BY LOLA DUFFORT, VT DIGGER
MONTPELIER — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who is vying to replace retiring U.S. Sen Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., far and away led the pack in congressional campaign fundraising last quarter, according to new filings with the Federal Election Commission.
And in the race to fill Welch’s soon-to-be vacant seat, Democratic Lt. Gov. Molly Gray outpaced Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham.
The reporting period for the most recent filings, which were due Monday from the campaigns, covered the final three months of 2021. They offer a detailed — but partial and somewhat dated — glimpse into who was financially supporting Vermonters running for federal office as the races began to take shape.
Candidates who declared they were running for Congress after the reporting period ended, including state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden, were not required to file fundraising figures with the FEC. The next filing deadline is April 15, and will cover the first three months of 2022.
In the first six weeks since he declared his Senate candidacy last November, Welch raised $550,022. But the sizable sum is dwarfed by the more than $2.1 million war chest he transferred over from his House campaign account. After spending about $140,000, he still had $2.5 million cash-on-hand at the end of the year.
Not long after he launched his Senate campaign, Welch promised to swear off corporate PAC money — though he accepted it in all his previous federal races. “This campaign is powered by people,” his campaign tweeted in late November. “We want Vermonters and people across the country to know we are fighting for them.”
But that pledge, a campaign spokesperson told VPR, does not apply to money transferred from his House account, which included donations from corporate giants such as Liberty Mutual Insurance, Land O’ Lakes and General Electric.
And while corporations can no longer give directly to Welch, the lobbyists advocating on their behalf can and do. According to last quarter’s FEC filings, the congressman received at least $1,000 each from individual employees of some of the biggest lobbying firms in D.C., including Peck Madigan Jones, Akin Gump and the Daschle Group.
PACs for trade associations differ from corporate PACs, Welch’s campaign told VTDigger. Groups representing broadcasters, hospitals, the wireless industry and convenience stores also gave Welch at least $1,000 apiece last quarter.
Welch has climbed the ranks during his 15 years on the Hill, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also contributed $2,000 from her own campaign account.
Welch is being challenged in the Democratic primary by Gifford Medical Center physician Niki Thran. But the doctor has raised a comparatively tiny amount: $16,150 in 2021. She has $12,249 cash-on-hand.
In the U.S. House race, Gray raised $318,233 in the four weeks after she declared her candidacy in early December. She spent $69,773, and had $248,459 cash-on-hand at the end of the year, according to the filings.
Her donors include former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean; Democratic mega-donor Jane Stetson; Burlington tech developer Russ Scully; University of Vermont emergency physician Daniel Barkhuff, who is also president of Veterans for Responsible Leadership; and Luke Albee, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist and former chief of staff to Leahy.
Balint, who entered the race a week after Gray, raised $200,695 in the last three weeks of the year and spent only $10,411 of it. She had $190,283 cash-on-hand at the end of the year.
Notable donors to Balint’s campaign include Vermont philanthropist Crea Lintilhac, civil rights activist and equity consultant Curtiss Reed, actress and “Glee” star Jane Lynch and former Vermont Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Skoglund. Balint, the first openly gay woman to lead the Vermont Senate, is also backed by several national LGBTQ+ groups, including Equality PAC, which contributed the allowable maximum of $5,000.