With the March 6 election fast approaching, the leading candidates for mayor of Burlington are stepping up the attacks — and it's all about the Benjamins.
Republican Kurt Wright criticized Democrat Miro Weinberger last week for jetting to Washington, D.C., for a fundraiser that netted $8000. Wright's campaign spokesman said Weinberger was bringing outside money and "Washington politics" to a local race that should be all about Burlington, and pledged that Wright will not accept any contributions from out-of-state donors.
But it turns out that Wright, a city councilor who also represents Burlington's New North End in the Vermont House, has taken outside money in the past — and now he's on the defensive trying to explain the difference.
According to public campaign reports, Wright raised $850 from four out-of-state corporate political action committees for his 2010 campaign for state representative. He accepted $200 each from Pfizer PAC in New York City; Anheuser-Busch Co. PAC in Whitehouse Station, N.J.; and ENPAC (the corporate PAC for Vermont Yankee owner Entergy Corp.) in Jackson, Miss. He also accepted $250 from GlaxoSmith Kline PAC in Phoenix, Ariz.
The Weinberger campaign, which described its D.C. fundraiser as a gathering of Vermont "ex-pats" and family friends, dug up the same information and is now accusing Wright of hypocrisy.
"Just this week, Kurt Wright boasted of his campaign pledge not to take money from out of state or from political action committees," said Mike Kanarick, a Weinberger campaign spokesman. "Yet, just a little more than one year ago, Wright accepted multiple out-of-state and PAC contributions. The hypocrisy is staggering and offers yet another example of Kurt Wright saying one thing in Burlington and doing the opposite when he thinks no one is watching."
While $850 isn't a lot of money, the Weinberger camp points out that Wright only raised $4374 for his 2010 statehouse campaign — and $1319 of that was a holdover from his 2008 campaign. That year, Wright finished first out of three candidates running for the two-seat district.
Reached by phone on Friday, Wright said there's a difference between raising outside money for a mayoral campaign and for a state rep race.
"We're having a race to lead the city of Burlington, as opposed to representing a small district in Montpelier," Wright said. "The race for mayor should not be controlled by out-of-state interests."
But it's OK to have state legislators controlled by them?
"I think most legislators take money from those groups," Wright replied. "The state rep race, when you look at the money I raised, it's a tiny amount of money. It's a few thousand dollars. Here we're talking about Miro raising and spending, I don't know, $80,000. I'm going to be spending $40,000 to $50,000. I think it's different than spending $3000 or $5000 in a race, where it's a tiny little race where you're going into neighborhoods and putting up signs and stuff, as opposed to a big race like this. You have much more influence in a race like this."
Wright said the main difference is that he didn't solicit those out-of-state checks, whereas Weinberger went to D.C. looking for money.
"I didn't ask for it and it had no influence on me whatsoever in any votes that I cast," Wright said. "I mean, anyone who has given me money, I've cast votes that haven't been the way they wanted sometimes. So I didn't solicit any money from out of state. Never asked for it."
Photo by Andy Bromage; Kurt Wright left, Miro Weinberger right.