Vt. officials: Money doesn’t buy elections

Thursday November 8, 2012

MONTPELIER -- Some feared the 2012 election would involve big money from wealthy individuals and corporations swamping the democratic process and electing candidates whose sympathies lay with the top 1 percent of American society.

But in Vermont, at least, it appears that didn’t happen.

"You can spend a lot of loot. You can buy a lot of those out-of-state ads," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, who easily won re-election on Tuesday. "But in the end, Vermonters judge you by who you are, what you stand for and whether they meet you, whether you knock on their door, whether they look you in the eye and decide whether your character and your vision is the right thing for Vermont."

The comments came at the end of an election cycle that began with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which took the lid off expenditures by groups not affiliated with candidates but seeking to influence election outcomes just the same.

It featured a Republican candidate for state treasurer who got a big boost from the newly created political action committee Vermonters First but still lost badly. It featured the same group spending to elect more Republicans to the state House and Senate, only to make no gains there either.

Neither the lone staff member with Vermonters First, Tayt Brooks, nor its principal funder, Burlington heiress Lenore Broughton, could be reached for comment Wednesday. A phone number could not be found for Brooks and Broughton did not immediately return a message left at her home.

Jack Lindley, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, attributed some of his party’s lack of success -- it won just one of eight statewide offices -- to the fact that Democratic-leaning PACS spent heavily in the state as well.

But political money aside, "Democrats in Vermont have a better mousetrap than I’ve got," Lindley acknowledged. "I’ve got to go about building a better mousetrap."

He pointed to the fact that the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, Cassandra Gekas, a former Statehouse lobbyist and newcomer to electoral politics who jumped into her race in June, ended up with more votes in her loss to incumbent Republican Phil Scott than Randy Brock, the state senator and former auditor, got in his bid to unseat Shumlin.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, also cruised to re-election, as did U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and the Democratic candidates for state treasurer, auditor, attorney general and secretary of state.

The near-Democratic sweep concluded an election cycle in which many on the left in Vermont sought to raise an alarm about the effects of the Citizens United decision.

One of them was Montpelier lobbyist Todd Bailey, who formed a sort of anti-PAC PAC that ran an ad calling for an end to super PACS. The 60-second ad ran Tuesday night on Burlington television station WCAX, as election results showing how ineffective the new PAC spending had been were just coming in.

"In just two years, super PACS have hijacked our democracy in America, and right here in Vermont," Bailey said into the camera in the ad, which concluded with him holding a sign saying, "Please put us out of a job."

On Wednesday, Bailey said in an interview that it would be "totally reasonable to conclude that the money didn’t matter. But I also think the money was not spent well." He pointed to mailings that criticized Democrats in legislative races, saying negative ads usually do not work well in Vermont.

Sanders, who is pushing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would reverse the Citizens United decision, said no one should point to Tuesday’s results and minimize the decision’s impact.

He noted U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, successfully beat back millions in spending by the super PAC American Crossroads in an effort to unseat him.

"But he had to spend much more time raising money than he wanted to," he said. "Even the good guys have to raise huge amounts of money to fight back."

And some members of Congress allow their votes to be influenced by a fear of attack by super PACs the next time they’re up for election, Sanders said.


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