Gov. Peter Shumlin got all hot and bothered last week when his Republican opponent, Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin), suggested in a Vermont Public Radio debate that the governor took campaign contributions in return for special favors.
“Let me first say, Randy, that I don’t accept campaign contributions in return for anything,” Shumlin said. “This is not Chicago. Period. So to answer your question, no, I would never make a campaign contribution request — and I know you’re trying to make many of them and I’m trying to make many of them — in return for anything.”
I should certainly hope not! That would be, um, illegal.
But despite Shummy’s insistence that he don’t do nothin’ for nobody in return for campaign cash, the special-interest dough keeps rolling in. Of the $161,000 he raised last month, a full $65,000 of it came from unions, issue advocacy groups and corporations — most of which are based outside Vermont.
To put it in perspective, that’s more in special-interest cash than Brock’s entire $62,000 fundraising haul in the same period.
Granted, Brock’s not doing too hot in the money department.
Of the million dollars Shumlin has raised throughout his reelection campaign, $36,000 comes from issue advocacy groups, $54,000 from unions and a whopping $166,000 from corporations.
Which is weird, since Shummy says he doesn’t think corporations should be running the political show. Just two weeks ago, the gov was telling liberal radio host Stephanie Miller during an interview at the Democratic National Convention that “if the people vote, we win, and if the corporations vote, [the Republicans] win.”
What he didn’t say: If the corporations give, here’s where they can send a check.
To clear things up, we asked Shumlin campaign manager Alex MacLean whether the gov believes corporations are people.
“No, he does not. You’ve heard him and I say several times that he believes the Citizens United decision should be overturned,” she said.
So why does he take all that cash from corporations?
“Vermont law allows us to do so,” she said. “And we play by the rules.”
But wouldn’t he rather corporations hold on to the dough and let the people own — ahem, donate to — politicians?
“In Vermont, we think the $2000 corporation limit is fair,” MacLean said. “Again, at the federal level, he does believe they play an outsized role through the Citizens United decision.”
So just who’s sending the checks Shummy’s way?
Last month, the gov took contributions from 30 companies; prior to that, another 72 had given to his campaign. Among them are a few homegrown Vermont businesses such as Handy Toyota of St. Albans ($500), Stowe Tree Experts ($250) and Vermont Farmstead Cheese of Woodstock ($2000).
Others are a little less local: VISA ($2000), DISH Network ($2000) and Goshen Farms of Florida ($2000).
Some are somewhat in between: Five Florida-based companies owned by Pritam Singh — a real estate developer who lives part time in South Woodstock — gave Shumlin a combined $10,000. Singh and his wife, Ann Johnston, each gave another $2000 to the gov, for a grand total of $14,000.
Divining the intent of corporations who give to politicians is always a tricky thing because, of course, they’re not gonna admit to currying favor. But a number of Shumlin’s recent contributors have plenty of business before the State of Vermont.
Iberdrola Renewables ($1000) is seeking to build wind towers in southern Vermont. Rutland’s omnipresent Casella enterprises ($4000 between two companies) contract with the state. Corrections Corporation of America ($1000) takes care of Vermont inmates at a Kentucky prison. And Florida-based Rapid USA Consulting ($1000) hosted Shumlin at an EB-5 visa conference in Miami last November and, until recently, worked to secure foreign investment in Jay Peak ($2000).
But if you ask MacLean why they’re giving to Shummy, she’ll tell you, “Many of them agree with the governor’s vision and agenda in Vermont to create jobs and more economic opportunities for Vermonters.”
At least with unions and advocacy groups, you know what they’re looking for. From Shumlin, they seem to want booze, death and pot: Throughout the campaign, the gov has received $5000 from three trade groups representing alcohol wholesalers and distributors; $5000 from Patient Choices of Vermont, which supports physician-assisted suicide; and $11,000 from four groups that want weaker drug laws. And that doesn’t include the $2000 he took from Weedmaps Media, whose website connects potheads with marijuana dispensaries.
Which brings us back to that VPR debate.
Brock was specifically criticizing Shumlin for his promise to push for the decriminalization of marijuana in Vermont in a fundraising call to the head of the pro-pot group NORML, as the Burlington Free Press reported last month. In a blog post, NORML’s executive director wrote that, in his convo with the gov, Shumlin expressed a desire “to become a national spokesperson for cannabis law reforms before the Congress and Executive branch.”
Shummy’s right: We’re not in Chicago. Only in Vermont are politicians in the pocket of Big Bong.
Of course, the gov doesn’t see it that way. As Shumlin laboriously explained during the VPR debate, all he promised during that NORML fundraising call was to “go anywhere, anytime that I can get there, to fight for what I believe is right. Which is cracking down on drugs that are killing people — that are leading to crime and addiction — and decriminalizing and stopping the crazy resources and misallocation that we’re currently doing to fight small amounts of marijuana.”
Sounds like at least one Shumlin donor is getting what it paid for.
Last week, we told you about the mysterious new conservative super PAC that plunked down at least $70,000 on television advertisements backing Republican candidates and causes. With little to go on, political prognosticators speculated that the group, Vermonters First, was drawing funding from out-of-state sources, such as the Republican Governors Association or the Republican National Committee.
As it turns out, the super PAC’s sole funder is one Lenore Broughton, who hails from none other than the Queen City.
Talk about buying local!
According to the group’s first campaign finance report, Broughton donated $100,000 to Vermonters First late last month. Nearly all of that cash immediately went to a two-week ad buy: Two 15-second commercials back state treasurer candidate Wendy Wilton and state auditor candidate Vince Illuzzi — both Republicans. A third, 30-second spot, which debuted this week, rails against “the Democrats” and their rapscallion single-payer health care plan.
But who is John Galt, I mean, Lenore Broughton?
For such a wealthy Burlington donor, remarkably little is known about her.
What we do know is this: She’s the wallet behind True North Reports, a right-wing media outfit that has financed conservative radio programs and a “news” website. She’s donated more than $210,000 to federal candidates and parties in the past three election cycles — mostly to folks like U.S. Reps. Michele Bachmann, Paul Ryan and Allen West, and U.S. Sens. Jim DeMint and Marco Rubio. And she identifies herself as a “former speech/language pathologist” in an online article she wrote for True North.
We also know that she doesn’t return Seven Days’ phone calls.
Tayt Brooks, the longtime Republican political operative who runs Vermonters First, knows a bit more: “Lenore is someone who’s lived in Vermont for 40-plus years and obviously feels like many Vermonters do that there should be some balance in the discussion of these important issues and believes there should be some balance in the legislature.”
He also knows whether that $100,000 check she wrote is the sum total of her commitment to Vermonters First — or if it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Though he’s not exactly saying, it sounds like the latter.
“Lenore is very interested in making sure this project is successful,” Brooks hints. “She has said to me obviously she is willing to help out and make sure Vermonters hear a balanced discussion out there.”
Sweet Baby Jane
At an exclusive Norwich fundraiser next month, none other than James Taylor will be showering the people who donate with love. And so long as you give $2500 to President Obama’s reelection campaign, he won’t let you be lonely that night.
The October 26 fundraiser will take place at the home of Jane and Bill Stetson, who in August 2007 hosted Obama himself at their “Country Road” estate. Just last week, the New York Times reported that Jane Stetson, who serves as national finance chairwoman for the Democratic National Committee, is the fifth-biggest bundler for Obama’s reelection campaign. She’s raised $2.4 million for the prez over the past two years and nearly $4 million since 2007.
How sweet it is to be loved by Jane! Something in the way she moves?
The event is just one of 30 concerts Taylor is performing to benefit Obama’s reelect fund. If you really want to show the president he’s got a friend, you can donate $20,000 to cochair the event and attend a special reception with James Taylor.
No word on a fire-and-rain date.
Stowe Reporter and Waterbury Record publisher Maria Archangelo is starting a new job next week heading up a new community magazine division of Yellowbook.
Archangelo, who moved to Vermont in 2003 to edit the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and helped launch the Record in 2007, plans to remain in Vermont. She says she also hopes to continue serving as president of the Vermont Press Association.
Biddle Duke, who owns the Reporter and the Record, says he plans to return to day-to-day management of the papers and assume most of Archangelo’s duties.
In other news, the Burlington Free Press appears to be taking a step back from its vaunted front-page redesign, which was part of a package of changes at the paper this past June. The plan was to feature just one story on the cover — usually a local “enterprise” feature — with a large image or graphic.
But in a column that appeared in Sunday’s paper, publisher Jim Fogler wrote, “We know we are a newspaper not a magazine — we heard you loud and clear. We have focused on Page 1A, and our single copy sales patterns demonstrate readers want serious local news on the front page.”
Indeed, in recent weeks, more stories, more hard news and more copy have appeared on the Freeps cover.
In an emailed response to Seven Days, Fogler elaborated that the paper is “calibrating our design based on factors including the value of the story, the quality of the art and the newsiness of the day.
“Some days, there are two stories,” he wrote Tuesday. “Other days, like Winooski traffic circle scoop Sunday and the Deeghan scoop today, we went with a big art element and a refer to the story inside.”
Will there be a redesign of the redesign of the redesign?