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Senate Republican PAC to Host Lobbyist Fundraiser

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Sen. Joe Benning - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sen. Joe Benning
Last month, two House Republicans proposed banning registered lobbyists from donating to political action committees while the legislature is in session.

But Wednesday night, the Senate Republican PAC is hosting a Montpelier fundraiser to collect money from — you guessed it — registered lobbyists.

According to Green Mountain Republican Senate Committee treasurer Suzanne Butterfield, legislators and lobbyists alike have been invited to the Capitol Plaza to "exchange ideas and basically have a social get-together." Attendance costs $200 per person, and sponsorships range from $500 to $1,500. 

"I just go through the list of lobbyists — the ones that I know personally — and invite them, and they invite some of their corporate clients," Butterfield explains. "It's not a huge financial event, but it's fun and it's a little something."

Those who've RSVPed, Butterfield says, include the Montpelier lobbying firms MMR, Necrason Group, KSE Partners and William Shouldice & Associates. She expects representatives from Comcast, AT&T, Pfizer, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and Reynolds American, Inc.

Invitation to Green Mountain Republican Senate Committee fundraiser - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Invitation to Green Mountain Republican Senate Committee fundraiser
Under current law, legislators are barred from raising money for their own campaigns from lobbyists and the companies that employ them until the end of the legislature's two-year biennium. But for years, Democrats and Republicans alike have skirted the law by raising lobbyist cash through the PACs they control.

Those PACs then use the money to elect their own candidates.

Reps. Kurt Wright (R-Burlington) and Patti Komline (R-Dorset) said last month they hoped to end the practice. Last week, they and a tri-partisan coalition, including Reps. Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington), Chris Pearson (P-Burlington) and Paul Poirer (I-Barre City), introduced legislation that would force PACs and political parties to abide by the same restrictions as candidates. 

The Republican House members spoke out about the issue ahead of a fundraiser benefiting the House Democrats' PAC.

Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia), the Senate minority leader, says he hasn't yet read Wright's and Komline's bill, but he agrees with it in concept.

"It's kind of standard practice for both parties thus far to hold these kinds of functions," he says. "And I think it would make a cleaner environment if we didn't have to get into these kinds of activities while the session is taking place."

Nevertheless, Benning plans to attend Wednesday's fundraiser. He says he tries to honor all invitations he receives.

While Benning says he does not directly control the Green Mountain Republican Senate Committee, he does advise Butterfield during the campaign season on which candidates the PAC should support. 

In the last election cycle, according to records collected by the Secretary of State's Office, the committee spent more than $20,000 on Republican Senate candidates. Recipients of its largesse included Sens. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), Peg Flory (R-Rutland), Brian Collamore (R-Rutland), Norm McAllister (R-Franklin), Dustin Degree (R-Franklin), Richard Westman (R-Lamoille) and six unsuccessful Republican Senate candidates.

Donors last cycle included Necrason Group, Downs Rachlin Martin, Anheuser-Busch, Altria, Casella Resource Solutions, Best Buy and many of the companies expected to attend Wednesday's fundraiser.

For her part, Butterfield says there's nothing wrong with the fundraiser she's hosting. She says she does not support Wright's and Komline's bill.

"They're just businesses that want to help. I don't think they're buying influence in any way or access," she says. "Maybe I'm naive, but I don't think it's used that way at all."


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