Reports that GOP monied interests are funneling money into Vermont to support statewide candidates and the state party have rattled Democrats who are dismayed by the sudden influx of independent expenditures by outside groups.
A new Super PAC called Vermonters First is buying $70,000 worth of advertising for Wendy Wilton, who is running for treasurer, and state Sen. Vince Illuzzi, who is in the race for state auditor.
Meanwhile, the Vermont GOP is holding $5 million in campaign cash for the Romney campaign, according to the Burlington Free Press. In exchange, the state party will receive a $20,000 monthly payment from Romney Victory Inc.
Jake Perkinson, Vermont Democratic Party chair, lamented the influence of outside money in state elections, describing it as “antithetical to true democracy.”
Perkinson demanded that Illuzzi and Wilton ask Vermonters First to take their ads off the air.
A Democrat made a similar demand in the primary. TJ Donovan held a press conference in July asking Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell to urge the Committee for Justice and Fairness, an arm of the Democratic Attorneys General Association, to take down ads featuring Howard Dean and Madeleine Kunin, both of whom backed Sorrell. The Committee for Justice and Fairness, which did not coordinate its efforts with Sorrell, spent a total of $145,000.
The Democratic Party took no public position on that ad campaign. The party insisted on “neutrality” during the hotly contested election between Sorrell and Donovan.
Perkinson didn’t hesitate, however, to criticize independent expenditures by GOP groups.
“Super PAC spending distorts reality, and in many cases doesn’t have the same accountability as a candidate,” continued Perkinson. “You don’t know where the ads are going to go, whether they’ll become more negative, or whether they’re even accurate.”
Vermonters First founder Tayt Brooks, a former commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic, Housing & Community Development under Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, said his goal is to bring balance back to Vermont’s political debates and to the government in Montpelier. He criticized “super majority single party rule” under the Democrats.
Brooks declined to identify the contributors to Vermonters First. The donors will become public in the next round of campaign finance report filings with the Secretary of State’s office on Sept. 17.
He wouldn’t say why his group didn’t back GOP gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock who has struggled to raise enough money to compete with Gov. Peter Shumlin. Brock has loaned his campaign $300,000 and has still fallen far short of his Democratic rival.
Candidate for state auditor Vince Illuzzi denounced the influence of Super PAC money in his race. He first learned about the ad from reporters, and said he knew nothing about Vermonters First.
“I have no idea why they’d be interested in our race, no idea who they are, and what they are up to,” said Illuzzi. “That these PACs can operate out there in the ozone without any input or guidance or consent is troubling, but that’s the law, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Illuzzi said he didn’t want to directly ask the committee, or Brooks, to remove the ad, since that might count as a coordinating with a candidate, and therefore count as a potential violation of federal election law.
Illuzzi plans to “just ride it out.” The content of the ad, which reflects his 32-year legislative record, he said is accurate.
Meanwhile, state Treasurer Beth Pearce demanded that her GOP rival Wendy Wilton ask Vermonters First to take down an ad extolling Wilton’s career as Rutland City treasurer.
Pearce’s campaign spokesman Dylan Giambatista said the political action committee should disclose its donors. Wilton has been an advocate for fiscal transparency; Giambatista says “the candidate who calls for transparency should really come right out, and disclose the donors and retract the ad.”
In a statement, Wilton characterized Pearce’s response as a distraction from Pearce’s “failed record and lack of any substantial accomplishments.” The statement suggested that Pearce contact Vermonters First directly to raise concerns. “If Beth Pearce is so upset about a group of citizens who have decided to participate in the political process by following Vermont law … why doesn’t she raise her concerns with representatives of that organization and ask them to respond to her questions directly?”
Pearce raised three times more in campaign contributions than Wilton had as of the last campaign finance report filing on Aug. 15.
Romney, Obama, and Priorities PAC
Perkinson seemed puzzled by the Romney campaign’s decision to use the Vermont GOP as a temporary bank for $5 million in campaign funds.
“It just strikes me as odd that the money would be parked in a state where they don’t intend to spend it,” mused Perkinson. “That’s not something that on its face is very appealing.”
Perkinson said the Vermont Democratic Party does not have a similar arrangement with the Obama campaign. The Democratic National Committee, however, gives the state party $10,000 a month in support. As of July 30, the Vermont Democratic Party had received $88,000.