Two Republican super PACs have begun investing big money in Vermont’s general election campaign.
The Republican State Leadership Committee Vermont PAC is spending $186,000 for advertising against left-leaning Vermont politicians: House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero), Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Progressive and Democrat. It's the single largest expenditure by an outside group in this year's general election campaign.
The super PAC filed its spending report late Tuesday with the Vermont Secretary of State's Office. Expenditures include $116,800 on television ads, $7,500 on radio and $61,700 on postcards.
The RSLC is a national entity that campaigns for Republican candidates for state legislature. Its Vermont arm has spent big in each of the last three election cycles — at least $335,000 in 2014 and $358,000 in 2016.
The $186,000 reported Tuesday was spent through Junction Consulting, an Essex-based marketing firm owned by Jay Shepard, one of the Vermont Republican Party’s two members of the Republican National Committee. When asked about the windfall, Shepard referred all questions to the RSLC.
Also on Tuesday, A Stronger Vermont reported spending $88,000 in support of Gov. Phil Scott’s reelection bid, with the bulk of the money going to television advertising. A Stronger Vermont is a super PAC operated and funded by the Republican Governors Association. In 2016, it spent more than $3 million in support of the Scott campaign — mainly in the form of ads attacking Democratic candidate Sue Minter.
So far this year, the super PAC has spent $473,225 on TV and online advertising, postcards and opinion polling, all in support of Scott.
"I feel like it's a little more of Washington invading Vermont," said Johnson of the outside money. "We have a real, human-scale democracy in Vermont where candidates go door to door and meet the voters." She fears that the influx of outside money serves to "undermine" the community element of legislative campaigns.
Johnson is a high-priority target for state and national Republicans. They see her as vulnerable because she barely won reelection in 2014 and 2016. And, as VTGOP executive director Jack Moulton told Seven Days, "There's some kind of intangible value to beating the speaker."
Johnson noted that outside advertising is almost entirely negative. "I can't tell you how many postcards I've seen saying that I support a gas tax increase," she said. "I see that crap every cycle."
All mass media expenditures over $500 must be reported upon expenditure to the Vermont Secretary of State, and must identify any candidates mentioned in advertising or mailings.
Disclosure: Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly. Find our conflict-of-interest policy here: sevendaysvt.com/disclosure.