A political action committee connected to a retired Vermont lobbyist and a Washington, D.C., advocacy group is going to bat for Democrat Sue Minter’s campaign for governor.
The group, called Vermonters for Strong Leadership, has spent at least $120,000 on television advertising, according to a document filed Thursday with the Secretary of State’s office. Earlier filings with the Federal Communications Commission indicate that the ads are slated to run from Thursday through next Tuesday’s primary election.
Bob Sherman, who cofounded the Montpelier lobbying firm KSE Partners, is the president of the independent-expenditure committee, better known as a super PAC. He said Thursday that he expects to spend “probably more than $100,000” and “less than $200,000” on pro-Minter ads in the next five days.
The state filing indicates that the super PAC has raised $140,000 so far — $125,000 of which comes from EMILY’s List, a D.C. organization focused on electing pro-choice women. The rest of the money comes from five Vermont donors: Travis Belisle of St. Albans ($5,000); Lola Van Wagenen ($3,000) and George Burrill ($2,000) of Shelburne; and Arthur Berndt ($2,500) and Anne Berndt ($2,500) of Sharon.
Belisle and his family are behind a controversial wind project proposed for a Swanton ridgeline. In recent days, Minter and her allies have accused rival Democrat Matt Dunne of an “11th-hour flip” on the siting of large-scale wind projects. A third Democrat in the race, Peter Galbraith, vehemently opposes such installations.
In an interview Thursday afternoon, Arthur Berndt said he and his wife decided to contribute to Minter because they “are both really worried about climate change, and we don’t feel like we can dillydally around.”
The couple previously donated the maximum allowable contribution of $8,000 directly to Minter’s campaign. Berndt said they donated to the super PAC despite their reservations about such groups.
“Money in politics needs to be gotten out, but money in politics is still one of the tools in the toolkit,” he said. “As Vermonters, we feel we have the responsibility to participate in whatever way we can.”
Sherman, the group’s president, retired from KSE Partners at the end of 2014 after decades of lobbying at the Vermont Statehouse. He said he no longer has a financial stake in the firm and that it was not involved with Vermonters for Strong Leadership.
“But it’s no secret that when I was at KSE I did this kind of work. That’s why people wanted me to do it,” Sherman said. “Arthur was interested. EMILY’s List was interested. And I’m a known quantity with nothing to do.”
According to a script included in the filing, the TV ad touches on a number of messages the Minter campaign has been sending. It highlights her work as Tropical Storm Irene recovery officer and refers to her as “the progressive candidate for governor.”
“The only candidate who supports clean energy, and Sue Minter will stand up to the gun lobby to strengthen background checks, keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers,” the script reads. “Progressive, tested: Our Sue Minter.”
“Whether you are a multimillionaire or a major corporation, you shouldn’t be able to buy the governor’s office,” she said at the time. “[Elections] are about Vermonters making a choice about their own futures.”
Reached Wednesday evening, Minter campaign manager Molly Ritner said she was not aware that a super PAC had gotten involved in the race. Ritner, who joined the campaign in February, was previously affiliated with EMILY’s List and was referred to Minter by the group.
Asked for Minter’s position on super PACs, she emailed a statement to Seven Days.
“Sue thinks Citizens United should be overturned and as governor will work toward meaningful campaign finance reform,” Ritner said in the statement. “We cannot coordinate with outside groups and had no knowledge of this. Sue is focused on her campaign and talking to voters about her progressive plans to make Vermont work.”
Ritner declined to answer repeated follow-up questions Wednesday night about whether Minter was comfortable with super PACs supporting her campaign.
“As you know, we can’t coordinate with outside groups,” was all she would say.
On Thursday morning, Ritner said that Minter was “not comfortable being supported by a super PAC. She cannot control them.”