Gubernatorial Candidates Spent $5.3 Million in Vermont Primary | Off Message

Gubernatorial Candidates Spent $5.3 Million in Vermont Primary


Matt Dunne and Sue Minter embrace last Wednesday at a Vermont Democratic Party unity rally in Burlington. - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Matt Dunne and Sue Minter embrace last Wednesday at a Vermont Democratic Party unity rally in Burlington.
Updated Tuesday, August 6, at 8:13 a.m.

Vermont's five major gubernatorial candidates spent a collective $5.3 million contesting last week's primary election, according to final reports filed Monday with the Secretary of State's Office. That makes the race the most expensive of its type in state history.

Far and away the biggest spender was Republican Bruce Lisman, who dropped $2.1 million — or $118 per vote — in his failed attempt to win the GOP nomination. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who prevailed in that race, spent just $806,000 — or $29 per vote. Scott defeated Lisman 60 to 39 percent.

On the Democratic side, Sue Minter and Matt Dunne spent close to $1 million apiece: $984,000 for Minter and $999,000 for Dunne. A third candidate, Peter Galbraith, doled out $372,000. Minter won with 49 percent of the vote. Dunne picked up 37 percent and Galbraith 9 percent.

The final fundraising figures show Minter got the best bang for her buck. She spent $27 per vote, while Dunne spent $37 and Galbraith $56. 

At the start of their general-election contest, Scott has a slight financial advantage. He has $158,000 in the bank, while Minter has just $54,000, according to their respective campaigns.

But Minter has a broader base of donors, many of whom have yet to contribute the maximum allowable donation of $4,000. The Democratic nominee reported contributions from 3,922 people, including 2,794 who gave $100 or less. The Republican received financial support from 2,421 people — only 1,785 of whom donated $100 or less.

Scott collected $224,000 from those who contributed more than $2,000 apiece, while Minter took in $146,000 from such donors. 

Roughly 40 percent of the money spent in Vermont's gubernatorial primary came from the candidates' own pockets or those of their family members.

Lisman, a retired Wall Street banker, loaned $1.9 million to his campaign — or 85 percent of his total — and raised just $317,000 from others. Galbraith, a diplomat who made millions in an Iraqi oil deal, and members of his family loaned or donated $232,000 to his campaign — 57 percent of his haul. Dunne, a former Google manager, dropped $95,000 worth of loans into his campaign in its final week, despite having pledged not to do so. He had previously contributed $4,000. That last-minute cash infusion amounted to 10 percent of his total.

Neither of the winners, Scott and Minter, self-funded.

The reports filed Monday provide a detailed look at the final few weeks of the race, since the candidates last disclosed fundraising and spending figures on July 15. In that period, the candidates spent at a blistering rate: nearly $1.7 million total. In a single nine-day stretch, from July 27 to August 5, Lisman cut his campaign four separate checks ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 — and totaling $300,000.

Over the course of the campaign, Lisman invested far more than Scott in mass media, including television, radio and mail: $907,000 to $352,000. But in the final weeks of the race, the lieutenant governor picked up the pace and spent more on such expenditures than his self-financing rival: $267,000 to $231,000.

Unlike the three major Democrats seeking the governor’s office, Scott raised a significant amount of money from corporations and political action committees. Some, such as the Vermont Auto Dealers Association ($4,000) and the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association ($3,000), are based in the state. Others aren’t. Those include tobacco giant Reynolds American ($4,000); Walmart ($2,000); Eli Lilly and Company ($1,500) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America ($1,000).

Scott skirted Vermont’s $4,000 contribution limit by accepting money from LLCs owned by those who had already donated that amount. Sugarbush Resort president Win Smith, for example, donated $4,000 directly to Scott’s campaign and then another $4,000 through his WHS Holdings LLC. Similarly, Florida real estate developer Jonathan Levy contributed $4,000 to Scott and then another $8,000 through four LLCs that share an address with an Ohio company he co-owns.

The $5.3 million total does not include money that outside groups spent to influence the race through independent expenditures. Those included Silicon Valley billionaire Reid Hoffman, who spent $220,000 on ads supporting Dunne; the super PAC Vermonters for Strong Leadership, which spent $120,000 on ads backing Minter; and the super PAC American Future Fund, which spent $27,000 on ads bolstering Lisman.

Two major Washington, D.C., organizations have invested resources in the race since last week’s primary. The Republican Governors Association has contributed $350,000 to a super PAC called A Stronger Vermont, which has already spent $212,000 of that on ads and research. Its counterpart, the Democratic Governors Association, has transferred $100,000 to its own super PAC, called Our Vermont, but has spent less than $8,000.

The race to replace Scott as lieutenant governor was far less expensive than the main event. The winner of the Democratic primary, Sen. David Zuckerman (P/D-Chittenden), spent $153,000. House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown), who came in second, spent $132,000. Rep. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington), the third-place finisher, dropped the most on the race: $216,000.

Republican lieutenant gubernatorial nominee Randy Brock, who faced no competition in the GOP primary, has not filed a fundraising report by Tuesday morning.

Further down the ballot, Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan continued to amass cash in his bid to succeed retiring Attorney General Bill Sorrell. The South Burlington Democrat raised another $33,000 in the past month, bringing his campaign total to $347,000 — not including $27,000 he transferred from an old campaign account. Remarkably, Donovan has spent $110,000 since he joined the race last year, despite facing no opposition for the Democratic nomination.

His Republican opponent, St. Johnsbury attorney Deborah Bucknam, joined the race in May. Since then, she has raised $50,000 — though $20,000 of that came from a personal loan.

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