With more than a year until the midterms, Vermont’s congressional delegation already sits on millions
More than a year before the next federal election, all three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation have several million dollars at their disposal, but both Sen. Patrick Leahy and Congressman Peter Welch are not raising money at the same pace as they did in previous cycles.
That’s according to the latest quarterly filings with the Federal Election Commission, which were due Oct. 15. The reports cover campaigns’ spending and fundraising from the beginning of July through the end of September.
VPR’s Henry Epp looked into the Vermont congressional delegation's latest campaign finance filings and spoke about them with Anna Van Dine on VPR’s daily news podcast, The Frequency. Hear the full episode here.
Anna Van Dine: Did you find anything interesting?
Henry Epp: I did. First of all, even though we’re over a year away from an election, fundraising and political spending is still going on all the time, and that’s pretty typical. And all three of our members of Congress — Patrick Leahy, Bernie Sanders and Peter Welch — maintain pretty significant amounts of money in their campaign accounts. Like I said, this isn’t unusual, and compared to some lawmakers who are facing competitive races next year, they don’t actually have that much money on hand.
All right, so why don’t we start with Leahy, since he’s up for re-election next year, although he hasn’t announced whether he’ll run again. Does his fundraising tell us anything about his plans for next year?
Well, there’s a lot of speculation about whether or not Leahy will run for another 6-year term. He’s 81 years old, his wife Marcelle was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2019, and she underwent treatment earlier this year. But Leahy still hasn’t given any indication as to whether or not he’s going to run.
But these campaign filings show he’s not raising nearly as much as he did at this point in the last cycle before he was re-elected, which was back in 2015. In that quarter, he raised over $442,000. This quarter, he raised about half of that: $227,000. But he still has over $2 million sitting in his campaign account.
I called up Leahy’s campaign manager, Carolyn Dwyer, to ask about this. She acknowledged that Leahy is doing less fundraising this time around, but she said that’s not an indication of his plans for next year.
“The reality is, 2021 is radically different than 2015," Dwyer said. "With a 50-50 Senate and an ambitious agenda by the Biden administration, his focus is simply on the legislative and appropriations process."
Leahy is of course the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which means he has a lot of say as to how the federal government spends its money, and therefore, he gets a lot of donations from various interest groups and corporations.
I feel like you’re hinting at something here.
Well, yeah. I like looking through to see who gave Leahy what kind of money. So, some things that stood out to me in this quarter: Leahy received money from the American Dental Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Also, Amazon, Facebook, Samsung, and Disney. He also received about 40 different donations from people who listed their employer as Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed Martin, like the defense contractor?
Yeah. And many of those donations were for $1,000 or more, so not insignificant. Lockheed manufactures the F-35 fighter jet, some of which are based in Burlington. When I asked Carolyn Dwyer about these donations, she said this is no different than past election cycles, and that Leahy has a long-term relationship with the company.
OK, so that’s Leahy. What about Sen. Sanders, who’s not up for re-election next year?
Right, he’s not up until 2024. But he has more money on hand than Leahy and Congressman Peter Welch combined. Do you want to guess how much?
OK, so Leahy has at least $2 million, so it’s got to be more than $2 million, it’s probably more than $4 million. Upwards of $6 million?
That’s right. He has $8.7 million in his Senate campaign account. And in this most recent quarter, he raised over $1.4 million. That’s mostly from small dollar donations, so people giving $5 or $10 a month. This continues the model Sanders became famous for during his presidential campaigns. And clearly, it’s still working for him. He spent about $1 million last quarter, mostly on things like rent, utilities, salaries, flights and car rentals.
Sanders also still has an account from his 2020 presidential campaign. It has over $1.4 million in it. But there hasn’t been much activity there. The last notable thing was a $350,000 gift to the think tank run by members of his family, that was back in April. VPR reported on that back in the summer. There hasn’t been anything like that since then.
OK, so those are our senators. What about our congressman, Rep. Peter Welch?
He has over $2 million in his account, and he brought in $52,000 this quarter, which is a bit lower than what he raised at this time in the last cycle before he was up for re-election. So, that was in 2019. But he has about the same amount of money on hand as he did then.
This quarter, he received plenty of donations from small donors, but also some larger donations from corporate PACs — $5,000 from Home Depot for example — as well as several large donations, $1,000 or more, from the dairy industry: Dairy Farmers of America, Land O'Lakes, and the National Milk Producers Federation.
Vermont’s dairy industry of course has been struggling, and Welch has been sympathetic to the industry. In fact, earlier this year, he introduced a bill that would ban companies from marketing non-dairy products as “milk.” So, think almond milk or oat milk. That legislation has not been acted on in Congress yet.
As for Welch’s spending, I didn’t find that much of interest. He did make a $2,500 contribution to Emerge Vermont, which works to elect Democratic women in the state. He also spent $22 on “parade supplies.”
I’m not sure what that means, but that was what it was listed as.
Anyways, parade supplies aside, why should we care about all of this money?
Well, it’s a reminder of how political campaigns work in this country. Even a year out from an election, candidates are raising and spending money all the time. And interest groups and corporations are giving regularly to lawmakers who have sway over government spending and policy, even if they’re not in competitive districts. And since this information is public, it’s worth paying attention to.
The next filing deadline is at the end of January. I for one will be watching to see whether Leahy or Welch’s fundraising picks up a bit as we head into the midterms, and to see what that might tell us about their re-election plans.