Pritam Singh, a well-known Florida Keys real estate developer, gave Gov. Peter Shumlin $14,000 in campaign donations through various business entities and family members last month, making him the biggest single donor to the Democrat in the last campaign finance reporting period.
Singh has developed five major projects in Florida with a combined worth of over $250 million, but maintains a 190-acre, $6.8 million second home in Woodstock, where some of his family lives.
Singh said he’d only met Shumlin once or twice, and said he donated to the governor’s campaign because he respected Shumlin’s progressive positions, especially on health care.
“I think he’s a good guy and I can afford it. … I don’t ever ask politicians for anything,” Singh said. “That’s not why I do it – I’m trying to get the best people in government.”
Alex MacLean, Shumlin’s campaign manager, described Singh as a “longtime Democratic supporter,” who had known Shumlin for many years. “He and his wife do live in Woodstock, are Vermonters, and feel strongly about the state of Vermont,” MacLean said.
All of the donations associated with Singh came on Aug. 20, and MacLean said they likely stemmed from several phone conversations with the governor.
There is a $2,000 cap on individual donations; it is legal to contribute more through multiple businesses and family members.
According to Federal Elections Commission filings, Singh previously donated to Rep. Peter Welch ($6,600 in 2006-2007) and Sen. Patrick Leahy ($4,800 in 2009). He gave $5,000 to the Vermont Democratic Party in October 2010. Singh said he also gave to Shumlin in 2010.
Leahy’s campaign manager Carolyn Dwyer said Leahy knew Singh through his work with the Truman Annex in Key West, Fla., which preserved several buildings previously used by President Truman. A representative for Welch said he wasn’t familiar with Singh.
Singh has owned a house in Woodstock for 30 years and he lives in Vermont about three months per year, but he said he doesn’t do any business or development in the state. He and his wife have worked on education and environmental issues in Vermont. They have donated to schools like the Sharon Academy.
Vermont Secretary of State records indicate that Singh formerly directed the now-defunct South Woodstock Property Management Co. His wife, Ann Johnston, has worked with clothing boutique Revolutions in White River Junction.
Born in Massachusetts, Singh had a hand developing parts of Portland, Maine, in the early 1980s, before establishing himself in Florida as a key real estate player. He participated in anti-Vietnam War protests and the civil rights movement when he was younger. He now describes himself as an independent, broadly sharing Bernie Sander’s political views, and has been the subject of much press coverage over the years.
In an interview, Singh praised Vermont’s campaign finance laws, which he says promote full disclosure about donors — unlike the millions of dollars sometimes given to federal campaigns where donors can remain anonymous.
Singh also had good things to say about Vermont’s restrictive land development laws: “I believe in restrictive development. It’s really about considering all the aspects, architectural and environmental: that actually brings values to the properties. Frankly, the more restrictive the development, the better the development.”
Singh, who became a Sikh in his early 20s, is also a Buddhist, and he has operated a Buddhist monastery and retreat space on his Woodstock property for some years. He has also edited the works of a prominent Zen Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh.
List of donations, totaling $14,000 all donated Aug. 20, 2012:
$2,000 from PK Management,
$2,000 from Singh Cable Co.
$2,000 from Marathon Resort Management
$2,000 from Boat House Associates
$2,000 from Singh Marathon Resort
$2,000 from Pritam Singh
$2,000 from Ann Johnston