MONTPELIER — The newest player on Vermont’s political scene is about to drop big money to push a conservative viewpoint on network television.
Vermonters First, which registered with the secretary of state last week, is the first Republican-allied political action committee to dive into the 2012 election. And while it’s unclear who’s behind the PAC, its backers are serious enough to have funded a two-week run of TV commercials that will cost at least $70,000 to air.
“With kind of a one-party rule out there, quite frankly there are a lot of Vermonters out there who don’t feel their voices are being heard,” Tayt Brooks, a longtime Republican operative acting as treasurer of the new PAC, said Thursday.
“So Vermonters First is an entity that will allow some balance in the discussion,” he said, “... and be able to provide a message to Vermonters and a platform to talk about issues.”
Brooks won’t say who’s underwriting the group, though the donors will become public when Vermonters First files its campaign finance disclosure with the secretary of state on Sept. 15, the next filing deadline.
“You’ll obviously see that when we file that information,” he said.
Mike Schrimpf, communications director for the Republican Governors Association, wouldn’t say whether his organization — which spent nearly $1 million to try to get Brian Dubie elected governor in 2010 — is behind the PAC.
“The RGA has a policy of not discussing or previewing its campaign strategy so as to not tip our hands to our opponents,” Schrimpf said in an email Thursday. “I can tell you that we are closely monitoring the race and believe that Randy Brock is an excellent candidate who has the right experience to be a successful governor.”
Brooks, who formerly served as executive director of the Vermont Republican Party and was a commissioner in the administration of Republican Gov. James Douglas, wouldn’t comment on the content of the commercials, or whether they’ll lionize GOP nominee Brock or attack Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.
“I’m not going to get into the specifics,” he said. “Obviously we’ll be out there with a message, talking about questions that have been raised.”
He did say that Vermonters First will be focused on hot-button issues likely to be of interest to voters in November, namely health care and taxes.
“Health care and how we’re going to pay for it is one concern — the billions of dollars in new taxes that are going to have to be raised if this new single-payer health care policy is put into place,” Brooks said. “And you’re looking at property taxes that continue to increase out there as student enrollment goes down.”
Though it’s registered in Vermont, there’s no practical difference between Vermonters First and the federal super PACs springing up in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Both can raise unlimited sums from individuals and corporations, and use the money to advocate the election or defeat of a specific candidate, as long as the PAC doesn’t coordinate its activities with the candidate.
Vermont statute still contains a $2,000 cap on contributions to PACs, but Attorney General William Sorrell issued an advisory opinion this summer saying the limit is void in light of the new Supreme Court precedent.
During the Democratic primary for attorney general, a federal super PAC called Citizens for Justice and Fairness spent nearly $200,000 to aid Sorrell’s re-election.
Vermonters First will avail itself of the new rules.
“We’re going to be doing independent expenditures and will not be coordinating with candidates and will not be coordinating with state parties or other political parties out there,” said Brooks, who now runs his own consulting firm, called Brooks Strategies.
According to documents filed with WCAX, the TV ads are scheduled to begin running Monday — the same day Shumlin launches his re-election campaign.
The group has spent $54,000 to run 140 spots on WCAX over a two-week period. The 30-second commercials will run during everything from “The Price is Right” to the CBS evening news.
Vermonters First will spend an additional $10,000 to $15,000 on a one-week ad buy at WPTZ, according to paperwork filed there.
“There are a lot of issues that Vermonters care deeply about,” Brooks said. “And it’s important we ensure that Vermonters have a real robust discussion.”
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