Why Are Liberal PACs Giving Thousands to Beth Pearce?

Nothing against our incumbent state treasurer, but she’s sailing to re-election and a bunch of liberal PACs have just made big donations to her campaign. Sure, reward a faithful officeholder and all that, but she doesn’t need the money and she’s not spending the money.

Look: Her Republican opponent, Carolyn Branagan, has filed her October 15 campaign finance report — and it shows no activity whatsoever since the previous reporting deadline of October 1. No fundraising, no spending, nothing. Before that, Branagan’s campaign had been a low-budget affair largely funded by herself. She’d raised $26,000 including $20,000 from herself, and spent $18,000. Total. On a statewide campaign.

Pearce, meanwhile, had raised $25,000 and spent a little less than 10 grand as of October 1. Her opponent has essentially given up, she drew 68% of the vote in 2018 and hasn’t been seriously challenged since her first run for the office in 2012. If she has a pulse on November 3, she’s gonna win.

During this 15-day reporting period, the VT-NEA Fund for Children and Public Education gave Pearce the maximum $4,160. The VSEA PAC has donated $1,500. VPIRG Votes chipped in $400. And she got $250 apiece from the Professional Firefighters of Vermont and the Vermont Building Trades PAC.

(She’s also received $2,000 from Emily’s List, but those are pass-through contributions from individuals giving to Pearce through the List. No conscious effort on Emily’s part.)

This shouldn’t really bother me, but it does. I mean, why?

The short answer, I’m sure, is political loyalty. Pearce is astoundingly popular in party circles, and is particularly strong on labor issues. She’s an ardent foe of converting defined-benefit public-sector pension plans to defined-contribution, and that’s a huge issue for the teachers and state employees. (One truly strange note on Pearce’s campaign reports is that she’s received $2,000 from David Coates, one of Vermont’s leading advocates of defined contribution pensions.)

There’s less direct political self-interest for VPIRG, really. It’s “only” $400, but still. It could be better invested elsewhere.

After all, she doesn’t need the money.

For that matter, neither do Auditor Doug Hoffer or Secretary of State Jim Condos, both of whom took in $2,080 donations from the VT-NEA Fund in early October.

Aren’t there any pro-labor candidates out there who could actually use some cash? Have they maxed out for David Zuckerman and Molly Gray? The Democratic candidates for state senate in Rutland County, perhaps? Some key House races, where a few more seats could make all the difference on issues like minimum wage and paid family leave?

To be fair, I haven’t scoured campaign finance reports to see where else these organizations have spent their money. Maybe they’ve maximized their tactical giving to down-ballot candidates.

But I doubt it.

So why engage in this kind of reflexive giving behavior? Are Pearce or Hoffer or Condos going to bear a grudge because you didn’t give them a donation they didn’t need?

Again, this shouldn’t bother me. Pearce is a piker compared to Sen. Patrick Leahy and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch. They routinely bank much larger donations from PACs of all sorts, and consistently keep millions in their campaign accounts that they never spend.

It’s just the way our political world works. But it makes no sense.

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