Abortion-rights campaign poised to spend heavily in Vermont election

A person holds a sign in front of the Statehouse at a rally in May supporting Proposal 5, a constitutional amendment that would further protect abortion rights in Vermont. A coalition of organizations supporting Prop 5 is showing the most money in the bank after Friday's campaign finance disclosure deadline. File photo by Shaun Robinson/VTDigger

The statewide campaign with the most money in the bank this election cycle isn’t backing a candidate — it’s the coalition of organizations working to pass Proposal 5, a constitutional amendment that would further protect abortion rights in Vermont.

That’s according to new campaign finance disclosures filed with the Secretary of State’s Office ahead of a Friday night deadline. The latest filings provide the first glimpse at fundraising and spending data for statewide and legislative candidates since March 15 — and, in some cases, since they started campaigning. The filings land with early voting already underway ahead of the primary election on Aug. 9.

Proposal 5, also known as the Reproductive Liberty Amendment, won’t appear on ballots until the general election in November. But the campaign promoting it has already amassed a formidable war chest: Vermont for Reproductive Liberty, a super PAC supporting the amendment’s passage, took in $370,203 in the last period and a total of $552,410 this election cycle. It has spent $71,396 since March 15, leaving it with $384,942 in the bank.

Individual donors make up about 14% of those contributions. But the bulk of the super PAC’s funding comes from the Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund, at $200,000, and the American Civil Liberties Union, at $100,000. An additional $20,000 contribution from Arizona-based People for Progressive Governance landed on May 4, two days after Politico first published the leaked Supreme Court opinion signaling that Roe v. Wade was about to be overturned. 

The filing indicates that Vermont for Reproductive Liberty is poised to spend heavily on advertising as November approaches. A digital campaign has been underway since last fall, and the latest filing includes payments totaling more than $14,000 to GMMB, a prominent Washington, D.C.-based political communications firm.

The PAC exists solely to secure the passage of Proposal 5, according to Harry Chen, a former Democratic state representative and Vermont health commissioner who serves as the group’s treasurer. It has no employees and contracts with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England to carry out the campaign. (Other organizations listed on the campaign’s website include Alliance for a Better Vermont and the League of Women Voters of Vermont.)

Amendments to the state constitution are “few and far between,” Chen wrote in an email. “The last one was in 2010. Given this, there is a lot of public education that is required to accomplish our goal. This includes broad media which is costly.”

Toll maintains lead in lieutenant governor race

In the crowded Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, Kitty Toll remains the top fundraiser. The former state representative brought in $82,799 during the last period, bringing her total raised throughout the campaign to $199,200. 

Toll had carved out an early lead in fundraising and counted several former colleagues from the Legislature as prominent donors. This period, her campaign has spent heavily, directing $108,372 — more than she took in — largely to major media buys. 

Toll is the only candidate in the race so far to purchase television ads. According to the latest filing, the campaign has spent $71,410 on mass media, about two-thirds of its total expenditures this period, including five-figure buys on WCAX and WPTZ. Toll’s campaign finished the period with $84,386 on hand.    

Trailing Toll is former Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, who in February launched his campaign to get his old job back. Zuckerman raised $74,582 during the last period, bringing his total contributions since launching his campaign to $166,899. 

In recent months, Zuckerman also spent more than he brought in, putting $88,193 toward expenses including consulting fees and staff salaries. (While Zuckerman, too, has produced video ads, no television buys appear on his filing.) The campaign had $64,392 cash on hand as of Friday, including $3,729 carried over from Zuckerman’s last campaign.

Since mid-March, nonprofit executive Patricia Preston has raised $46,515 in her campaign for lieutenant governor and spent $38,097. Preston, who launched her campaign in January, had $88,178 cash on hand — more than both Toll and Zuckerman — as of Friday.

Rep. Charlie Kimbell, D-Woodstock, also vying for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, raised $19,276 since mid-March and $62,913 since launching his campaign in January. He spent $36,062 in the past three months, and had $22,063 on hand as of Friday.

Across the aisle, Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, has raised just $5,956 since mid-March and $14,131 total since launching his campaign in January. He has spent $5,966 this period. 

Running against Benning in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor is Gregory Thayer, who formerly chaired Rutland County’s Republican party. Thayer has raised $2,028 since launching his campaign in January, and spent $1,288.

Close match-ups in attorney general and secretary of state races

When former Attorney General TJ Donovan announced on May 5 that he’d be vacating his post as Vermont’s top prosecutor, Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault waited one day before announcing that he would run for Donovan’s seat. But Charity Clark, Donovan’s former chief of staff who entered the race 10 days later, has so far outraised her Democratic primary competitor. Clark has brought in $82,673 and spent $17,400, leaving her with $65,273 cash on hand.

Thibault has raised ​​$76,576 and spent $18,967, closing out June with $57,609 in the bank. Of that, $12,283 came from Thibault himself or his immediate family.

Shortly after Secretary of State Jim Condos announced in February that he would retire at the conclusion of his term, his deputy, Chris Winters, began campaigning for the seat. Since mid-March, Winters has raised $39,638 and spent $22,278. Winters had $38,315 cash on hand as of Friday.

Winters’ top donors include the Vermont Association of Realtors, which contributed $4,210, the maximum allowed. Winters also counts two retiring statewide office holders as top donors: Condos and Treasurer Beth Pearce, each of whom contributed $500.

Running against Winters for secretary of state is Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, who raised and spent nearly identical amounts to Winters this period after launching her campaign more than a month after the last deadline. Copeland Hanzas raised a total of $39,111 and spent $22,370. She finished the period with $16,742 cash on hand.

Copeland Hanzas, who has served in the Vermont House since 2005 and chaired the House Committee on Government Operations for the past two sessions, counts several current and former lawmakers among her contributors, including Rep. Janet Ancel, D-Calais ($500); former House Speaker Shap Smith ($500); and Rep. Becca White, D-Hartland ($400).

Montpelier City Clerk John Odum, who joined the secretary of state’s race one day before the last filing deadline in March, had not filed his July 1 disclosure by Friday’s midnight deadline.

Uncontested primaries for treasurer and governor

Vermont’s former financial regulation commissioner, Mike Pieciak, is running unopposed in the Democratic primary for state treasurer. Since launching his campaign in early May, he has raised $113,431 in campaign contributions and spent $24,440, leaving him with $88,991 in the bank. Of that, $6,012 came from Pieciak himself or his immediate family.

Pieciak’s top donors include Pearce, the treasurer, who said she would not seek reelection after receiving a cancer diagnosis earlier this year. Pearce endorsed Pieciak the day he announced his candidacy and contributed $500 to his campaign, plus another $4,000 through her campaign committee. Former Attorney General Bill Sorrell, whose 2012 reelection campaign Pieciak managed, gave his former operative $1,000 through his dormant campaign committee.

Housing and drug policy advocate Brenda Siegel, too, is running unopposed in the Democratic primary for governor. Siegel, who announced her run on May 2, has raised $40,595 and spent $8,664, leaving her with $31,931 on hand.

Gov. Phil Scott only announced his intention to run for reelection in mid-May and said that he didn’t plan to campaign until after August’s primary election. But in recent months, the Republican has already raised $36,861, bringing his total for this campaign cycle to $40,041. However, Scott’s filing shows he will have a sizable sum from past campaigns, $272,274, at his disposal this fall.

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Mike Dougherty

About Mike

Mike Dougherty is a senior editor at VTDigger leading the politics team. He is a DC-area native and studied journalism and music at New York University. Prior to joining VTDigger, Michael spent two years as a program coordinator for the Vermont Humanities Council. Before moving to Vermont in 2015, he spent seven years managing recording operations for the oral history nonprofit StoryCorps, assisted Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas, and contributed to the Brooklyn-based alt-weekly L Magazine.

Email: [email protected]

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