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Spending Like a Brock Star 

They're no fans of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, but Sanders and Congressman Welch are still all about the dough. They explain why.

Bernie Sanders

Published July 18, 2012 at 11:55 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

One thing was clear after Monday’s campaign finance reporting deadline: Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin) must really believe in his campaign to unseat Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.

So much so, the dude dropped $300,000 of his own loot into his campaign war chest.

More significant than what Brock raised, however, is how much he’s spent. Since his first campaign expense last December, Brock has burned through $282,269. That’s $52,673 more than he’s raised from people not named Randy Brock.

Put another way, Brock has spent $205,301 more in six months than Shumlin spent in a year and a half. Then again, not everybody’s got the entire state-government apparatus pushing his message on the taxpayer dime!

So what’d Brock buy at the campaign store? Two weeks of commercials and a crapload of consulting services. Price tag? $243,881.

In May, Brock doled out $25,000 to Ohio-based Strategy Group for Media to produce a series of television, radio and online ads. Later that month, he paid the company $90,000 to put the biographical spots on air for two weeks.

So how’d that work out for Brock?

“I believe I have gotten results. One of the things that’s been critical during this campaign is to introduce myself to the electorate. Gov. Shumlin has not had to do that,” Brock says, adding that internal polling conducted before and after the media push shows the blitz helped “close the gap.” (A Castleton State College poll in May had Shumlin ahead 60 to 27.)

By how much? He wouldn’t say.

In addition to the ad buys, Brock paid San Francisco-based consultant Bob Wickers’ firm $48,101. According to another Brock consultant, Darcie Johnston, Brock paid Wickers a $5000 monthly retainer — and additional fees for research, strategy and polling services.

Johnston herself took home checks totaling $63,022. A mere $48,000 went to her $8000-a-month fundraising retainer, she says. The rest was reimbursement for expenses she incurred.

Lastly, Brock paid the Indiana-based Prosper Group Corporation $12,808 for online services and Washington, D.C.-based Complete Campaigns $2750 for fundraising software.

With all that money headed out the door and not much coming in, is the self-funding Republican being taken for a ride?

“People can suggest what they want,” Brock says. “I’m getting value from who I’m dealing with.”

Meanwhile, Shumlin’s expense report is so light, it almost makes you believe the guy when he says he’s too focused on his job to campaign for reelection. Ah, nothing says value like incumbency.

Shummy doled out just $3864 to a trio of out-of-state consultants and another $3000 to Theseus Advisors — the Burlington consulting shop founded by Vermont Democratic Party chairman Jake Perkinson and VDP consultant Selene Hofer-Shall. His only paid staffer? Finance director Erika Wolffing, who took home her first $2114 paycheck this month.

Anyone else helping the gov get reelected? Just a handful of committed volunteers with day jobs on the fifth floor of the Pavilion Office Building.

Shummy the Money

By just about every metric — aside from self-funding — Shumlin dominated Brock in the fundraising game.

Overall, Shumlin took in $679,512 in contributions, compared with Brock’s $529,596 in contributions and self-loans. Shumlin raised $1000 or more from 212 contributors, while Brock took the same from 81. Of those, 125 maxed out with $2000 contributions to Shummy; just 39 maxed out to Brock.

The upside for Brock: room to grow.

For a populist Democrat who bemoans the influence of corporate money in politics, Shumlin counts 52 companies — more than half of them from outside Vermont — as contributors. Together, they gave the gov $77,413. Ohio-based Scotts Miracle-Gro Company and a Plano, Texas-based Rent-a-Center each gave Shummy two grand.

“Clearly because now he’s an incumbent, he does a lot of traveling for the [Democratic Governors Association] and [National Governors Association], so I would say his contacts out of state have broadened as a result,” Wolffing explains.

In the renewable-energy realm, the governor cleaned up. He took in at least $12,000 of green from wind, solar, biomass and hydro companies — not to mention another $2000 contribution from the Vermont Renewable Energy PAC. Old pal David Blittersdorf gave $2000 of his own money — plus another $4000 through two of his companies.

Shummy even managed to grab some Mickey Mouse money. Former Walt Disney Company CEO Michael Eisner and four family members with Beverly Hills addresses ponied up a collective $7000 for the gov. Now that’s just Goofy.

Eisner wasn’t the only out-of-stater giving to Shumlin. At least 145 non-Vermonters gave more than $100 to his campaign. Brock took contributions from 43 outsiders, the majority of whom hail from Florida, where Brock owns a second home and held a fundraiser this spring.

Despite his free-market rhetoric, Brock didn’t do so hot with the capitalists. He counts only 14 companies as BFFs. Together, they gave him just $12,700. Brock also raised $8500 from three health care PACs representing radiologists, physicians and hospitals.

Shumlin, on the other hand, raised $60,250 from PACs and other advocacy groups. Most of that cash came from unions. The Service Employees International Union — which has no members in Vermont but recently committed $100,000 to buy ads in support of Shumlin’s single-payer health care plan — gave him $12,000. The International Association of Fire Fighters forked over $6000. The gov also took money from corporate PACs, including $6000 from Coca-Cola and $3000 from Williston-based Pike Industries. And he raised $2000 each from Montpelier-based lobbying firms Sirotkin & Necrason and KSE Partners. KSE’s affiliated PAC chipped in another $3000.

Why’s Shummy taking money from corporations, lobbyists and PACs?

“The governor is proud to receive support from businesses and labor groups alike, in Vermont and outside of Vermont,” Wolffing said in a statement. Such groups, she says, understand that Shummy’s “focused on creating jobs” and improving the economy.

Of course, the gov’s gotta save his own job first.

The $300,000 Question

Brock’s outsized contribution to himself could be read a number of ways: commitment, desperation or just plain doing what’s necessary.

“The governor has very high name recognition. As a challenger, I did not — even though I’ve held statewide office,” the former state auditor says. “As a first-time candidate, Gov. Shumlin loaned himself a significant amount of money, and I’ve done the same.”

Indeed, Shumlin and his family donated $309,525 to his 2010 gubernatorial campaign — $275,000 of which came from his own, deep pockets.

Both men clearly have money to burn — if burning is in order — but how much? Vermont Press Bureau reporter Peter Hirschfeld wrote in May that Brock, a retired executive vice president of Fidelity Investments, has a net worth of $6 million. Shumlin did not provide the Press Bureau with an updated financial report, but a 2010 disclosure pegged his net worth at $10 million — including 17 properties.

So will the 2012 governor’s race turn into a self-funded, millionaire matchup? Not likely. Wolffing says the incumbent has no plans to donate to his own campaign, while Brock says his capacity to give is already stretched.

“I’ve done my financial disclosure, and I think it should be obvious to anyone who looks at it that I have limitations, too,” says Brock, who gave $50,000 and $35,000 to two campaigns for state auditor in 2004 and 2006, respectively. He added that he hopes his own investment will “stimulate” others to donate as well.

 Would he rule out adding to the $90,000 he gave himself in May and the $210,000 he gave himself last Thursday?

 “I’m not going to speculate about what I may or may not do,” he says. “I’m not going to rule it out, but I don’t think it’s likely. A lot of it depends on what Gov. Shumlin does.”

 Then again, back in December, Brock told Nancy Remsen at the Burlington Free Press he didn’t expect to give anything to his own campaign.

 “I believe there are enough people who know me and support me and ought to be willing to invest in my campaign,” he said at the time. “I don’t even want a whiff that I’m trying to buy my way to an election.”

Talk about a whiff-flop.

Congressmen United

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) are so fed up with the influence of money in politics that the two are raising as much money as they possibly can to make sure they’re still around next term to get money out of politics.

Wait, what?!

As we reported on Blurt, Seven Days’ staff blog, Sanders and Welch posted some pretty healthy second-quarter fundraising figures this weekend. The socialist senator took in $847,260 in the last three months, pushing his six-year election-cycle total up to $6.1 million — 92 percent of which came from out of state.

For his part, Welch raised $133,827 last quarter — 59 percent of which came from PACs — leaving him with $1.25 million in the bank.

The two incumbents’ three Republican challengers, meanwhile, raised no more than a combined $20,000.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont’s third amigo in Washington, is not up for reelection this year. But in his last race against little-known Republican Len Britton, he raised $4.9 million — 31 percent of which came from PACs. As of April, he had $1.9 million tucked under the mattress for 2016.

Asked why they felt the need to raise such serious cash against piddling opponents, spokesmen for Sanders and Welch cite the pernicious impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision on the political playing field.

Until Congress reforms the campaign finance system, Welch spokesman Scott Coriell says, Welch “will continue to raise the resources necessary to wage a competitive campaign.”

Says Sanders’ finance director Ben Eisenberg: “Bernie’s not going to be caught in a position where he’s not prepared to respond in the possible event that a Karl Rove group could come in and spend millions.”

What kind of populist congressman itching to raise dough would want to get rid of a bogeyman like that?

(Disclosure: Paul Heintz worked as Peter Welch's communications director from November 2008 to March 2011.)

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About The Author

Paul Heintz

Paul Heintz

Paul Heintz was part of the Seven Days news team from 2012 to 2020. He served as political editor and wrote the "Fair Game" political column before becoming a staff writer.


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