Democratic Attorneys General Association spends more than both candidates in waning week of primary campaigns

Have you heard former Gov. Howard Dean making a pitch for Bill Sorrell? Or listened to TJ Donovan’s gravelly voice on the radio lately?

With D-Day just a week away for both Democratic Primary candidates, the airwaves are starting to heat up.

And so are the mass media expenditures. Since Aug. 1, Donovan, the Democratic challenger, has spent $8,893 on radio advertising and $46,413 on direct mailings to voters, according to filings of mass media activities with the Vermont Secretary of State. (Donovan’s trendy and expensive direct mailing vendor, The Chadderdon Group, based in Alexandria, Va., also produced mailings for Gov. Peter Shumlin in the 2010 election.)

Sorrell, the incumbent AG, has spent $23,159 on radio advertising and $13,208 on postage and printing for a direct mailing (produced by Villanti and Sons in Milton — an expenditure that raised the ire of Democratic Party activists who said Sorrell should have hired a union shop for the job).

The biggest spender in the race, however, is neither one of the candidates. An outside group, the Committee for Justice and Fairness Political Action Committee, which is an arm of the Democratic Attorneys General Association, has spent $145,000 on broadcast advertising to support Sorrell (the ad features Dean) since Aug. 9. The PAC has spent an additional $39,000 on a direct mailing for Sorrell.

All told, the DAGA has blown $184,000, two-thirds as much as both candidates had raised by Aug. 15 (a combined total of $282,131), according to campaign finance reports.

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Anne Galloway

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  • timothy price

    Notice that it is the Attorney Generals Association, the big money, the big government supporters, that are funding Bill Sorrell, and with the support of Howard Dean. Will TJ’s voters outnumber, outsmart the “good-old-boys” and the influence of old fashion money? I think so. People are on to what buying elections is all about. They don’t believe mainstream media anymore. They also question what slick ads say. People are smart enough to know what is really happening and to vote their best interests.

  • Karl Riemer

    Anne, please! The organization is Democratic Attorneys General Association. The plural of attorney is attorneys, the plural of Attorney General is Attorneys General. Generally, in English, nouns are made plural, not adjectives. If it were several generals, who are attorneys, they would be attorney generals.

    • Thanks, Karl. I seem to have a dyslexia problem with DAGA. 🙂

  • James Marc Leas

    One could well ask, “who is funding the Democratic Attorney General’s Association (DAGA)?”

    Is it corporate entities? Is it members of the 1%?

    How does DAGA get so much money to donate?

    If Attorney General Bill Sorrell supports transparency, ought he to join in demanding that DAGA disclose exactly who the entities are that are funding DAGA and who are actually the ones providing the money for the massive amounts of out-of-state effort to influence and attempt to buy this election for himself?

    • Liz Martin

      All of their donor information, as with many PACs and super PACs, is available online.

      And, he can’t coordinate with the PAC since he would then be in violation of election law, correct? So, he can’t really ask them to “release” their already public donors.

      And, the advertisements aren’t negative, so they aren’t trying to “buy” anyone. There is a WIDE range of donors to DAGA, according to OpenSecrets.org, including a number of unions.

      The unfortunate thing is that all of this is legal, whether we like it or not. If you don’t like mailers or solicitations, then vote based on the debates and the information presented on their websites. Mailers and solicitations are being done by both candidates, but DAGA is choosing to support Bill in this election, Bill didn’t ask them to produce these mailers.

      But, this DAGA “issue” is old news by now.

  • Liz Martin

    I always find it interesting that there are so many TJ supporters who dislike that DAGA is supporting Bill. TJ is trying to join DAGA, isn’t he? Will he turn down their supportive in the future, should he become Attorney General? My guess is no, he probably won’t.

    And, it’s important to stay informed about who is donating to DAGA, of course. But, let’s also recognize that there are many unions and grassroots organizations who have donated DAGA. So, while voters may not believe mainstream media anymore, they apparently believe everything they hear, particularly if it comes from their candidate’s campaign. TJ’s campaign has increasingly tried to slam Bill for all sorts of falsehoods (using rhetoric and flat out factual inaccuracies). THAT is much more concerning to me than DAGA supporting Bill.

  • Heather Pipino

    I think the point here is that PACs are spending more than actual candidates — a lot more, even on a local race for AG here in VT. I don’t really get the vibe from this article, or the subsequent comments, that a favoritism of candidates is skewing perceptions of the spending gap. Rather, it says to me that it’s harder to unseat the candidate in office if the PAC hath spoken, and disclosure is necessary to the democratic process. And if the PAC with the most money wants someone else, well then…???

    I tried looking up “Committee for Justice and Fairness PAC” in opensecrets.org and nothing came up but a bunch of zeros. While the “Democratic Attorneys General Association” seems like a bunch of national groups. It would be helpful, Liz, to provide a direct link if it’s so easy to fact-check these sorts of things, especially on the $184k here in VT.

    Money talks, just not very democratically these days.

    • Eric Davis

      The Committee for Justice and Fairness (CJF) is a 527 organization that was set up by the Democratic Attorney Generals Association in 2010 to run independent expenditure campaigns on behalf of incumbent Democratic attorney generals, and Democratic candidates for open attorney general seats.

      In the 2010 election cycle, the DAGA raised about $5 million. I was not able to find information about how much money the CJF raised or spent in the 2010 cycle.

      As far as I can tell, Bill Sorrell is the only Democratic attorney general in the country who is facing a primary challenge in 2012. It’s not surprising that the CJF has decided to come to his aid. While $175 – $200,000 is a lot of money for an outside group to spend in Vermont, especially in a primary, for a group whose parent raised $5 million in 2010, $200K is small change.

      I scanned the list of donors to the DAGA that is available on opensecrets.org. While there are some unions that contributed to the DAGA, most of the contributions are from law firms that represent plaintiffs (often in securities fraud cases, which are often brought by attorney generals in state courts), and, especially, from corporations. The media/technology, financial services, and pharmaceutical industries seem especially prominent among the DAGA’s contributors.

      As I scanned the list of contributors, no Vermont-based unions, law firms, or corporations appeared on the list. The DAGA and CJF are within their legal rights – as intepreted by the Supreme Court in Citizens United and other campaign finance decisions – to spend the amount and type of money they are on pro-Sorrell advertising and direct mail. Vermont voters should be aware, however, that the connections of the donors to this campaign, on the one hand, and Vermont and Vermonters, on the other, are limited to non-existent.

      However, as other commenters have noted, should T.J. Donovan be elected AG, and should he face a competitive re-election campaign sometime in the future, the DAGA and CJF will most likely run the same sort of campaign on his behalf that they are running on behalf of Sorrell this year. DAGA and CJF are pure incumbent-protection organizations.

    • Liz Martin

      Hi Heather!

      Apologies for not providing a direct link, here you (and anyone else interested) go:


      From there, you can easily also look at their “contributors” as well.

      However, for the donors to the Committee for Justice & Fairness, they are largely funded by DAGA, but I also cannot find the donors, even though OpenSecrets says that the PAC does release their donors to them, but there are no known large company donors.

      What I have been hearing (including from TJ himself today in the Burlington Free Press debate) is that many are upset that Monsanto had donated to DAGA. Okay, so DAGA funds the Committee for Justice & Fairness, which then paid for the ad for Bill, so, somehow, Bill has accepted money from Monsanto… which, is just a rhetorical and political way of smearing the ad and Bill’s campaign.

  • Julie Ingalls

    Is anyone surprised to see that the man who supports unlimited spending in campaigns is benefiting so profoundly from that position? Call me cynical but the big money only leads me to believe a candidate will not be invested in serving Vermonters but in serving that money.

    • Steven Farnham

      Hello, Julie.

      Two questions:

      Why is it cynical to see something as it very well may be?


      Why does the word “cynical” get such a bad rap?

      I don’t think your viewpoint is cynical. I think the corruption in politics which well justifies such a viewpoint is what is truly cynical.

      I’m so fed up with the fascist Pollyanna mindset that seems to make any form of skepticism politically incorrect or verboten.

      Call me cynical, and I’ll take it as a compliment!

      BTW, I agree with you, “cynical” curmudgeon that I am.