- Associated Press - Friday, May 6, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo this week fit a campaign fundraiser into her official trade trip to California, an attempt to raise her national profile among tech industry elites even as she tries to pull needed investment back into her home state.

The Democrat, who’s less than halfway through her first term as governor, attended the Wednesday evening event at a home in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood.

Her office has said the reason for the three-day Silicon Valley trip was to hold economic development meetings and sell Rhode Island as a good place for companies to invest. But her visit also bolstered her political appeal as a rising Democratic star known for advocating pension reform, fiscal responsibility and her Microsoft-backed initiative to get computer science education in all of Rhode Island’s schools.

Former top Yahoo executive Jackie Reses, who now works for mobile payment firm Square, met with Raimondo on Wednesday.

“I think she’s wonderful,” Reses said. “She has very smart policies that can actually put the state on firm financial ground.”

Reses said Raimondo makes a convincing argument for the smallest state’s transformation into an innovation hub strengthened by its universities.

“The size of the state doesn’t matter,” Reses said. “Talent pool matters.”

Not all locals are as convinced.

Rhode Islanders first learned of the political fundraiser when WPRO-AM talk show host and persistent Raimondo critic John DePetro posted the invitation on Twitter, describing it as the “real reason” she traveled to the West Coast.

The state is paying just over $4,000 for the official portion of the trip, said Raimondo spokeswoman Marie Aberger, who added that the purpose of the visit was a series of economic development meetings. Raimondo’s office has declined to say what companies she planned to visit.

The governor was accompanied by a senior policy aide and a state police trooper. They were scheduled to head back to Rhode Island on Friday afternoon. Aberger also supplied a memorandum that shows how costs are split when a trip includes both official and political activities.

An attorney listed as a co-host of the fundraiser, Jamie Slaughter, refused to comment about the event when contacted by phone Thursday. Slaughter helped represent ride-hailing company Lyft in a California settlement that allows the company to classify drivers as independent contractors instead of employees. Rhode Island is considering similar legislation to classify Uber and Lyft drivers as independent contractors. The sponsor of the Rhode Island bill has said Raimondo’s office helped bring the parties together.

Another co-host was a Democratic pension reform advocate, David Crane, who once advised the Republican administration of California’s then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The invitation for the Wednesday event called for donations of $500 or $1,000.

“Tackling the tough issues in a bipartisan and responsible way - pension reform and more,” the invitation said.

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This story has been corrected to show the governor is less than halfway, not halfway, through her first term.

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