September 5th, 2006

Vermont Business Coalition PAC Takes Friendly Fire — And Deserves Every Round

by Philip Baruth

Okay, so put down that stack of articles intent on overhyping Democratic gains in November, in order to allow anything less than an across-the-board sweep to be portrayed as weakness at the ballot box.

It’s seductive, we know. But we’ve got trouble closer to home: it’s mushroom-PACing season.

What’s a mushroom PAC? VDB’s quaint name for the temporary conduits used to fund last-minute negative ad campaigns. They sprout a few months before each crucial election, and then disappear a few months after.

Case in point: The Vermont Business Coalition and Political Action Committee. VBC sprang into existence about ten days ago, and declared its intention to target “anti-business” legislators in Montpelier.

Theirs is a long rich list of targets: 57 House members. And predictably enough, the list is entirely Democratic, with the exception of one Progressive. Many of these 57 were given scores of zero on a Chamber of Commerce “pro-business scorecard.”

That would be zero. Nada.

And the VBC got coverage from nearly every major media outlet, and some ran the full list of targeted legislators. None, though, seem to have run the full list of the 12 member business organizations.

No doubt it was a busy news day.

But let’s focus on what we do know, which is that many of these 57 targeted legislators apparently scored zero on Chamber of Commerce business scorecards. Zero is just an intriguing score, when you stop and think about it.

Wouldn’t a zero indicate absolute and utter opposition to “business” of any sort, like passing bills mandating that the word “business” itself be stricken from the English language? Sending out “vice squads” to search out illicit “business,” and paint the hands of offenders green to shame them before their neighbors?

Or a bill seeking to acquire all “business” properties under a fanatically expanded version of eminent domain, after which the authorities flush out all of the terrified executives still hiding therein, and haul them all to the guillotine?

A zero is a zero, after all.

But put that aside. It’s also worth asking how five prominent Progressives came to be left off the list.

Take David Zuckerman. David’s charm for Progressives and many Democrats is his take-no-prisoners style.

In fact, he ran an abbreviated “exploratory” campaign for Congress this past year, arguing in a series of radio spots that Democrats were more or less indistinguishable from Republicans, and that both were tools of “business,” corporate lackeys.

mark larsenSo why the heck, if you’re the VBC, do you spare the Progressive Caucus almost entirely — including a firebrand leader like David — and focus your fire on 56 Democrats, many of them solid middle-of-the-road types on job creation issues? People like Mark Larson of Burlingon, just a solid straight-shooter?

Because this PAC has next to nothing to do with business.

It has to do, instead, with returning Republicans to power in the State House. Which would be very good for business indeed, though in a whole other sense entirely.

And this power-shifting agenda means spending heavily on targeted races, to the tune of 100k or more, if one can believe the VBC press releases. In some cases, VBC spending may outweigh actual expenditures by the candidates themselves.

Again, far less pro-business than anti-Democratic majority.

On this initiative, then, as historically with redistricting, Republican interests and Progressive interests temporarily and quietly mesh.

(And if that is not the case, the Progressive Caucus should publicly disassociate themselves from a group so clearly at odds with their stated philosophy and goals. In which case, VDB will issue a rare VDBea Culpa, quickly and equally publicly.)

But there’s a fly in the VBC ointment, it seems. This past week business organizations not under the VBC umbrella began quietly emailing legislators, to let them know in no uncertain terms that their groups do not belong to the VBC, or support its goals.

The Vermont Business Roundtable was one such; the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation was another; and the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce made it three.

And counting.

Frank Cioffi of the GBIC, for instance, wrote, “I thought that it was important to let you know that GBIC is not a part of the ‘business coalition’ that is currently engaging in the legislative elections.”

VDB thinks it important too. Because the VBC PAC is only the first of a coming plague.

Soon your televisions will be filled with horrifying images of Bernie Sanders, dragging children behind billboards to perform unspeakable acts; Peter Welch, smoking a hooka with a hazy and indistinguishable Al-Queda #2; etc. and so on, ad infinitum.

All of these images will be brought to you by groups with names like “Vermonters for Clean Elections.” And so we have to be as clear as we can for as long as we can about who’s who, what’s what, and why it all matters.

Game on.

Late Update, Friday, September 8, 11:43 pm:

The Brattleboro Reformer apparently agrees. They have a nice, sharply worded editorial here.

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  1. on September 28th, 2006 at 12:41 am

    […] Regular readers will remember our recent post on the Vermont Business Coalition and Political Action Committee (VBC). It produced a surprising amount of mail, not surprising given the facts of the case. […]