Typically, incumbents have an easier time raising money. They have the name recognition, the track record and the connections to pull down the big bucks. Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, for example, has raised nearly 3.5 times as much from donors ($836,435) as his Republican rival Randy Brock ($284,923) in this election year.
Not so in the primary race for Vermont attorney general.
Bill Sorrell, the incumbent AG, has raised a third less ($114,623) than his challenger TJ Donovan ($166,971), the Chittenden County state’s attorney. Both men have about the same amount of cash on hand — roughly $55,000.
Donovan’s fundraising edge has leveled the playing field for the state’s attorney, who has had to work harder for name recognition.
Beyond getting top dollar for an outlier race, Donovan has raised significantly more from the legal community than Sorrell. Private attorneys have opened their wallets to support Donovan over Sorrell by a three-to-one margin.
According to a VTDigger.org analysis of campaign finance records, Donovan received donations from more than 55 private Vermont lawyers worth more than $16,000.
Of the 43 contributions Donovan received in the Aug. 15 reporting period, six were from out of state.
Sorrell received significantly less from the local legal community. He took in $6,138 from 19 private attorneys in Vermont, based on a VTDigger analysis.
In the last reporting period, Sorrell reported 18 out-of-state donations (mostly from the Washington D.C.-area) and eight in-state contributions. Notables contributors include the president of Tobacco-Free Kids, executives with the American Cancer Society, the Trimpa Group, a lobbying firm in Denver and Dickstein Shapiro, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm.
Donovan’s legal supporters
Donovan’s donor list reads like a who’s who of Vermont lawyers. The Chittenden County state’s attorney has garnered support from a wide array of Vermont attorneys who specialize in criminal and civil defense, insurance, utility, personal injury, bankruptcy, real estate, family, commercial and product liability insurance.
His contributors include lawyers who work for the best-known law firms in the state: Downs Rachlin Martin, Sheehey Behm Furlong, Langrock Sperry Wool, Kaplan & Kaplan, Murdoch Hughes and Twarog, Dinse Knapp McAndrew, Miller and Candon, and Valsangiacomo, Detora & McQuesten.
Among others, Donovan has received donations from former Gov. Phil Hoff; Kimberly Cheney, former Vermont attorney general; Christopher Curtis, an attorney for Vermont Legal Aid; David Sleigh, a well known defense attorney; Jeffrey Behm and Peter Zamore, utility lawyers for Green Mountain Power/Gaz Metro and founding partner of Sheehey Behm and Furlong; Ritchie Berger from Dinse; and Michael Wool, founding partner of Langrock Sperry and Wool.
Sleigh, a defense attorney who has represented a number of high profile clients, says Donovan is only the third candidate he’s ever sent money to. The others? Republican Sen. Vince Illuzzi, Essex-Orleans County, who is running for state auditor this year, and Ron Brochu who ran against Paul Cillo for the Hardwick House seat 20 years ago.
Sleigh lauds Donovan’s pre-trial diversion program, which keeps first-time minor offenders out of the court system.
“The current AG’s office has been sort of moribund,” Sleigh said. “I think the office could use the energy and forward thinking I see TJ projecting in Chittenden County.”