Money in Politics

Contributions in Vermont

Common Cause Vermont (CCVT) presents here fully searchable databases of campaign contributions for the 2012 and 2010 elections.

Vermont has a reputation for progressive government, but in two important areas, state policy is the antithesis of good government: The campaign finance laws are among the weakest in the nation, and the state government ranks near the bottom in several recent studies of transparency. Common Cause of Vermont committed to minimizing the influence of money in elections and to making government more transparent.

The project has two goals: to make the information available as a public service in a format that’s comprehensive and easy to use, and to have it serve as a model for how the state system can be improved.

The information in CCVT’s database for the 2012 election, “Vermont Master Contributions Database 080512” came from the campaign finance disclosure reports the candidates filed with the Secretary of State. In some cases, the candidates sent us the same spreadsheet files they used to fill out the state disclosure reports.

Because most candidates do not use spreadsheets to track their contributions, we have to manually enter the information for each contribution by copying it from the scanned copies posted on the Secretary of State’s web site, a time-consuming process. Therefore, the information contained in “Vermont Master Contributions Database 071712” is incomplete, but it does include the contributions for the two gubernatorial candidates, some other statewide candidates, and a few Senate and House candidates. We will update the master database at the end of each week through the final reporting data, December 15.

The 2012 data base is here: “Vermont Master Contributions Database”

We added a new database on August 5, 2012 showing the donations from July 2009 to July 2011 to all PACs registered with the Vermont Secretary of State. In a week or two we hope to update this file to include donations to PACs from July 2011 to July 2012. You can access the PAC contributions file here: Contributions to Vermont PACS, 2009 - 2011.

The information in CCVT’s database, “Contributions to Vermont State Office Candidates, 2010” came from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, www.followthemoney.org. The data was then spot-checked against the campaign finance disclosure reports on file with the Secretary of State’s office (SOSO) and amended where necessary. The data from FTM was invaluable and enabled us to complete this project in much less time than otherwise would have been the case.

The 2010 database includes an analysis which shows more than one-third of the Senate received between 40 and 80 percent of their contributions from Businesses and PACs, compared to the average (17.8 percent) for all members of that body.

More cash was spent in the 2010 election than ever before, especially in the race for governor. The winner, Democrat Peter Shumlin, raised almost $1.5 million in contributions which was 12 percent more than Jim Douglas’ top year of 2008. Brian Dubie raised almost $1.8 million.

Both candidates also had the help of independent expenditures by PACs. The Democratic Governors Association and Green Mountain Future spent $1.1 million on Shumlin’s behalf, and the Republican Governors Association spent $756,000 on behalf of Dubie.

In total, the top two candidates spent $4.78 million, a 147 percent jump from 10 years ago. The expenditures by four other Democrats in the 2010 primary bring the total expenditures for the 2010 gubernatorial campaign to $6.1 million, more than four times the amount spent in 2008. Clearly, Vermont’s elections are becoming susceptible to the Big Money virus that infects Washington and casts a shadow over the integrity of elected officials.

Big Money is fueled by large donations, so it’s important to be able to easily find where they come from. Our investigation of Vermont’s campaign finance disclosure reports, however, were hampered because our laws don’t require adequate disclosure and because the pertinent web pages are inadequate. CCVT sorted the contributions into five categories—Individuals, Businesses, PACs, Candidate & Family, and Party Committees

Changes are urgently needed. Under the current system, candidates can file only physically-signed hard copies of their disclosure reports. These reports are scanned into PDF format and posted on the Secretary of State’s website. None of the information is put into a format that would allow for quick and easy searching and sorting.

Citizens who want to get a list of all the contributors to a candidate in a given election have to open seven different monthly reports each of which runs three or more pages. To get a complete list of contributions to all candidates for all 185 state offices means opening and paging through more than 1,000 documents each of which is at least three pages long.
Contributions from individuals in the 2010 election accounted for 47.3 percent of all donations, and the contributions from political parties, candidate committees and elected officials accounted for 42.1 percent. Businesses contributed 6.9 percent; PACs, Trade Associations and Nonprofits, 7.4 percent, and the Candidates & Family, 5.5 percent.

The range of contributions from Businesses and PACs as a share of total contributions in the Senate races ranged from zero for Joe Benning (R) of Caledonia County and Peter Galbraith (D) of Windham Country to 80.1 percent for Richard Sears (D) of Bennington County.

The most important contributions in the governor’s race were the $285,421 that Peter Shumlin (D) donated to his own campaign, along with the $35,618 donated by his relatives for a total of $321,039. These two donations comprise 21.5 percent of all donations to Shumlin’s campaign and dwarf the Candidate and Candidate’s Family donations to Republican Brian Dubie’s campaign of $4,250, which was 0.3 percent of his total.

Dubie received almost four times as much from Businesses as did Shumlin, $211,018 vs. $58,690, which represent 13.4 percent and 4 percent of the candidates’ total contributions respectively. Dubie also received more from PACs, Nonprofits and Trade Associations than did Shumlin, though by a much smaller margin $76,798 vs. $50,593 respectively. Various Party and Candidate Committees gave $306,439 to Dubie and $215,304 to Shumlin.

CCVT also analyzed for the overall top contributors. David Blittersdorf, founder of NRG and All Earth Renewables, was the largest single individual contributor, with contributions to candidates for various state offices totaling $19,213. In addition, NRG donated $4,000 to the Shumlin Campaign. Other top Individual contributors include Bruce Lisman of Shelburne, a retired finance executive and founder of Campaign for Vermont, $17,650, and Bill and Jane Stetson of Norwich for a combined total of $24,950. He is a filmmaker and board member of Vermont Public Radio and she is finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

The top Business contributors were AT&T, $16,900; Medco Health Solutions, a pharmaceutical management company, $15,650; and Kimball, Sherman & Ellis, a Montpelier lobbying firm, $15,600. (Steve Kimball, one of the principals of that firm, was named by Shumlin last year to be Commissioner of the Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities, and Health Care Administration (BISHCA) which regulates those industries.)

The top contributors among the PACs & Nonprofits were the Teamsters Union, $18,025; the Vermont Fund for Families, a gay and Lesbian rights advocacy group, $12,600, and the Vermont Troopers Association and the Vermont League of Conservation Voters, each with $9,250.

The top trade association contributors were the Vermont Fuel Dealers, $13,950 and the Vermont Realtors Association at $13,400, and the top Party Committee was the Jim Douglas for Governor Committee, which gave $11,000 to various Republican candidates. Altogether, the Top Contributors gave $570,685 to all candidates, which is 8.2 percent of all donations.

This batch of databases includes the following files:

Summary of 2010 contributions
VT Master Contributions – 2010 Election” which contains all contributions for all statewide candidates; for the winning Senate candidates, and for the 34 House candidates who received more than $1,000 in contributions and later won leadership positions. This database lists more than 9,250 contributions and is comprised of all the data in the secondary files listed below:
“VT Statewide Candidate Contributions – 2010” which contains the contributions to both the winning and losing General Election candidates for Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, Secretary of State and Auditor of Accounts.
“VT State Senate Contributions – 2010”
“Shumlin for Governor Contributions - 2010”
“Dubie for Governor Contributions - 2010”
“VT Top Contributors – 2010”Contributions to Vt PACs, 2009-2011

The VT House Contributions are available in two files:

  • “VT House Acinapura-Higley”
  • “VT House Hooper-Wizowaty

    All of these databases were written in Excel 2007 and can be sorted using its ‘Data’>>’Sort’ function. There is a Master Contributions database and six secondary databases for different races and categories of contributors, plus a spreadsheet showing historical trends. The “Guide and User’s Manual” contains additional analyses of the donations, along with recommendations for improving the disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures.