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Sue Minter's Campaign Gets Big Boost From Women, Out-Of-State Donors

Peter Hirschfeld
Democrat Sue Minter has raised more than $1.5 million through Oct. 1, 2016, with a large minority of that support coming from women. Her Republican rival, Phil Scott, raised just shy of $1.2 million through Oct. 1.

Democrat Sue Minter decided back in May that she would no longer accept campaign contributions directly from corporate entities. The pledge has not cramped her fundraising abilities, however, and strong support from female donors has given Minter a financial edge over her Republican rival, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott.

According to a VPR analysis of campaign finance disclosures, women account for 42 percent of the more than $1.5 million Minter’s campaign raised through Oct. 1. It might not sound like a hefty proportion, but by the standards of even modern day political campaigns, where male donors dominate, it is a notable deviation from the norm.

VPR’s analysis shows Sue Minter has gotten $645,000 from female donors. Phil Scott, by comparison, has collected less than $200,000 from women, who account for only about 18 percent of his campaign’s total fund-raising haul. Scott had, as of Oct. 1, raised a little less than $1.2 million.

“Our network and our members know about the opportunity we have in Vermont,” says Rachel Thomas, press secretary at EMILY's List, a national group working to get pro-choice Democratic women into office. “There are so few women governors across the country right now, and electing Sue [Minter] would bring a strong woman’s voice to an executive position.”

EMILY's List issued its endorsement of Minter back in February. In doing so, it unleashed a flood of donations from some of the organization’s three million members, many of whom have taken an interest in the Vermont governor’s race, despite the fact that they won’t be able to vote in it.

"Our network and our members know about the opportunity we have in Vermont. There are so few women governors across the country right now, and electing Sue [Minter] would bring a strong woman's voice to an executive position." — Rachel Thomas, press secretary for EMILY's List

According to VPR’s analysis, Minter’s campaign has brought in $117,000 from donors in California, $114,000 from Massachusetts residents, and $109,000 from New Yorkers.

All told, 40 percent of Minter’s total campaign haul – more than $600,000 – comes from out-of-state donors in 33 states. Scott’s support is more homegrown: 90 percent of his money comes from individuals residing in Vermont, or businesses located here.

Credit Peter Hirschfeld, Emily Alfin Johnson / VPR
Sue Minter's out-of-state contributions (40 percent of her total money raised) came from 33 different states.

Thomas says it doesn’t track its members’ total giving to individual candidates. But many of Minter’s out-of-state donors undoubtedly learned of her candidacy from EMILY's List.

“We know that Sue will stand up for women’s access to health care, and make sure women have the opportunities and resources they need to succeed,” Thomas says.

Among the out-of-state donors contributing to Minter is Barbara Lee. Lee has always chafed at the gender imbalance in state and national politics. About 20 years ago, she says she decided to try to do something about it.

"When women are at the head of the table, they prioritize the issues that are important to families, and they really can change the conversation." — Barbara Lee, Boston resident and Minter campaign contributor

“I’m a woman on a mission,” Lee says.

These days, that mission includes getting Minter elected governor of Vermont.

“When women are at the head of the table, they prioritize the issues that are important to families, and they really can change the conversation,” Lee says.

Lee lives in Boston, where she is the founder and president of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which works to advance female representation in American politics. Lee contributed $4,000 to Minter’s campaign, the maximum allowed under Vermont law - Lee gave personally, not through her foundation. More importantly, she introduced Minter to a network of well-resourced political donors.

There are only six female governors in the country right now. Minter is one of two Democratic women trying to join their ranks this cycle.

Lee says her network, and groups like Emily’s LIST, are leveling the financial playing field in those races.

“People perceive women as not being able to fundraise as effectively as men, because there are more men who are able to make large contributions than many women,” Lee says.

Credit Photograph: Taylor Dobbs, Illustration: Emily Alfin Johnson / VPR
Minter's Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, raised 18 percent of his total campaign funding from women.

Complicating Minter’s financial strategy from the outset was her decision to reject contributions directly from corporate entities. Minter is still accepting cash from representatives of business. According to VPR’s analysis, she took in about $160,000 from the presidents, CEOs, partners or owners of corporate entities.

That pales in comparison to the $623,000 Phil Scott has taken from businesses, or the men and women who run them. But some argue that imbalance will be to Minter’s advantage.

Republican Phil Scott's Campaign Contributors Are Vermont-Based And Business-Oriented

Craig Holman is a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader in the 1970s. Holman’s organization is among the groups pushing for an all-out ban on corporate contributions to candidates for public office.

“These are businesses,” Holman says. “They should be focused on business activity. They should not be trying to elect our candidates.”

Holman says Minter’s pledge might have cost her some money in the short term. But with polls showing that voters are more fed up than ever with the role of corporate money in elections, Holman says Minter has provided a “very important symbolic gesture.”

Credit Photograph: Peter Hirschfeld, Illustration: Emily Alfin Johnson / VPR
Minter's Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, raised 90 percent of his campaign funding from within Vermont.

“Many, many candidates, especially on the Democratic side in this election, are tapping into that sentiment, and may well ride an electoral wave to victory because of it,” Holman says.

Minter’s campaign isn’t entirely free of corporate money. She’s accepted nearly $95,000 from political action committees, candidate committees, and parties.

The contributions include $48,000 from the Vermont Democratic Party, which has no prohibition on direct donations from corporate entities, and $4,000 from the campaign of Gov. Peter Shumlin, who raised heavily from corporate entities.

Minter, like Scott, has also benefited from outside, independent expenditures trying to tip the scales in her favor.

The Democratic Governors Association, a group promoting solar and wind energy and environmental issues, and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England have also spent a combined total of more than $1 million, mostly on television ads, in support of Minter’s candidacy.

This post was edited at 11/1/2016 to clarify that Barbara Lee's contribution was from personal funds, not through her foundation

This post was edited at 11/3/2016 to clarify the mission of one of the outside groups supporting Minter's candidacy

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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