Thirty-six Vermont Political Action Committees that filed campaign finance reports on Monday have already spent more than $267,000 to influence the 2012 elections, raising about $434,000 between them to date.
Of those PACs, about 11 lean solidly toward the Democrats, giving only to Democratic candidates or groups. Seven committees were heavily associated with Republican causes. At least two PACs, the Vermont Political Awareness Committee and the Vermont Realtor PAC, are bipartisan, and give generously to both parties.
Between them, the PACs have more than $263,000 in cash on hand to spend during the current election cycle, if they do not opt to roll the money forward to the 2013-14 campaigns. They also raised more than $89,000 from donors giving less than $100, representing less than a quarter of the total raised.
State regulation of political action committees, overseen by the Secretary of State’s office, is haphazard: There is no comprehensive register of currently active state PACs. The committees only need to register when they first form, by designating a committee bank and treasurer, but do not need to inform the state secretary when they become inactive.
State records for 2007 indicate that 33 PACs registered or changed their financial details between 2007 and 2008, but the same document names 94 unique PACs on another page, of which 83 actually filed campaign finance reports in 2008.
“I think it’s part of a whole collection of issues,” said Eric Davis, a retired Middlebury political scientist. “There’s no searchable database of candidate contributions, no central list of political action committees, and lobbyist disclosure is not as robust as in some other states.”
“It’d be nice to have more information on individuals and groups trying to influence the government,” said Davis. But he attributed the lack of organized online information to an understandable lack of funding and staffing, as well as outdated statutes, rather than any deliberate agency policy. “If the state doesn’t have money to do everything, I can certainly understand why legislators would try to use the money to deliver services instead.”
Others are more outspoken on the topic. “If we can’t get an accurate picture of the extent of active PACs in Vermont, we have no way of knowing how contributions from the PACs are influencing candidates,” said Wally Roberts, executive director of Common Cause.
Davis downplayed the importance of state PACs to state elections. He mentioned traditional associations which often form PACs which donate small amounts to legislative races include grocer’s and realtor’s associations, along with state employee and teacher unions.
The VTDigger analysis, available in spreadsheet form uploaded at the end of this post only included PACs which had filed campaign finance reports by the recent July 16 deadline. There is no penalty for filing late campaign finance reports, and if a PAC doesn’t raise or spend more than $500, it need not report its finances.
These PACs should not be confused with Super PACS, groups more common in national politics which could play a more prominent role in Vermont politics in coming months
The amount raised by any individual PAC, aside from the Vermont Democratic House Campaign, is dwarfed by the funds raised by the official party groups, however. To date, the Vermont Democratic Party raised about $98,600, with the Progressive Party raising $72,500, and the Republicans raising $45,300.
The state of Vermont state PACs
In Vermont, PACs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Here’s an exploration of some of Vermont’s more interesting PACs and their activities.
First, of the state PACs with some presence in Vermont since 2007, some are named in a straightforward way: names like the Vermont Realtor PAC or the Carpenters Local 1996 PAC come to mind. Others are less obvious, like the HEAT PAC (representing Vermont fuel companies), while some names are obscure (Emily’s List, Citizens for Citizens, or Revolt & Repeal). In January, New York radio station WYNC even created a nifty Super PAC name generator, to poke fun at generic PAC names.
One way to better understand individual PACs is to look at their spending and fundraising activities.
A few PACs love to spend money on golf tournaments. Vermont Senate Victory and the Senate Leadership Committee, two Democratic PACs spent $5,370 on golfing last year, slightly beating the Republican House Victory Committee’s splurging of almost $4,950 on a single golf tournament in August 2011.
Similarly, the Vermont Realtor PAC gave a total of $3,650 to both political parties for golf tournaments, once giving the Rutland GOPAC and the Democratic House Leadership PAC $500 and $750 for golf expenses respectively, a day after each other.
Some PACs received money from those donating $100 or less (the Campaign Research Center); others received money from no small donors (Politically Active Contractors PAC), or considerable cash from big businesses, like Pfizer, Monsanto, and tobacco company Reynolds American Inc. (Vermont House Republicans PAC).
Oddly enough, one PAC, Carpenters Local 1996, spent $1,150 on City Council and mayoral campaigns in Lewiston and Portland, Maine.
Three others gave all their money to Shumlin’s campaign.
Editor’s note: The following PAC chart created by Nat Rudarakanchana can be downloaded in excel. In this format the information can be sorted.