In Ironic Twist, Vt. Super PAC Aims To Limit Campaign Spending

07/18/12 5:50PM By John Dillon
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AP File/Toby Talbot
Todd Bailey, left, and Bob Stannard, of Vermont priorities, stand in front of the Statehouse in Montpelier in February.

A new campaign organization known as a "Super PAC" is now part of the Vermont political landscape.

The creators of the newly formed "Priorities PAC" say they'll back liberal causes and candidates, as well as efforts to reduce the influence of money in campaigns.

Even the organizers admit the irony of it. That's because this new Super PAC hopes it isn't around for long. The organizers say a big part of its mission is to support candidates who want to limit Super PACs.

Bob Stannard is the treasurer of the new Priorities PAC. Stannard, a lobbyist and former lawmaker, says big money has too much influence over elections. He says the new Super PAC's mission is to curb that power.

"Like all Super PACS, the idea is to participate in the electoral process to help elect candidates who can help advance issues that you find important," he says. "And one of the issues that we find important is the elimination of Super PACs."

Priorities PAC would be Vermont's first Super PAC. Stannard says the new organization wants to be ready in case Governor Peter Shumlin's efforts to form a single payer health plan comes under attack from more conservative Super PACs.

"And so the question is, do you wait until it happens, or do you be proactive?" he says. "And we decided it makes a lot of sense to position ourselves to be ready for outside influence coming into the state of Vermont."

Super PACs are technically known as "independent expenditure campaigns." They are allowed under federal court decisions to raise unlimited amounts money from individuals, corporations, unions or other groups, and then spend unlimited sums for or against candidates.

They are not allowed to coordinate with a candidate's campaign, or to give directly to a candidate. They must disclose their donors to the Federal Elections Commission.

Stannard says the organization will wait until after the August primary to decide if it will get involved in the 2012 campaigns. He says he hopes the group can raise at least $100,000 to get started.

Jack Lindley, the chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, says he doesn't know if Super PACs aligned with the GOP will join the campaign arms race in Vermont.

"You know, it really depends on the circumstances," he says. "Certainly there's the potential for one. There's many, many issues that stick in the craw of some people and if a bunch of them want to get together and they want to create a Super PAC they can surely do it. I mean, there's nothing to prevent that."

Todd Bailey, a Montpelier lobbyist and consultant to the organization, says the new Super PAC is also testing the limits of Vermont election law.  

"And so this filing is as much about being prepared to do electoral work as it is to get clarity that needs to be provided for everybody in the state on these types of entities," he says.  

Secretary of State Jim Condos says he will review the organization's paperwork and will probably consult with the Attorney General's office to see if it complies with Vermont law.

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