Will Super PACs Spend in Vermont?

08/28/12 7:34AM By Bob Kinzel
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Both incumbent Governor Peter Shumlin and his Republican challenger Randy Brock say they would support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United.  And both Shumlin and Brock are also rejecting an agreement that could help keep most super PAC money out of their election.

A number of national Super PACS have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the presidential race and a half dozen U.S. Senate contests.

But one place you won't find them is in one the most closely watched Senate races in the country. The contest is in Massachusetts where Republican incumbent Scott Brown is being challenged by Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Individual campaigns, by law, are not allowed to communicate in any way with these Super PACS, so Brown and Warren agreed on a novel approach.

Under their agreement, if a SuperPAC comes in and launches a media campaign critical of one candidate, the candidate being helped by the Super PAC has to donate half of the media purchase to a charity of the other candidate's choice.  So far it's worked.

Alex MacLean is Shumlin's campaign manager. She says the Brown Warren agreement might work in a high spending race but she thinks there are problems with this approach in Vermont where a $600,000 Super PAC media buy could decimate a candidate's treasury.

"Under the Warren-Brown agreement a candidate would have to give every penny they have to an organization of the opponent's choice," said MacLean. "In Vermont where $300,000 is an amount that a candidate may have in the bank it just wouldn't be workable."

GOP candidate Brock also doesn't like the idea but for different reasons.

"I can't countenance the kind of agreement that was done in Massachusetts that effectively has candidates giving away money to charities chosen by their opponent," said Brock. "It's absolutely contrary to what those small donors in Vermont have given their money to do based on something over which the candidates really have no control."

Does this mean that Super PACS will inundate the airwaves in Vermont with negative political ads in the gubernatorial race ?  Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis thinks the answer is no.

"Where the outside groups tend to spend a lot of money is in a competitive race where the candidate they're trying to help has shown the ability to raise enough money on his or her own to be a credible candidate," said Davis. "So what the national organizations are doing in this cycle is focusing first on the presidential race and second on U.S. Senate races in 7 to 10 states that will determine control of the Senate."

Davis says private health insurance companies that oppose Shumlin's single payer plan will probably wait until the Legislative session to spend money to try to defeat the proposal.

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