Congratulations to Seven Days for trying to profile She Who Will Not Be Profiled, Lenore Broughton, the most influential person in Vermont politics. It’s about time someone in the news media put her under the spotlight, or at least gave it the old Bromage try. The article falls short in some important respects, and not just because of Broughton’s complete refusal to say anything to anyone who’s not under her thumb, but it was a commendable effort.
My purpose here is not to explore Broughton’s past or personality or proclivities, but to explain why I call her “the most influential person in Vermont politics.” (Among non-officeholders, let’s say.) Remember when I thought Bruce Lisman was going to throw his considerable Wall Street fortune into Vermont politics? Well, he’s gone from filling the airwaves with the sound of his voice to occasional speaking gigs at community breakfasts, and his Campaign for Vermont (Prosperity?) has been reduced to issuing position papers that get ignored by the media.
Broughton has more than filled the gap, however, with her unprecedented bankrolling of Vermonters First. How unprecedented? Broughton has already donated almost $650,000 in cash to the group. (The oft-reported $683,000 figure includes “in-kind donations,” which aren’t usually included in a campaign’s bankroll.) That’s more than one dollar for every living Vermonter. And considering that Vermonters First has already spent the lion’s share of her donations, I’m certain that Broughton will continue to write checks between now and Election Day. I wouldn’t be surprised if she tops the $1 million mark for this election cycle. But let’s just talk about what she’s spent so far.
On a national level, there’s lots of concern about the ability of people like David Koch and Sheldon Adelson to casually write eight-figure checks. Well, on a per-capita basis, a six-figure check from Broughton goes a whole lot farther than eight figures from Koch.
Earlier this year, Adelson talked about pumping $100 million into efforts to defeat President Obama. But he’s playing in a much larger pool. He’d have to spend at least $350 million on a national level to equal Broughton’s impact in Vermont.
After the jump: an even scarier calculation.
This is why I thought Bruce Lisman was so potentially dangerous: in a small state, a single motivated individual can make an outsized impact through the simple power of unlimited money.
Beyond simple Census figures, Adelson is focused on the most expensive campaign in America. Even if he were to spend $100 million on the race for President, he’ll come nowhere near the official spending of the Obama and Romney campaigns. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the two major-party candidates had spent $575 million as of October 1.
By contrast, Broughton and Vermonters First have targeted a couple of low-budget races, for auditor and Treasurer. Doug Hoffer and Vince Illuzzi have spent $104,000 as of October 15; Beth Pearce and Wendy Wilton combined to spend $208,000. That’s a total of $312,000.
Lenore Broughton has spent more than twice that much.
Now, some of that has gone into issue advertising and direct-mail advocacy for down-ticket candidates. But VF’s primary focus has been on the races for Auditor and Treasurer. That’s where the lion’s share of its money has been spent. (For a sample, do a Google search for Doug Hoffer or Beth Pearce. Above the results you’ll see VF-funded links with anti-Hoffer and anti-Pearce messages.)
Feel free to check my math, but here’s what I get. $575 million (Presidential campaigns) divided by $312,000 (Treasurer and Auditor) is roughly 1,842. The two major Presidential candidates have spent 1,842 times as much money as Vermont’s four major candidates for Treasurer and Auditor.
If Lenore Broughton has spent, say, $600,000 on those two races, then to have the same financial impact on the Presidential race, Sheldon Adelson would have to spend $1,105,200,000. That’s one BILLION, one hundred million dollars.
Ten times as much as he threatened to spend.
I don’t know how much Adelson has actually spent, whether or not he’s come close to his $100 million threat. But Lenore Broughton has already, in real dollars, made Sheldon Adelson look penny-ante.
If one or both of Broughton’s favored candidates is elected in November, she will have fundamentally changed the landscape of Vermont politics. The idea that you need a credible, qualified candidate who can attract broad support? Irrelevant, if Broughton backs the other side.
This year, Vermonters First has presented very little in terms of a political agenda, focusing largely on “restoring balance” to the one-sided power dynamics of Vermont. (Which is a blatant and, for conservatives, hypocritical request for electoral affirmative action. But never mind.) It has said very little about its own political agenda.
But if you look at Broughton’s past history, it’s clear that her own political views are far to the right. Her political donations are mainly to Tea Partiers like Michelle Bachmann, Allen West, Sharron Angle and Christine O’Connell. The “charitable” donations of the Broughton Fund have gone almost entirely to “educational” ventures of the far right. (A fact that Seven Days’ article completely obscures.) Given Broughton’s own track record, it seems certain that in the future, Vermonters First will be an advocacy group for ultraconservative causes.
And she’ll be willing and able to throw truly scary amounts of money into an all-out effort to grab the wheel of Vermont politics and spin it sharply to the right.
And that is the meaning of Lenore Broughton. She is David Koch and Sheldon Adelson to the power of ten, sitting right in our front yard.