PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – Rhode Island could spend almost $3 million in public money to fund political campaigns this year in one of the most expensive elections in state history, according to The Providence Sunday Journal.

The public matching funds program was created by the General Assembly in 1988 to decrease the influence of money in politics. Supporters say it allows those who aren’t wealthy to run for office. Candidates who accept public money also agree to spending limits.

This year, $800,000 is budgeted for the program, although the costs are expected to be higher.

Under the program, candidates for governor can receive up to $981,000 in matching funds, but they can’t spend more than $1.96 million if they opt into the program. Candidates for lieutenant governor, attorney general, general treasurer and secretary of state can receive up to $245,000 if they agree not to spend more than $490,000.

Participants receive $2 from the state for every $1 in contributions they raise privately, up to $500. The state matches every dollar over $500 at a one-to-one ratio.

For example, a donation of $1,000 triggers a state match of $1,500.

Gov. Don Carcieri, a Republican, has so far declined to accept public funding, which means he’s also exempt from spending limits. During his first campaign for office, Carcieri spent more than $1 million of his own money.

Carcieri doesn’t plan on spending his own money this time around, except for $15,000 he spent on legal fees fighting a campaign finance complaint, according his campaign manager, Ken McKay.

While Carcieri has avoided some spending limits, he faces other constraints.

His Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty, is accepting public matches, but his spending limits could soon be loosened if Carcieri’s campaign keeps spending at current rates.

Candidates who participate in the matching funds program can collect an extra $1,000 from each donor. Carcieri supporters can contribute $1,000 per individual, while Fogarty can collect $2,000.

“When you are a candidate that is not independently wealthy, the matching funds are an excellent way to stay competitive in a race,” Fogarty campaign spokesman Adam Bozzi said.

Information from: The Providence Journal,

AP-ES-08-06-06 1353EDT

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