who currently holds elected office, which brings its own advantages.
Earlier this spring, more than 1,000 people opened their mailboxes to find an envelope addressed from the “Office of Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner.” Inside was a 28-page, full-color “2021 Annual Report” in which Magaziner’s staff touted his recent accomplishments and other policy initiatives in his day job.
“Over the past year our Office has continued to deliver on our goal of ensuring that every Rhode Islander has access to economic opportunity,” Magaziner wrote in an accompanying letter at the start of the report.
In response to questions from Target 12, Magaziner spokesperson Ben Smith said the cost to design, print and send the report was $5,159. Smith emphasized that the treasurer’s office has produced and mailed out a similar report annually since 2016, following Magaziner’s first year in office.
“The distribution list is comprised of elected officials, business and community leaders, media, and other individuals who have interacted with or requested updates from our office,” Smith said.
Target 12 requested and received the list of the 1,446 people who received Magaziner’s annual report, which also included union officials, Democratic Party leaders, political donors, lobbyists and policy advocates. (The report was hand-delivered to general officers and lawmakers, the treasurer’s office said.)
Among the many familiar names: Armand Sabitoni, powerful secretary-treasurer of the Laborers union; Don Sweitzer, the former IGT chairman and Democratic powerbroker; Nick Mattiello and William Murphy, two former House speakers who are now lobbyists; Stan Goldstein, former chairman of CVS; and Nanette Herrick, a prominent figure in Newport.
In response to a follow-up question from Target 12, the treasurer’s office provided a second list showing that about 5% of the reports — 68 — were mailed to individuals outside Rhode Island. The out-of-state recipients include Magaziner campaign donors Liam Kerr and Kyle Kennedy, Barry and Candace Lapidus Sloane, and Arnold Hiatt.
“When annual reports were mailed to out-of-state addresses, it was usually to individuals who work in Rhode Island but live out of state, or vice versa,” Smith said.
He added, “I stress that it is not unusual for government offices to publish and print annual recaps of the work of the office and that the content of the report is not political.”
The annual report isn’t the only example of how Magaziner’s current elected office could help him build support to win another one.
Rhode Island’s 529 college-savings plan — the CollegeBoundfund, overseen by the treasurer’s office — has been airing TV commercials in recent months which encourage parents to sign up for accounts. Some ads close with a narrator announcing that the plan is a program from “the Office of General Treasurer Seth Magaziner.”
Smith said the most recent round of CollegeBoundfund TV ads began airing April 11, but Magaziner’s name was removed from them on June 13, “in accordance with the FEC’s 90-day blackout regulation” for candidates.
“Publicizing the  program is important because, by increasing the number of new accounts and adding assets to the program, we are able to lower fees and offer a better, more affordable product,” Smith said. “The content of the ads is never political, and all communications go through a strict compliance review to ensure that all applicable rules are followed.”
Smith was not immediately able to say how much was spent airing the CollegeBoundfund ads, or whether a narrator had spoken the treasurer’s name aloud in previous commercials. But he noted that the Rhode Island 529 plan’s ratings have improved since Magaziner took office.
Another task handled by the treasurer’s office — running the unclaimed property program — also provided a recent opportunity to get Magaziner some positive press.
Magaziner’s office held an event May 17 at the Coventry Senior Center — in the heart of the 2nd District — where, according to a news release issued the following week, his staff found nearly $70,000 worth of unclaimed property for local residents and organizations.
The news release said Magaziner visited Coventry at the request of a local lawmaker, state Rep. Thomas Noret, a fellow Democrat.
“I really wanted to make the people of Coventry aware of this database,” Noret said in a statement, adding that he was planning to hold a similar event in another 2nd District community, West Warwick.
Magaziner isn’t alone in facing scrutiny over how the activities of his taxpayer-funded office could benefit his election campaign. Gov. Dan McKee’s office has faced similar questions about an initiative called “the #RIMomentum tour” which has seen McKee traveling the state to highlight legislation he signed this year.
John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, noted that such concerns have been an issue in Rhode Island before. (Magaziner is a former Common Cause board member.)
In 1991, after then-Secretary of State Kathleen Connell faced similar accusations, the General Assembly enacted a state law barring candidates who already hold office from using public money “for any publication, advertisement, broadcast, or telecast of his or her photograph, voice, or other likeness” within 120 days of an election.
Although the statute contains no penalties for violating the law, the goal was “to prevent abuse of office,” Marion said. The Board of Elections ruled in 2018 that the law even extends to photos of incumbents on their official government websites.
“Incumbency has its benefits, and Treasurer Magaziner is taking advantage of those by using his office to get his name before the public,” he said.