GOP Super PAC Focusing On Down Ticket Races

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A Vermont based Republican Super PAC is on track to spend $1 million during the 2012 campaign and the group is putting a lot of its energy into the race for State Treasurer.

The GOP Super PAC is called Vermonters First and it’s bankrolled by Lenore Broughton of Burlington. The group has raised just over $684,000 for this campaign cycle and all but $900 has come from Broughton.

In the race for Treasurer, Democrat Beth Pearce has out raised her Republican opponent, Wendy Wilton by more than a two to one margin, but that advantage has been neutralized by the spending of Vermonters First.

The group has already spent several hundred thousand dollars on TV ads that promote Wilton and GOP Auditor candidate Vince Illuzzi and it’s likely that additional money will be spent on these two candidates in the coming weeks.

Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says the group has taken on a role usually left to the State Republican Party.

"So this could be a precursor of something we will see in future election cycles as long as that interpretation of the First Amendment holds," said Davis. "Extremely wealthy individuals either one or a few individuals, funding an organization that is really not subject to the same type of contribution limits that would be the case with the state parties."

And Davis thinks there’s a good reason why Vermonters First is concentrating on the race for Treasurer.

"If Wilton were to be elected Treasurer, Republicans see the possibility that she could use the Treasurer’s office as a platform to raise issues critical of the Shumlin Administration," said Davis. "For example, calling a press conference to claim that the Administration’s plan for financing health care in Vermont would jeopardize the state’s long term financial stability."

Middlebury College political science professor Bertram Johnson thinks the Super PAC spending in the Treasurer’s race could definitely have an impact.

"Spending usually helps the most for candidates that have low name recognition and it helps them get their name out," said Johnson. "If candidates are already well known additional spending has a smaller and smaller effect on actual votes."

UVM political science professor Garrison Nelson thinks Vermonters First has written off Republican candidates running for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House and Governor. But he thinks the group could be active in these top of the ticket races two years from now.

"This is the test run," said Nelson. "If they can win two victories in two down ballot offices with this kind of spending we can then look for another major up tick for the higher offices two years from now."

Progressive Don Schramm is also a candidate in this contest. That raises the possibility that no candidate will receive 50 percent of the vote. If that happens, the 2013 Legislature will elect the next state Treasurer.

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