Two years ago, the Republican State Leadership Committee funneled $370,000 into Vermont, backing candidates in close races for the Vermont House. The VTGOP won several of those seats and took away the Democrats’ supermajority status.
So far this year, the RSLC has spent a lot less. But a handful of closer-to-home moneybags have taken matters into their own hands. They’ve donated more than $100,000 to individual Republican House candidates and House Minority Leader Don Turner’s political action committee.
In the small-dollar world of State House campaigns, that’s a huge amount of money.
First, a hat tip to Green Mountain Daily’s Sue Prent, who reported on the Franklin County iteration of this phenomenon a couple weeks ago. Turns out, it’s only part of a bigger pattern. But because the money is broadly dispersed, the pattern has attracted little attention.
Two of the donors are familiar names to anyone who follows Vermont politics. The other two might be new to you.
— Lenore Broughton, the reclusive millionaire whose first major foray into state politics was the disastrous Vermonters First PAC, which spent more than a million dollars of her fortune and accomplished basically nothing.
— Fossil fuel magnate Rodolphe “Skip” Vallee, accused gasoline price-fixer, failed candidate, and ace fundraiser for George W. Bush. Rewarded for same with appointment as Ambassador to Slovakia. Despises Bernie Sanders.
— Tom and Carol Breuer, longtime conservative/religious right moneybags. Residents of Massachusetts, but in 2013 they bought a vacation home in… you guessed it… Stowe. Been donating heavily to Vermont Republican causes since then. A bit of their background, courtesy Sue Prent:
The Breuers have supported the Massachusetts Independent Political Action Committee for Working Families, (MIPAC) and the Family Research Council Political Action Committee, identified in 2010 as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Carol Breuer has also given generously to the infamous Family Research Council Action PAC.
All of these entities have focussed on undermining the rights of the LGBTQ community.
Okay, so these are the folks trying to bolster the Republican minority in the House. And, it’s fair to infer, trying to swing the GOP caucus rightward even as Phil Scott presents a moderate face to the electorate.
These four people have been tossing around thousand-dollar checks like they’re makin’ it rain at Da Club. They, and entities under their influence*, have given a total of $96,550 to Republican House candidates. On top of that, they’ve given $16,000 to House Minority Leader Don Turner’s Commonsense Leadership PAC. That’s a total of $112,550 to build the House Republican caucus.
*Companies, trusts, family members
One example of how a few big checks can have an outsized impact: in the Lamoille-Orleans district, Democrat Katherine Sims is challenging incumbent Republican Mark Higley. Sims has raised $10,788, almost entirely from small donors.
Higley has raised $9,900, but more than half of that came from The Big Four — $1,000 from Broughton, $2,000 from Vallee, and $2,000 from the Breuers. Those four donors, who live outside Higley’s district, have made him financially competitive all by themselves.
In Chittenden 7-2, Sam Handy is one of the Republicans’ best hopes to pick up a seat. He’s up against incumbent Dem Ann Pugh. Handy has raised $9,700. almost all from large donations. He took in $6,000 from the Big Four — nearly two-thirds of his campaign kitty. Thanks to them, he’s raised more money than Pugh, who’s taken in most of her warchest from small donors.
In my district, Washington 5, perennial candidate Dexter Lefavour is a longshot Republican in a reliably Democratic district (although Progressive Carl Etnier could split the liberal vote). Lefavour has raised a total of $4,675 in cash. Nearly two-thirds of that came from the Big Four.
Down in Addison-3, incumbent Republican Warren Van Wyck has raised just under $10,000, the vast majority in gifts over $100. He’s received $4,000 from the Big Four.
The pattern is repeated over and over. Candidate after candidate has received thousands from these four donors. Mary Beerworth (head of Vermont Right to Life) and Penny Dubie (wife of Brian and anti-wind activist) got $4,000 apiece. Don Turner, Monique Thurston, Valerie Mullin, Brian Keefe, Bob Plageman, Carl Rosenquist, Jason Moquin, and Stuart Lindberg each received $3,000. Many others got $2,500 or $2,000.
(Among those receiving lesser, but still substantial, amounts: $1,500 went to Michael McGarghan, the Republican candidate who sent out a Tweet calling for President Obama to be hanged as a traitor.)
For each, the Big Four money is a windfall that immediately made them financially competitive.
In recent years, the VTGOP has had a lot of trouble recruiting legislative candidates. The Big Four should provide an immeasurable boost to recruitment, since any would-be candidate can start on Day One with thousands of dollars in the kitty.
In terms of retaining the House majority, Democrats don’t have anything to worry about this year. They’re more likely to add a few seats than to lose ground. But if the Big Four is in this for the long haul, they could go a long way toward shifting the legislative balance of power.