Vermont's three members of Congress continued to amass multimillion-dollar campaign war chests in 2017, according to new reports submitted this week to the Federal Election Commission.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) accumulated a whopping $6.17 million, his year-end report shows. That's for Sanders' as-yet-undeclared 2018 senatorial campaign, which is where he's been funneling all his political donations. He can, of course, transfer that money to a presidential campaign organization, should he choose to seek the Democratic nomination in 2020.
During the fourth quarter of 2017, Sanders raised almost $693,000 (virtually all from small individual donors) and spent $379,000. Those are fairly astounding figures, but they pale in comparison to the inflow and outflow earlier in the year. During the second quarter, for instance, his campaign raised $1.3 million. The bottom line: Sanders has an unmatched ability to raise seemingly limitless funds without reliance on political action committees or generous oligarchs.
And between his bank account and his home-state popularity, it's hard to imagine a serious Republican challenge to his bid for reelection. Assuming, of course, that there is such a bid. Sanders himself resolutely turns away any question about his 2018 plans, though his former campaign manager and chief of staff hints there will be.
"He has not made an announcement, but I think there's an anticipation that he will run for reelection," Jeff Weaver said in a recent interview.
Weaver, who managed Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign, is among those benefiting from the senator's largesse. Starting last August, he has been paid nearly $16,000 a month for his services.
"I'm doing general political work for the senator," he explained. "I'm also helping to set up the structure of the 2018 campaign." Weaver said he does not anticipate actually managing Sanders' reelection bid.
Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) continues to be on financial cruise control. Once again in the fourth quarter, he raised (by congressional standards) a modest amount and spent even less. He's doing as he's done for a while: maintaining a $2 million campaign fund that he never has to seriously deplete.
And, as usual, virtually all the money comes from political action committees. Welch raised $96,000 in the period, including $89,000 from PACs. The biggest bucks came from industries with interests in the committees Welch serves on: health care and communications. Perhaps the most ironic donor, for a congressman representing a state with a strong environmental reputation, was the United Mine Workers of America PAC, which gave Welch $2,500.
The congressman raised another $37,500 — entirely from special-interest groups — through his leadership committee, called Maple PAC, during the second half of the year, FEC reports show. That entity had nearly $53,000 in its coffers at the close of the year.
Welch argues that he keeps a hefty bankroll as, basically, insurance. "At the drop of a dime, there can be serious money flooding into any congressional district in the country," he said during a visit to the Vermont Statehouse on Thursday morning.
That's true, but in a year when conservatives face a potential Democratic tsunami across the nation, it's hard to imagine a big-money super PAC suddenly deciding to take aim at a popular Democrat in a deep-blue state. And Welch hasn't faced a serious Republican challenge since he ran against Martha Rainville for an open seat in 2006.
Sen. Patrick Leahy's (D-Vt.) campaign committee, meanwhile, raised a paltry $24,000 in the fourth quarter while spending $84,000. That's been the pattern throughout the year: raising very little and spending a bit more, gradually deflating his campaign fund. Leahy was just reelected in 2016 and his term won't expire until 2023.
"This is just how things go in the first year of a new cycle," explained longtime Leahy campaign manager Carolyn Dwyer.
While the senator's reelection committee has been somewhat dormant, his leadership PAC has been somewhat more active. Leahy's Green Mountain PAC raised nearly $208,000 in the second half of the year, according to its FEC report, and spent nearly $204,000.
Despite the slow pace, Leahy still has $1.7 million in his campaign account and $68,000 in his PAC account. If he does plan to run for yet another term, he'll have to fire up the engines sooner or later. But according to Dwyer, his low-key fundraising implies nothing about his future plans.