Reclusive Montgomery Ward heiress Lenore Broughton, who must be referred to as “reclusive heiress” under the immutable laws of journalism, is by a longshot the most generous conservative donor in Vermont.
She is, of course, a modestly-sized frog in a tiny pond. She’s nowhere near the DeVoses or Uihleins of the world. But in Vermont, she’s got enough muscle to move our political center of gravity to the right.
Fortunately, she has no idea how to effectively spend her money. She wastes a lot of it on fruitless ventures, outmoded ideas, and candidates who are far too conservative to make any difference in public office even if they win. (What should she do instead? Read on, my friend.)
Most recent example: Broughton donated a cool $100,000 to Vermonters for Good Government Action, the thinly-veiled anti-abortion group trying to defeat Article 22. In a year when 59% of voters in goddamn Kansas refused to open the door to abortion restrictions, what hope is there of prevailing in deep blue Vermont?
You might chalk that up to unshakable belief. Broughton probably can’t help but spend heavily against reproductive rights. But how do you explain her bankrolling True North Reports, that seldom-read outpost of conservative commentary and “news”? There’s no way to know how much she spends on TNR because it’s a private venture, but it must be quite a lot. The return isn’t a bang for her bucks; it’s more like a wet fart.
Broughton first came to my attention ten years ago, when she sought to turn back the Democratic tide by creating her very own political action committee, Vermonters First. She hired none other than Tayt Brooks, failed politico and from-day-one staffer for “moderate” Gov. Phil Scott. Brooks oversaw the spending of over a million dollars to seemingly no effect. It was a Democratic wave election, with Peter Shumlin at the brief height of his popularity and Barack Obama winning a second term.
Broughton and Brooks’ primary goal was electing Wendy Wilton as state treasurer. Wilton was the Republican challenger to Beth Pearce, who’d been appointed Treasurer when Jeb Spaulding left the office to become Shumlin’s chief of staff. At the time, Pearce had never run for office before. Sadly for Wilton and Broughton, it turned out Pearce was a natural on the campaign trail. Pearce won 52% of the vote to Wilton’s 41% and cemented herself as a singularly popular figure in Democratic circles.
Broughton might as well have lit her money on fire. At least she would have generated a little heat and light.
Since then, she’s been a frequent donor on both state and national levels. She tends to back a lot of losers since there’s no way she’d lift a finger for Phil Scott. Her favorite candidates are of the strict pro-life variety. In recent years she’s made a full descent into Trumpism, which puts her even farther outside Vermont’s mainstream.
Before we get to that, let’s make a pit stop in 2016 when Broughton tried another trick to shift the body politic with infusions of cash. She and a trio of fellow conservatives made maximum donations to a bunch of Republican House candidates to try to boost the minority caucus and steer it in a more conservative direction. They also gave a combined $12,500 to then-minority leader Don Turner’s political action committee. (The other three were Gas Man Skip Vallee and Tom and Carol Breuer, who made their bones in Massachusetts bankrolling anti-gay and anti-abortion organizations and then bought a home in Stowe.)
It was an opportune moment to do this. The Democrats suffered a boatload of House retirements in 2016 including Shap Smith, Joan Lenes, Kesha Ram, Tim Jerman, Tony Klein, Donna Sweaney, and Betty Nuovo. In all, 20 House Democrats retired while only three Republicans did so. Plenty of opportunities. And in a Vermont House race, $4,000 gives you a solid foundation and makes you instantly competitive.
Well, financially at least.
Turns out, most of their hopefuls came a cropper. The winners were in deep red districts and would have won anyway. The targeted dollars may have swung a couple of races, but failed to make a noticeable dent in the Dem/Prog majority.
Here are the winners who got the full $4K or more: Turner, Carl Rosenquist, Mark Higley, Warren Van Wyck, Brian Keefe. All in safe Republican seats.
Losers, and you’re forgiven if you don’t remember any of these no-hit wonders: Sam Handy, Dexter LeFavour, Monique Thurston, Valerie Mullin, Bob Plageman, Jason Moquin, and Stuart Lindberg. Plus two people famous for reasons other than electoral success: Right-to-Lifer Mary Beerworth and “Wife of Brian” Penny Dubie.
That’s a joke, son.
Oh, and lest we forget, they four also gave $1,500 to Michael McGarghan, the guy who Tweeted that then-president Obama should be hanged. Literally. And he was running in Burlington.
Broughton wasn’t really a Trumper in 2016, but she went all-in for the guy and his minions in 2020. She donated $20.000 to “Christians for Trump,” which would be an oxymoron if we didn’t live on Bizarro World, and $10,000 after the election to the Trump Victory Fund. So presumably she’s an election truther.
She also wasted $8,400 post-election on the Senate Conservatives Fund, which was backing Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in the Georgia runoffs.
She’s been very active in the 2022 cycle, and it’s still early. On the statewide level, in addition to the $100K flushed down the anti-abortion toilet, she’s donated $1,000 to Senate candidate John KKKlar and $1,000 each to House incumbents Michael Morgan and James “Pretty Boy” Gregoire, plus $4,000 to Right for Vermont, former VTGOP chair Deb Billado’s PAC, and $1,000 to the Rutland County Republican Committee. She’s also given a paltry (by her standards) $1,500 to the VTGOP this year.
Nationally, she’s donated $44,600 to Republican candidates and another $34,500 to national Republican organizations — most notably, $10,800 to House Freedom Action and $2,100 to the House Freedom Fund, the orgs that bring you the likes of Jim Jordan, Lenore Boebert, and Paul Gosar.
Three of her federal candidates have already gone down in flames: Mo Brooks, Christina “Mayonnaise” Nolan, and Ericka Redic. She’s also bankrolling Herschel Walker, Harriet Hageman (just defeated Liz Cheney), Minnesota extremist Jeremy Munson, Jim Bognet of Pennsylvania, and Missouri’s Eric Schmitt. Well, at least she didn’t back world-class creepster Eric Greitens.
That’s $187,600 to conservative pols and causes in 2022 alone, and I’m sure she’s just getting started. Again, you see a clear pattern: She’s largely supporting those who are doomed to defeat or don’t need her support.
You may well ask, “Okay, smart guy, what should she do with her money instead?” The answers largely depend on a measure of self-awareness that she’s incapable of, but here goes.
First, and she may be doing this already, but support conservative candidates at the local level. This has been key to conservative success over the past four decades. She could do this with sofa-cushion change.
Second, boost her support for the VTGOP. If she doesn’t trust Paul Dame to spend her money effectively, and why would she, then create endowed positions. Pay full freight for an executive director, candidate recruiter, and a really sharp data person. And insist on final approval of all hires.
Third, and I’ve mentioned this before, but kill True North Reports and invest the money in a conservative counterpart to the extremely effective Emerge Vermont.
Fourth, instead of wasting money on sure winners and doomed losers, target reasonable Republicans in swing districts. That breed is almost extinct, but she has the resources to fund a breeding and reintroduction program.
Finally, a mindset that underpins all these suggestions and sets the proper frame of mind for other good investments: Temper your expectations. Realize that Vermont is never going to be as conservative as you want, and instead try to move it incrementally rightward.
There are good people around who could productively advise her. Phil Scott for starters. Otherwise, how about Neale Lunderville, Corey Parent, Randy Brock, Joe Benning, Patricia McCoy, Heidi Scheuermann, Kurt Wright, and Jeff Bartley?
I offer this advice secure in the knowledge that Broughton would never, ever adopt any of it. If she did, then I’d be responsible for turning her into that rarest of beasts, the effective Republican kingmaker. I’d hate to have that hanging on my conscience like a dead albatross.