PROVIDENCE — Former CVS executive director Helena Foulkes, a newly announced Democratic candidate for governor, is drawing criticism from progressives over her 2014 donation to US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
Foulkes announced her candidacy on Wednesday, and on Thursday she took to Twitter to apologize for donating $500 to McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, on April 30, 2014 – months before Republicans regained control of the Senate in the November 2014 midterms.
“One of the last Republicans I contributed to many years ago was Mitch McConnell and it’s something I deeply regret and would never do again,” Foulkes tweeted. “It was before he colluded with Donald Trump to destroy the Supreme Court and more. I sincerely apologize.”
One of the last Republicans I contributed to many years ago was Mitch McConnell and it's something I deeply regret and would never do again. It was before he colluded with Donald Trump to destroy the Supreme Court and more. I sincerely apologize.— Helena Foulkes (@HelenaBFoulkes) October 14, 2021
“Over the years I’ve made campaign contributions – mostly to Democrats, but to some Republicans, too – because, like most Rhode Islanders, I wanted a government where people from both parties could work together and get things done,” Foulkes tweeted.
A review of past campaign donations shows Foulkes has mostly donated to Democrats, including President Joe Biden, US Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, and former Governor Gina M. Raimondo.
She also has donated to Republicans such as former Rhode Island Governor Donald L. Carcieri, and to former Governor Lincoln D. Chafee, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat-turned-Libertarian who this week criticized Foulkes’ performance on the Economic Development Corporation board.
But it was the donation to McConnell that drew immediate criticism from the left.
On Thursday, a fund-raising appeal for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown, a Rhode Island Political Cooperative co-founder, highlighted Foulkes’ donation to McConnell.
“The establishment is panicking, folks,” began the email from the joint campaign of Brown and Senator Cynthia Mendes, who is running for lieutenant governor with co-op backing.
“(Foulkes) donated to Mitch McConnell, and she has continued to support CVS’s PAC even after it gave $35,000 to Donald Trump,” the email said. “Questionable donations aside, the bottom line is that we can’t have a corporate executive leading our state government. Rhode Island deserves better.”
Records show Foulkes donated tens of thousands of dollars to the CVS Health PAC, which donated to Trump’s campaign, and the Home Depot PAC, which donated to Senate Republicans.
Foulkes said, “During my time at CVS and on the Home Depot board, PAC activities and donations were not a part of my job in any way. That said, we all know that we need comprehensive campaign finance reform and that’s something I strongly support.”
Brown and Mendes are taking aim at Foulkes following a series of revelations about less-than-progressive social media posts by Mendes and other co-op candidates.
The co-op cut ties with state Senate candidate Jennifer Jackson following criticism of posts in which she shared anti-vaccine and anti-refugee sentiments. House candidate Tarshire Battle dropped out following scrutiny of past Facebook posts. And Mendes faced criticism for sharing anti-abortion posts in 2014 and 2015. But co-op leaders defended Mendes, who now backs abortion rights, saying, “She’s grown as a person.”
Former state Representative Aaron Regunberg, a Providence progressive who has been at odds with the co-op, also criticized Foulkes for donating to McConnell. “I don’t want anyone who at any point thought it was acceptable to donate to Mitch McConnell to be my governor,” he tweeted.
Regunberg said, “Mitch McConnell has, for many years before Donald Trump, been a leading force in taking the Republican Party to more radical and extreme positions and tactics to support their far-right agenda.”
While Foulkes tweeted about Republican and Democratic cooperation, he said, “There is no one who has done more than McConnell to divide our Congress and turn Congress into a pure partisan scorched-earth battleground.”
Regunberg said he realizes many corporate leaders believe they need to donate to both Democrats and Republicans. But, he said, “That is a big part of why our political system is messed up. That’s not an excuse – it’s an indictment of the swamp of our political system.”
Providence College political science professor Adam S. Myers said it appears “the left is reunited” – at least in opposition to Foulkes.
“For folks on the left in Rhode Island – no matter which side of the so-called progressive civil war they are on – it sounds like Foulkes wants to govern as a moderate, not make big changes, and appease business,” he said. “Those are things progressives in Rhode Island are opposing.”