Monthly Archives: July 2012

Who wants to know?

It is impressive in both its duration and its breadth, and industry experts say it could well have cost as much as $30,000 to produce.

But no one so far is willing to take credit for the 19-minute political poll that was out in the field as of last Wednesday.

The telephone survey seeks to gauge public opinion on issues ranging from the state of theVermont economy to the sincerity of Sen. Bernard Sanders’ war against Burlington gasoline sellers: Cheap political stunt? Or noble war?

Someone wants to know. But who?

It’s likely not a Democrat.

Verbiage employed in the poll questions comes straight out of the GOP playbook. For instance, one ‘do you agree/disagree’ question asks whether “it is fiscally irresponsible for the Vermont Legislature to increase the state budget three times faster that Vermont’s household income is growing?”

And this: Agree/disagree – “It was right for Gov. Peter Shumlin to use his political influence to stop the $21 million from being returned to ratepayers.”

Or: “Would you be more or less likely to support a candidate if they wanted to keep the cost of single-payer health care a secret until after the election.”

It sounds like the stuff of a push poll, or perhaps some message testing. But Democratic and Republican operatives queried about the source of the poll say the survey likely wouldn’t have wasted time on questions dealing with statewide races – which it did – if it was itself a piece a political propaganda.

The poll includes an approve/disapprove on the performance of Gov. Peter Shumlin, as well as favorable/unfavorable on every Democratic and Republican candidate in a statewide race, except for lieutenant governor.

And it goes into impressive granularity on some Statehouse issues, including whether people would support/oppose the possible expansion of the sales tax to include “services provided by carpenters, auto mechanics, contractors and accountants.”

The poll even looks for windows into the psychology of its respondents, asking whether they agree/disagree that it’s “harder for parents to pass on their values to their children,” or that “my personal financial gain comes at the expense of those around me.”

Experts say that depending on how many people were called and the methodology used to get respondents, the poll could have cost as little as $10,000 and as much as $30,000.

The campaigns of both Shumlin and Randy Brock said it’s not them. Jake Perkinson at the Vermont Democrat Party said there’s nothing happening poll-wise there, and Republican Minority Leader Don Turner and GOP Chairman Jack Lindley said neither the party apparatus nor a House or Senate PAC is responsible for the survey.

A few other PACs – including one operated by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce – said it wasn’t them. The Bruce Lisman outfit Campaign forVermontalso denied responsibility. And no news outlet worth its salt would have sunk to the results-skewing phraseology seen in this survey.

Could the Republican Governors Association finally be testing the Green Mountain waters? Is some yet-unannounced PAC laying the groundwork for a late-summer offensive?  Or is someone being less than forthright – a condition that on occasion afflicts political strategists during this stage of the electoral cycle.

We’ll keep a close eye on the bank designation forms being filed at the Secretary of State’s office – anyone raising for spending more than $500 on political activity has to file one within 10 days.

The next campaign-finance disclosure deadline, Aug. 15, may also offer some clues. And maybe, just maybe, the person footing the bill for this poll will be willing to offer a peek at the results.

Sorrell makes it official: Super PACs fair game in 2012

Rarely do prosecutors give the go-ahead to violate state laws. But in an advisory opinion issued Wednesday afternoon, Attorney General Bill Sorrell let it be known that he won’t be enforcing aVermont statute that imposes $2,000 contribution limits on independent-expenditure political action committees.

While he supports the limits in concept, Sorrell said recent federal court decisions render Vermont’s statute constitutionally indefensible. Sorrell’s advisory opens the door to unlimited independent expenditures in poltiical races this year, heralding the arrival here of the same statutory landscape that has inspired the creation of super PACs in federal races.

“I remain deeply troubled by Citizen United’s unduly cramped understanding of the potential for corruption caused by the flow of large sums of money through all types of PACs in elections,” Sorrell said.

But the state of Vermont, he said, can’t go its own way on this one. Montana recently sought to uphold state limits on contributions to PACs, Citizens United notwithstanding, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck them down.  

Enforcing the $2,000 limits on PACs that have no coordination with the candidates themselves, Sorrell said, would spawn costly, and unwinnable, legal battles for Vermont.

“By announcing the office’s position on the issue, it is my goal to provide advance guidance to PACs and all participants in this election cycle and take meaningful steps to avoid potentially costly litigation,” he said.

We’re back!

Forgive us – some technical difficulties had us down and out for a couple weeks, but we’re up and running now. Come back often for all sorts of campaign-related updates.

Candidates to divulge campaign war chests

When candidates for political office unveil their fundraising totals next Monday, the state’s best-known political scientist will have his eyes peeled on two races in particular.

The influence of money, according to former Middlebury College professor Eric Davis, will be most keenly felt in the Democratic primary for attorney general and the gubernatorial contest between Peter Shumlin and his Republican rival Randy Brock.

In the race for attorney general, Davis says the significance won’t lie in total dollars raised, but in the difference between the sizes of the candidates’ war chests.

Challenger TJ Donovan has picked up a slew of key labor endorsements, nods that should aid his fund-raising efforts. Seven-term incumbent Bill Sorrell, meanwhile, has the backing of some high-profile members of the old guard with strong connections to well-heeled donors.

“I think if one out-raises other by 50 percent or more, that extra money will make a big difference in the last six weeks before the primary,” Davis says.

Davissays he doesn’t anticipate much of a mass media push from either candidate leading up the Aug. 28 vote. But additional capital resources for labor-intensive field operations focused on voter identification and turnout, he says, could tip the scales for one candidate.

In the governor’s race,Davissays he’ll be far more interested in the numbers posted by Brock than Shumlin. Shumlin has already proven his ability to attract checks, raising more than $1 million in the last cycle.

“My sense is that Brock doesn’t have to match Shumlin, but to be competitive he needs to raise somewhere between $750,000 and $1 million by Election Day,”Davissays.

Based on an analysis of past cycles,Davissays that means Brock will have to be about halfway there by Monday’s disclosure deadline.

“If he’s somewhere between $350,000 and $450,000, then he’s on track,” Davis says. “If he’s less than $300,000, than that’s cause for concern from Brock’s point of view.

On the same reporting deadline in 2010, Republican Brian Dubie posted $943,000 in fund-raising totals, compared to only $418,000 for Shumlin, who at the time was still embroiled in a five-way Democratic primary. Shumlin’s total included a six-figure personal loan.

There’s been no sign yet of any presence from the RGA or DGA, two groups that spent heavily on behalf of their parties’ candidates in 2010. By July 15 of 2010, the RGA’s political action committee, Green Mountain Prosperity, had already raised $159,000 for their pro-Dubie PAC.

McKibben endorses Zuckerman

David Zuckerman, farmer and former House member who is running for the Senate in Chittenden County, has won the support of Vermont’s best-known environmentalist, the campaign announced Monday.

Bill McKibben, resident scholar at Middlebury College and founder of, says Zuckerman would be a “real asset in the Vermont Senate.”

“I have known David Zuckerman for a number of years and he is one of the most promising environmental political figures I know,” McKibben said in a written statement.

Zuckerman’s running in the Democratic primary, but the long-time Progressive hopes to run in the general election as a D/P fusion candidate.

Here’s the full news release:

HINESBURG, VT – In the crowded democratic primary for the Chittenden County State Senate race former State Representative David Zuckerman has received the endorsement from Vermont’s most famous environmental activist.

Bill McKibben, founder of and resident scholar at Middlebury College lent his name to Zuckerman’s campaign saying, “I have known David Zuckerman for a number of years and he is one of the most promising environmental political figures I know. He will be a real asset in the Vermont Senate.”

While serving in the legislature, Zuckerman was influential promoting renewable energy including geothermal, solar and wind energy development. During the debate on tax rates for wind power Zuckerman was key to keeping the rates low by leading a tri-partisan coalition to fend off the highest rates in the nation. Zuckerman also regularly earned 100% voting records in scorecards from VPIRG and the VT League of Conservation Voters.

McKibben’s support comes with a call for action, “We do not have time to wait. Electing David Zuckerman to the Vermont Senate will help spur more active environmental, sustainable agriculture and other important legislation. Please support David.”

Zuckerman says this endorsement means a lot so early in the campaign. “I was an Environmental Studies Major at UVM. I learned how critical our energy policy is to our future. I have successfully worked on these issues for years and have looked to Bill for ideas and solutions. I am honored to have his support, it is a clear signal to Vermonters who have strong environmental convictions.”