Vermont's 2016 gubernatorial race is on track to become the most expensive political contest in state history.
A Seven Days analysis of campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State's Office found that candidates, parties, political action committees and super PACs have spent more than $12.9 million on the race to replace retiring Gov. Peter Shumlin. Given ongoing spending patterns, it appears likely that the final tally will exceed the record $13.7 million spent on Vermont's 2006 U.S. Senate race between then-congressman Bernie Sanders and Republican businessman Rich Tarrant.
The $12.9 million estimate includes all spending by candidates and PACs as of November 2. It also includes mass media expenditures, such as television and radio advertisements, as of November 6. But it counts only a fraction of the money spent by the Vermont Democratic Party and Vermont Republican Party this election cycle, because it is impossible to determine how much of that was directed toward the gubernatorial race. The parties' latest filings with the Federal Election Commission show that the VDP had spent nearly $884,000 this cycle by October 26, compared to $311,000 by the Vermont GOP.
Seven Days' analysis found that those seeking to elect Democratic gubernatorial nominee Sue Minter and Republican nominee Phil Scott have spent roughly equivalent sums of money.
While Minter's gubernatorial campaign has outspent Scott's $1.97 million to $1.57 million, outside groups sympathetic to Scott have outspent those backing Minter $3.1 million to $2.35 million. In total, at least $4.67 million has been spent electing Scott, while $4.32 million has been spent electing Minter. (Given that these figures do not include all party spending and that the VDP has far outspent the Vermont GOP, it appears likely that pro-Minter and pro-Scott forces are roughly tied in spending.)
A significant portion of the race's $12.9 million price tag was spent by three candidates who lost the August primary elections. Democrats Matt Dunne and Peter Galbraith spent $1 million and $403,000 on respectively on their losing bids. Republican Bruce Lisman spent a jaw-dropping $2.3 million — more than either Minter or Scott have spent on both the primary and general elections — on his. (Dunne also received a $220,000 boost in the primary from Silicon Valley entrepreneur Reid Hoffman, while Lisman benefited from $27,000 in super PAC spending from the American Future Fund.)
The two biggest outside spenders on Vermont's gubernatorial race have been super PACs established and largely funded by the Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association. As of November 6, the RGA's super PAC, called A Stronger Vermont, had spent $2.97 million backing Scott. The DGA's super PAC, called Our Vermont, had spent $1.38 million.
While the RGA has spent more than twice as much as the DGA, Minter has benefited from a larger universe of super PACs and other supportive organizations. Here's a tally of pro-Minter outside spending:
Our Vermont: $1.38 million — Established by the Democratic Governors Association, this super PAC has also received $285,000 from groups affiliated with EMILY's List and $75,000 from the National Education Association.
Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund: $434,000 — While ostensibly run by Planned Parenthood's political wing, this super PAC has received only $50,000 from the pro-choice lobby. The majority of its funding — $375,000 as of November 2 — has come from the DGA.
Vermont Conservation Voters Action Fund: $298,000 — This super PAC has received $225,000 from the League of Conservation Voters, plus major contributions from Vermont donors David Blittersdorf, Diana Bingham, Lisa Steele, Barbarina Heyerdahl, Cathleen Miller and Crea Lintilhac.
Vermonters for Strong Leadership: $124,000 — Largely funded by EMILY's List, this organization backed Minter during the Democratic primary but has fallen dormant since.
Vermont Conservation Victory Fund: $5,266 — This organization, funded by Blittersdorf and other Vermont donors, backed Minter during the primary but has been dormant since.
Gun Sense VT Victory Fund: $1,700 — The gun-control organization has spent $1,700 on online advertisements supporting Minter.
A Stronger Vermont: $2.97 million — The RGA super PAC has spent more than any organization in the race.
National Association of Realtors Fund: $81,586 — The Realtors conducted $19,000 worth of polling in September and then ran postcard and online advertising campaigns.
Republican State Leadership Committee: $12,254 — This organization has spent much more supporting Republican legislative candidates in Vermont. It has mentioned Scott in a minority of its electioneering efforts.
National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund: $7,904 — The NRA sent postcards in October supporting Scott and other statewide and legislative candidates.
Vermont Right to Life Political Committee: $5,422 — The Vermont Right to Life Committee's PAC sent postcards during the primary and general elections supporting Scott and other statewide and legislative candidates.