by Guy Page
Has VTDigger been paid for the $1000 of ‘free advertising’ it provided to a pro-Proposal 5 lobby group a day before a key House vote in February? So far, Vermont’s leading online news provider has responded with an apparent ‘no comment,’ a group opposing Proposal 5 said yesterday.
Proposal 5 would, if approved by voters in November, enshrine unrestricted abortion for all ages in the Vermont Constitution. As recorded on the screenshot from the Vermont Secretary of State’s webpage for lobbying records (above, right), VT Digger on Feb. 7 provided $1000 in “no-cost promotion, digital advertising” to Vermont for Reproductive Liberty. On Feb. 8, the House voted 107-41 in support of Prop 5.
Publisher Anne Galloway on March 22 told Vermont Daily Chronicle via email that the free advertising – referred to as “underwriting” by the not-for-profit VTDigger – was offered in the hopes of securing future business.
“As we often do with potential clients, we offered Vermont for Reproductive Liberty a promotion in an effort to secure future underwriting business,” Galloway said. “This was a mistake. VTDigger’s policy prohibits donations to political organizations or advocacy groups. In the future, we will ensure that no free promotions are offered to political organizations, advocacy groups or candidates of any kind.”
“We have asked Vermont for Reproductive Liberty to compensate us for the underwriting and they have agreed to do so. Needless to say, VTDigger’s news department had no knowledge of or involvement in this matter.”
So, what has happened since? Has VT Digger askedVFRL for the money back? Has the Planned Parenthood-backed group complied?
Matthew Strong, Executive Director of the anti-Prop 5 Vermonters for Good Government, is waiting for an answer. He told Vermont Daily Chronicle yesterday there has been no reply – other than an ‘out of office’ form letter – to the email below he sent April 7, he sent to VTDigger publisher Anne Galloway:
Dear Anne, et al.,
We wanted to take this opportunity to address the recent revelation that VTDigger provided the “Vermont for Reproductive Liberty” political action committee with $1,000 worth of free advertising in advance of the House vote on Proposal 5. We want to inquire and understand your intentions moving forward regarding providing your readers with a disclaimer on future coverage of the issue.
Given the precedent you have set, per this example from the March 16 article “Nothing to See Here” with emphasis added…
What will just over $71,000 in television, newspaper and social media ads get you? Sometimes, not much at all. The Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the national group Represent. Us spent that sum in an advertising blitz to push for ranked choice voting for federal elections in Vermont. (Disclosure: VTDigger carried some of these ads.) The initiative plastered a 30-second TV spot in front of thousands of Vermonters featuring three of S.229’s eight Senate sponsors — two of whom, incidentally, are running for Congress. (That would be Senate Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham, and Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden.)
… it is appropriate that VTDigger should inform your readers in future publication of articles on Proposal 5 that you not only ran ads in favor of the Proposal 5, but provided them free of charge to the PAC.
Can you provide us with your assurance that this will be the case moving forward?
We have not seen any statements regarding the follow up on the PAC being asked to repay the amount since your statement a few weeks ago now that you asked them to do so. We endeavor to have a continued relationship and will continue to submit items for publication, but also wanted to address what we felt was a big issue with transparency.
Thank you in advance for your prompt reply. Sincerely, Matthew Strong, Executive Director & Annisa Lamberton, Official Spokesperson
A private citizen has asked VTDigger the same question, and has received a response – of sorts. This exchange is scheduled to be published in tomorrow’s Vermont Daily Chronicle.