PACs Pour More Than $600,000 Into U.S. House Race for Balint | Politics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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PACs Pour More Than $600,000 Into U.S. House Race for Balint


Published July 25, 2022 at 2:22 p.m.
Updated August 2, 2022 at 6:50 p.m.

Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham) - FILE KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham)
Just two weeks before the primary election, three political action committees have spent at least $606,000 combined in support of Democrat Becca Balint in the race for Vermont's lone U.S. House seat.

According to filings with the Federal Election Commission, the LGBTQ Victory Fund Federal PAC, Equality PAC and the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC have paid for mailers, digital advertising and TV ads that endorse Balint, Vermont's Senate president pro tempore. She's in a primary contest with Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, who has decried the outside spending and made it an issue of the campaign; and Rutland Regional Medical Center physician Louis Meyers.

"The lieutenant governor has made clear that she believes Vermonters should decide the election, and no one else," Gray campaign manager Samantha Sheehan said in an interview on Monday. "Vermonters will tell us how they feel about this interference in 15 days' time."

The amount the three PACs spent in July is about as much as Balint spent altogether during the first seven months of the campaign. FEC filings show that, from December 13 through June 30, Balint spent about $611,600. Gray, meanwhile, spent $487,200 through June 30 after launching her campaign on December 6.

In the sprint for the finish line, these campaigns have spent much more money since the end of the quarter, on television ads, digital marketing and mailers. Balint released her fourth TV ad last week; Gray released her third on Friday.
Balint continues to denounce the outside spending, campaign manager Natalie Silver said in an interview Monday, and she has no control over it. During the second quarter, Silver noted, a bigger percentage of Balint's haul came from Vermonters as compared to Gray's filings.

A Seven Days review of the filings found that about half of Balint's second-quarter donations came from people with Vermont addresses, compared to about 42 percent for Gray.

"The Gray campaign is saying voters should decide," Silver said. "We totally agree — and they are. They're choosing us to put their dollars toward. They're not choosing the Gray campaign. And that's very challenging for them."

"We have very intentionally made the choice to focus on getting a lot of grassroots support, because, it turns out, you are able to raise more money if you have more people who are supporting you," Silver added. "And so that's what we've done. And it's been incredibly successful."

Asked about the in-state fundraising numbers, Sheehan responded: "The single largest contributor to the Balint campaign is outside groups spending on their behalf."

The primary is August 9, but early voting has already begun. As of Friday, Vermonters had requested 44,047 absentee ballots and returned 15,493, according to the Secretary of State's Office.
The outside spending so far pales in comparison to the 2016 gubernatorial race between Democrat Sue Minter and Republican Phil Scott, who was running for his first term. A super PAC funded by the Republican Governors Association spent more than $3 million to support Scott, while a similar Democratic super PAC supported Minter's candidacy with about $1.2 million.

A super PAC also spent about $826,000 in support of Scott's successful 2018 reelection bid.

In this year's House primary race, the LGBTQ Victory Fund Federal PAC alone has spent $390,000 in support of Balint, who is the first openly gay person — and woman — to serve as Vermont's Senate president. The organization is what is known as a "hybrid PAC." The designation allows it to donate a limited amount of money directly to the candidate. But it can also raise and spend unlimited amounts on what are known as independent expenditures, such as advertising and mailers. That spending must be done without coordinating with a candidate or campaign.
Asked for comment, the PAC released a statement saying it was proud to support Balint, noting she would be the first openly gay Jewish woman in Congress if elected.

"With an unprecedented wave of sexism and homophobia sweeping our country, it is more important than ever to elect pro-choice, pro-equality leaders like Becca to Congress," the statement said. "The stakes of this election are too high for any organization or voter to sit on the sidelines.

"Anyone questioning why the LGBTQ community is rallying behind an out LGBTQ Congressional candidate who has dedicated her life to fighting for our rights needs to take a serious look in the mirror," the statement continues. "For decades, we've lacked political power and have the wounds to show for it. Change can’t wait."

Equality PAC is also dedicated to supporting LGBTQ candidates and has endorsed Balint. It's spent nearly $70,000 on direct mailers to support her.

"Becca is the proven leader we need in Congress to take on extremist Republicans, stand up to the gun lobby and finally make progress on the most pressing issues facing our country," one mailer says.
  • Sasha Goldstein ©️ Seven Days
  • One mailer
Balint leans further left than Gray, who has taken more moderate stances on many major issues. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) endorsed Balint, as have several members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The group's PAC has spent about $150,000 supporting Balint with digital media buys, which can include online advertisements and also commercials on streaming services such as YouTube TV.

Sanders is planning to campaign with Balint in Vermont on Sunday, July 31. Dubbed "Becca's Barnstorm," rallies are scheduled for Rutland, Montpelier and Burlington and will feature free food and live music, according to an announcement from Balint's campaign. 

The Gray campaign made outside spending an issue even before it began. During a candidate forum in June, Gray asked Balint if she would denounce outside spending and, if a group put up ads, hold a press conference urging the ads to come down. Balint agreed to both conditions.
A few days later, something known as a "red box" appeared on Balint's website. It contained photos and talking points, apparently intended to attract attention from outside groups hoping to spend on her behalf. Coordination between campaigns and those groups is prohibited by federal law, so such red boxes have become a way for some candidates to skirt the rules, according to recent reporting by the New York Times and other outlets.

Balint's "red box" disappeared as Seven Days asked about it, and her campaign denied using the controversial tactic.
After the initial PAC spending began earlier this month, Balint repeatedly denounced it — but refused to hold a press conference. Her campaign manager, Silver, referred to the call for a press conference a "political stunt" that she feared would open the campaign to legal liability surrounding issues of coordination with outside groups.

Silver reiterated that stance on Monday.
The Democratic primary received a jolt last week when political newcomer Sianay Chase Clifford dropped out, citing a lack of funding. That left Gray, Balint and Meyers, who is running a mostly self-funded campaign.