In Closing Weeks, Outside Groups Spend Half a Million Dollars on Vermont Candidates
Not surprisingly, the bulk of that came from the conservative super PAC Vermonters First, which has been almost entirely bankrolled by Burlington super-donor Lenore Broughton.
Since Oct. 6, the organization has spent $322,000 on mass media. The next five biggest-spending outside groups all support Democratic candidates, but their combined spending in the past three weeks pales in comparison: just $138,000.
In that period, $192,000 of Vermonters First's cash has gone to ads and mailers backing the Republican candidate for state treasurer, Wendy Wilton. Thanks to Vermont's quirky campaign finance disclosure laws, it's impossible to determine precisely how much money Vermonters First has spent on Wilton's candidacy in total — but it's likely far greater than that.
Since the super PAC was founded two months ago, it has spent at least $814,000 attempting to influence the election.
For the final month of the campaign season, outside groups are required to immediately report how much money they spend on mass media, and the candidates on whose behalf they are spending it. Prior to the campaign's last month, they do not. Conversely, while we learn more in the closing days of the campaign season about how outside groups are spending their money, we learn less about how they're raising it. After Oct. 15, such groups don't have to report contributions until after the election.
Here's a look at how much super PACs, party committees and other interest groups have invested in mass media since Oct. 6. Keep in mind that election cycle-to-date figures likely under-represent how much money these groups have spent, because they are not required to immediately report expenses like polling and payroll, nor direct contributions to candidates.
1. Vermonters First: $322,000 since Oct. 6 — More than half of the conservative super PAC's recent spending — $192,000 — has gone toward pro-Wilton TV and radio ads, along with a mailer. Prior to that, the group spent another $426,000 on mass media, though that was split between Wilton, Republican state auditor candidate Vince Illuzzi and general, anti-Democratic messaging. In recent weeks, the group, which was almost entirely funded by Lenore Broughton as of Oct. 15, has invested in newspaper ads and direct mail supporting Republican legislative candidates. Total campaign expenditures this cycle: $814,000 (Pictured: Vermonters First treasurer Tayt Brooks)
2. Vermont Democratic Party: $48,000 since Oct. 6 —The Dems sent out two big mailers last week: a $34,000 piece backing all its candidates and a $12,000 piece supporting Wilton's Democratic opponent, incumbent State Treasurer Beth Pearce. The party's overall impact on the race is far greater, however. Its staff of 16 in nine regional field offices has been particularly focused on Pearce's candidacy, which it views as the most important and competitive this year. Who's filling the party's coffers? In the past two years, it's raised more than $437,000 from PACs, the Democratic National Committee and other federal campaign committees. Total campaign expenditures this cycle: $934,000 (Pictured: Vermont Democratic Party chairman Jake Perkinson)
3. Vermont Leads: $35,000 since Oct. 6 — Funded entirely by the Service Employees International Union, Vermont Leads first made its mark this summer when it spent $100,000 on television advertising promoting single-payer health care reform. Though funded by an out-of-state union, director Peter Sterling says all its operations are controlled by an in-state board of directors. In recent weeks, the nonprofit established a super PAC also called Vermont Leads, which has spent $35,000 on postcards supporting liberal legislators, as well as Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Democratic/Progressive nominees for lieutenant governor and auditor: Cassandra Gekas and Doug Hoffer. Total campaign expenditures this cycle: $35,000 (Pictured: Vermont Leads director Peter Sterling)
4. Vermont Senate Democrats: $24,000 since Oct. 6 — A trio of PACs operated by Senate Democratic leadership has sent a series of postcards in recent weeks supporting their candidates in Chittenden, Caledonia, Essex/Orleans and Franklin counties. The groups raise most of their money from corporations, unions, lobbyists and other special interest PACs. Democratic senators are also expected to donate to the committees in exchange for the postcards supporting their candidacies. Total campaign expenditures this cycle: $110,000 (Pictured: Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell)
5. Priorities PAC: $16,000 since Oct. 6 — Founded in July, the liberal Priorities PAC was the first group to register as a super PAC in Vermont; its filing actually prompted Attorney General Bill Sorrell to OK super PACs in state elections. Despite the head start, Priorities PAC has raised just $29,700 — $20,000 of which came from Shelburne developer and philanthropist Lisa Steele. The group has focused squarely on Pearce's campaign, spending $13,000 on TV ads and $3000 on radio ads backing her candidacy. Total campaign expenditures this cycle: $18,000 (Pictured: Priorities PAC treasurer Bob Stannard)
6. Vermont House Democrats: $15,000 since Oct. 6 — House Democratic leaders operate three PACs, which are funded similarly to their Senate counterparts: that is, through contributions from corporations, unions, lobbyists and other special interests. The PACs employ a year-round staffer, Nick Charyk, who recruits and supports Democratic House members. Earlier this week, they sent out a mailer and produced several radio ads attempting to counteract the conservative Vermonters First's message, criticizing it for trying to buy the election. Total campaign expenditures this cycle: $157,000 (Pictured: House Speaker Shap Smith)
An important caveat to the list above: Because we're focusing on outside groups that have spent money on mass media in the past three weeks, we're missing a lot of interest groups that have provided direct contributions to candidates instead of making independent expenditures. For a more comprehensive list, scroll down to the bottom of the Secretary of State's Oct. 15 campaign finance filing page. And click here to monitor mass media filings yourself in the closing days of the election.