The political media corps misses a story

When I wrote a couple of posts yesterday morning about Lenore Broughton, Wendy Wilton, and Vermonters First, I honestly thought it was a major story in the campaign. But as far as I can tell, there's been nary a ripple in the Vermont media. So I'm gonna give it one more try, and this time I'll start with the key points:

-- In the past two weeks, Lenore Broughton's Super PAC, Vermonters First, has spent over $108,000 in support of Wendy Wilton's candidacy for Treasurer.

-- Because of a quirk in state election law, we have no idea how much money VF spent on Wilton prior to October 8. But based on the ubiquity of its pro-Wilton ads, we can assume it was a hell of a lot.

-- Broughton's Super PAC has spent far more on Wilton than the candidate herself has. Probably five or six times as much. It's unprecedented for a single individual to bankroll a single candidate in this fashion.

-- If elected, Wendy Wilton will be directly beholden to Lenore Broughton in a way no other Vermont officeholder has ever been.

I hope that's clear. Now, if you still think it's not a story, I'll go away quietly.

After the jump: I don't go away quietly.
The thing that really surprised me about the lack of coverage is that this is the kind of story that usually gets reported ad nauseam: Vermont political media tends to cover every aspect of campaign finance reports and media buys. This one, not so much.

Not a whisper at VTDigger or the Vermont Press Bureau of VF's latest $35,000 ad buy for Wilton, or the astounding total of $108,000 in two weeks.

The Freeploid covered the story in a fundamentally misleading, false-equivalency kind of way: the lead was not "Broughton spends big bucks to elect Wilton," it was

A waterfall of money is pouring into purchases of television and radio advertising and mailings to influence the outcome of the race for state treasurer between Democrat Beth Pearce and Republican Wendy Wilton.

As if the "waterfall" was flowing equally on both sides. In fact, the Democrats are coming nowhere near the spending of Broughton and Vermonters First. The Freeploid also framed the story in terms of "money spent this week," which omits the fact that Vermonters First spent an additional $30,000 on Wilton last week.

The 'Loid also seems to have missed the fact that VF didn't have to report expenditures for individual candidates before October 8. Its story says:

Vermonters First has now spent $108,512 on media buys to support Wilton's candidacy, having plunked down $30,537 earlier this month on television advertising.

What it should say is, "Vermonters First is known to have spent at least $108,512 to support Wilton's candidacy, but the actual total is clearly far higher than that."

All these omissions serve to mask the one-sidedness of WIlton's financial advantage.

As for my buddy Paul Heintz at Seven Days, he chose to shine a spotlight on an alleged case of political hypocrisy by the Democrats rather than write anything about Broughton's onslaught.

I suppose that, after all his (rightly) critical coverage of Wendy Wilton's outrageousness, it helps re-establish his journalistic bona fides to find some dirt on the Dems. But the story was vastly out of proportion, and not really news. Even the folks associated with Priorities PAC, the liberal Super PAC, have made it clear from the start that they'd like to see Super PACs put out of business but they feel compelled to, y'know, not walk unarmed into a gunfight.

But Governor Shumlin has stated his desire that Super PACs go away, and that individual candidates do their own fundraising and spending. And here's his loyal second, Jeb Spaulding, voicing a pro-Beth Pearce ad funded by Priorities PAC.  

So Paul pounced. Aha! Hypocrisy!

Well, no.

Jeb saw his successor as Treasurer being inundated by a tsunami of Super Pac cash, and he does his bit to help. In accordance with the rules that exist. A vast array of Democratic officeholders, from President Obama on down, have expressed similar sentiments: they'd like to limit Super PACs, but as long as Super PACs are effectively unlimited, it's best to get in the game. If you really think the Dems should voluntarily abide by the rules as they'd like them to be, and thus concede a huge advantage to the other side, well, then, you're too pure for politics. And I think Paul's former boss, the extremely well-financed Congressman Peter Welch, would agree with me.  

Another thing: Priorities PAC has spent a whopping $2,912 to air Spaulding's ad. That's a drop in the bucket compared to VF's waterfall on behalf of Wilton. But no, the Dems' hypocrisy was the big story of the day. So says Paul Heintz. Who is often, usually, one of our sharpest political journalists. Not this time.

I do appreciate the coverage given to Lenore Broughton and Vermonters First by Seven Days as well as Peter Hirschfeld at the Vermont Press Bureau. But the story continues to grow, and the coverage has not kept pace.  

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