Clippings: Campaign spending obscenely high

Who could blame the electorate for thinking the people running to represent them in government are stinking, money-grubbing pigs? Election after election the amount of money candidates spend in their campaigns grows and grows, at a rate surely much faster than inflation.
According to the Vermont Secretary of State’s website, Republican Horace F. Graham spent the whopping sum of $28.15 to fend off a Democrat, a Progressive and a Prohibition Party candidate to win the Vermont governor’s race in 1916. Things have changed.
In 2002, Jim Douglas won a hard-fought governor’s race in which he spent $1,124,519. He beat Democrat Doug Racine (who spent $723,907) and independent Con Hogan (who spent $265,192).
In that same year, Brian Dubie faced Peter Shumlin in the race for lieutenant governor. In winning the contest, Dubie raised $137,390 and spent $140,123 and Shumlin raised $240,634 and spent $163,482. Progressive Anthony Polina spent $138,687 in that race.
Eight years later Dubie and Shumlin have squared off again, and the pile of money required to win seems absolutely enormous. According to the candidates’ Oct. 15 campaign finance filing with the Secretary of State’s office, Shumlin in his campaign had received $1,137,312.82 in contributions and spent $910,417.76. Dubie had raised $1,358,998.85 and spent $1,073,445.77. That’s with three weeks still to go before Election Day.
Where does all that money come from? Leaving aside for the moment the political pit bulls that swoop in from Washington and elsewhere to unleash a fusillade of negative attack ads, the money comes from a lot of sources, according to those campaign finance reports.
Hearteningly, a good deal of it comes from regular Vermonters. Dubie’s report includes a 13-page list of donors who gave more than $100 during the preceding month. Shumlin’s list is even longer. Most of the contributions listed are under $500; many are $100.
No surprise, some big businesses support Dubie. Rock of Ages Corp., which runs the quarry in Barre, gave him $2,000. No surprise also is the fact that a big labor union backs the Democrat. Shumlin got $2,000 from the American Federation of Teachers.
Reading the lists more carefully, though, can raise eyebrows.
For instance, Federal Express, the big air freight company in Memphis, Tenn., gave $1,000 to Dubie. What’s that about? And FireCo LLC, a Franklin, Tenn., firm that does telemarketing for fire departments (like me, you’ve probably got calls from them during dinner) gave Dubie $2,000. A telemarketing firm?
The report states that L. Scott Frantz, a first-term GOP state senator from the Greenwich, Conn., area, gave Dubie $1,000. On his Web site, L. Scott makes a plea for fiscal responsibility; I wonder what he would say about Dubie spending nearly $3,000 more than he raised in his 2002 campaign?
Raj Bhakta, the guy who started the premium whiskey distillery in Shoreham and who, himself, ran as a Republican for Congress in Pennsylvania in 2006, gave $2,000 to Dubie.
Orwell’s Mark Young, who is running for state Senate, gave Dubie $500. Incidentally, the Jim Douglas for Governor campaign gave Young $500 in the same reporting period (I was surprised to see that the Douglas campaign had filed a report on Oct. 15, since Douglas isn’t running for any office). Don’t read too much into this particular contribution, the Douglas campaign (which must be cleaning out its war chest) also gave money to many other Republican candidates for the Vermont Senate and House, as well as to candidates for statewide office, including $1,000 each for Tom Salmon and Phil Scott.
Dubie didn’t get any money from the Douglas campaign during this period, but maybe he did in an earlier period — the Douglas campaign has spent $117,897.43 in 2010 according to the report (did I mention that Douglas isn’t running for any office?).
The Shumlin campaign finance report isn’t without its curiosities. It got $2,000 from Arrowhead Health Analytics LLC of Fall River, Mass., which sells research and strategy consulting related to state-based health care reform and state health care regulation.
Arrowhead this past summer formed a joint venture with Kimbell Sherman Ellis LLP, a Montpelier outfit that calls itself a national government affairs and strategic communications firm. Hmm, health care reform will be a big topic in the coming years, wouldn’t hurt to have a governor’s ear, would it?
It also received $2,000 from Washington, D.C., lobbyist and Democratic mover and shaker Michael S. Berman, as well as another $2,000 from another D.C. powerbroker, Bud Doggett, through his political action committee. They must make a lot of trips to Vermont in fall to see the foliage.
At one point in the campaign, in an apparent attempt to incite a little class warfare, Dubie complained that Shumlin could bankroll a lot of his campaign through his personal wealth, and looking at the campaign finance reports it is no surprise that Brian was a little touchy. As of Oct. 13, Shumlin or his immediate family had made total contributions to his campaign of $247,408.78, while Dubie and his kin had shelled out $4,800. You could say Dubie’s smart enough to get someone else to pay for his campaign, so maybe he could get those people to pay for better schools, roads and Internet connections in Vermont. Or, you could say Shumlin built a business in Vermont and made a lot of money doing it, maybe he could do the same for the state.
Where’s the money go? The candidates’ reports give some insight. During this reporting period, several thousand dollars went to staff salaries, a little to travel and data processing, but the vast bulk of what the campaigns spent went to advertising and media consultants. Shumlin spent $298,730 on that and Dubie spent $291,137 (including on polling).
Spending on advertising and media strategy, unfortunately, isn’t limited to the candidates. We’ve seen this year the hell that has been wrought by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which in effect lets corporations spend as much money as they want on advertising in campaigns as long as they don’t back any particular candidate. The result is they attack — some would say smear — candidates.
Middlebury College political scientist Eric Davis told me that almost all the out-of-state money is being used for attack ads. He pointed out that “since 2002, the last time Vermont, had a competitive governor’s race, the legal framework for campaign contributions has changed, both through statutes and court decisions, so there are millions (if not billions, in total) of dollars sloshing around the system for negative ads, with the money often coming from opaque and unaccountable sources.”
Davis pointed out that Vermont has been spared such ugly campaigning until this year, and he guesses that if Dubie loses then in the future candidates will hesitate to go so negative.
Seeking to enforce Vermont’s campaign finance laws, the Vermont Attorney General’s Office this week filed civil lawsuits against two large, out-of-state Republican and Democratic political groups. Attorney Gen. Sorrell said that “during the current general election cycle, (these groups) have acted as political committees … while refusing to comply with the requirements of Vermont’s campaign finance laws.” One of these groups, the Republican Governors’ Association, filed a countersuit to slow down Sorrell and buy time before the election.
Amidst all this money tearing down the opposition, the candidates hardly can put forth a coherent plan for governing, and isn’t that really what we are hiring them to do — govern?
You don’t have a million dollars to run political ads? Make your voice heard on Tuesday. Vote.

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