Candidates for Vermont's top office and those supporting them have doled out more than $9.6 million this campaign season, according to a new analysis by Seven Days. With more than three weeks remaining until Election Day, that puts the 2016 gubernatorial race on track to be the most expensive in state history.
The majority of the money, nearly $6.5 million, has been spent by the five major-party candidates themselves: Democratic nominee Sue Minter, Republican nominee Phil Scott and their three vanquished primary election rivals. Another $3.1 million has come from national party organizations, special-interest groups and one wealthy individual.
The analysis reflects only money spent exclusively on the gubernatorial race, so it likely undercounts the total. For example, it does not include the $7,904 that the National Rifle Association spent on postcards last week, because those mention not only Scott but 19 other candidates. More significantly, it does not include spending by the Vermont Democratic Party or the Vermont Republican Party, since that money typically benefits the respective parties' entire slates.
By far the biggest player in recent months has been a super PAC funded by the Washington, D.C.-based Republican Governors Association. The organization, called A Stronger Vermont, has spent more than $1.8 million bolstering Scott's campaign, according to a disclosure filed late Saturday with the Secretary of State's Office. In the latest 15-day filing period, which ended October 12, it spent $573,000 — largely on television advertising criticizing Minter.
The RGA continued to vastly outspend its Democratic counterpart. A super PAC funded by the D.C.-based Democratic Governors Association, called Our Vermont, has invested $767,000 in Minter's candidacy. In the latest period, it spent $288,000. (It dropped another $98,000 on TV ads last Friday, after that period had ended.)
In recent weeks, both super PACs outspent the candidates they're supporting. Saturday's filings show that Minter has spent $1.46 million over the course of her campaign, including nearly $201,000 in the previous 15 days. (She spent another $62,000 on TV ads last Friday.) Scott, meanwhile, has spent $1.25 million since he launched his campaign, including $138,000 in the most recent period.
Neither candidate has come close to matching what retired Wall Street banker Bruce Lisman invested in his failed attempt to secure the Republican nomination. His latest report shows that he spent $2.3 million, including $1.98 million of his own money.
At least five super PACs funded by special-interest groups have spent significant sums on Vermont's gubernatorial race.
One of them, called the Vermont Conservation Voters Action Fund, has spent more than $83,000 in recent weeks on postcards praising Minter for voting to ban certain chemicals from children's products and slamming Scott for opposing such bans. The super PAC, run by Montpelier attorney and lobbyist Anthony Iarrapino, received a $150,000 contribution earlier this month from the Washington, D.C.-based League of Conservation Voters.
Another major player has been the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors, which has spent nearly $82,000 in recent weeks supporting Scott's candidacy, mostly through postcards and online advertising.
Other super PACs that spent heavily during the primary election, including the EMILY's List-funded Vermonters for Strong Leadership and the Lisman-supporting American Future Fund, have gone dormant since then. The Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund, meanwhile, has staffed up and raised nearly $17,000, but it hasn't yet invested in the race.
Here is Seven Days' accounting of the money spent on Vermont's gubernatorial election, as of October 15:
Sue Minter: $1,524,459
Matt Dunne: $1,015,523
Peter Galbraith: $401,422
Phil Scott: $1,251,638
Bruce Lisman: $2,295,953
National party committees:
Democratic Governors Association: $767,401
Republican Governors Association: $1,812,178
Vermonters for Strong Leadership (Pro-Minter; largely funded by EMILY's List): $124,199
Vermont Conservation Voters Action Fund (Pro-Minter; largely funded by the League of Conservation Voters): $83,250
National Association of Realtors (Pro-Scott): $81,586
American Future Fund (Pro-Lisman; funded by Lisman's former business associates): $27,030
Vermont Conservation Victory Fund (Pro-Minter; funded by Vermont environmentalists): $5,246