Daily Archives: July 16, 2014

Shumlination

Might seem like an oxymoron, but a radio guy has created the second-best visual representation of Governor Shumlin’s fundraising power. (VPR’s Taylor Dobbs by name.) It’s a simple bar graph: Shumlin’s money totals are indicated by two impressively erect columns reaching for the sky; Scott Milne’s are two thin smears on the bottom line.

I say “second-best” because the best comes from the legendary cartoon “Bambi Meets Godzilla.”

BambiGodzilla

There are a couple of big takeaways from the size of Shumlin’s warchest: (1) He came into 2014 with enough money to virtually guarantee re-election. He’ll exit 2014 with enough money to virtually guarantee victory in any race he chooses to enter for at least the next four years. And (2) It’s not Lenore Broughton who’s responsible for bringing big money into Vermont politics. It’s Peter Shumlin. And Peter Welch and Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders.

Oh, and (3) a very interesting collision is shaping up for the 2015 legislative session, with VPIRG focusing its energy on campaign finance reform and our top Democrats greatly benefiting from the system as it is.

Let’s go deeper, shall we?

First point: Shumlin departed the 2012 campaign having spent only $346,000 to beat Randy Brock. He had a surplus of $915,000. Which meant he started 2014 with basically a million-dollar head start. That’s more than had ever been spent in any state-level campaign in Vermont with, I believe, three exceptions: Jim Douglas in 2008, and Brian Dubie and Peter Shumlin in 2010.

He had a huge lead. And he has continued to raise money. And to spend very little of it. Chances are, he’ll exit 2014 with an even larger kitty — it wouldn’t surprise me if he has $1.5 million in the bank on December 31. If he tries at all, he could make it $2 million or more.

(Scott Milne has talked of Vermonters becoming fatigued by campaigns that cost $2-3 million. Which misses the point because while Shumlin’s campaign might possibly raise that much, it’ll spend only a tiny fraction of that. This will not be anything like a $2 million campaign. It may not even top a half mill.)

Which gives him an even bigger edge next time around, and ensures that he will be a prohibitive favorite for re-election in 2016 and beyond — or, if he decides to run for something else, he will be the prohibitive favorite for that race.

Unless, of course, he has to run against Peter Welch for any Senate seat that might open up between now and 2020. (Safe to assume Shumlin wouldn’t challenge Pat Leahy or Bernie Sanders, right?) Because Welch has even more money on hand, and even less reason to spend any of it.

My conclusion: the only reason Shumlin is raising money at all is to (a) make it prohibitive for anyone to run for Governor as long as he’s in office and (b) block out any potential competition for a future Senate race.

Bringing me to point #2. Lenore Broughton did her best to influence the 2012 election by spending a million bucks on Vermonters First. It was a complete flopperoo, and if her latest finance filing is any indication, she has no plans to repeat the experiment. Her case is incessantly cited by top Democrats as a rationale for campaign finance reform, but she was an outlier. And a failed outlier at that.

The real, structural change to the financing of Vermont politics is that our Governor and our members of Congress have taken fundraising to a whole new level. They are drawing from the bottomless pool of money at the national level, while everyone else in Vermont is still playing at the state level.

This fact hit home for me when I looked at the latest filing from the Coca-Cola Nonpartisan PAC for Good Government. It’s 29 pages long! The typical filing by a state-level PAC is more like five or six pages. In terms of money, it’s the difference between the Vermont Lake Monstera and the New York Yankees. And, to stretch the analogy further, that’s the field Shumlin et al. are playing on.

So if you want to complain about the influx of money into Vermont politics, don’t complain about Lenore Broughton; complain about Peter Shumlin, Pat Leahy, Peter Welch, and yes, Bernie Sanders. No one, Republican, Democrat, or Progressive, could hope to mount a competitive race when the incumbents have such an overwhelming advantage.

Third, VPIRG’s annual summer outreach program is about campaign finance reform. Last summer’s was about GMO foods, and it set the stage for easy passage of a GMO labeling bill this year. If you read the polls, campaign finance reform is a popular cause, just as GMO was. How will Shumlin and the Dems react when VPIRG drums up a groundswell of public support for a ban on contributions by corporations and lobbyists? Should be an interesting legislative battle in the new biennium.

Unlike many of my friends on the left, I don’t see many signs that the money is having a corrupting effect on the Administration. But it sure does look bad, especially when the Governor does something like strongly opposing a tax on soft drinks and then rakes in thousands of dollars from Coca-Cola, as the Burlington Free Press’ Terri Hallenbeck Tweeted today. I will say this: if you believe Shumlin is being corrupted by big money, what about Pat Leahy and Peter Welch? (I’ll give Bernie a pass on corporate donations, since he’s gotten most of his money in small amounts from individuals. But he’s still playing with millions, while most Vermont politicians get by with a few thousand at most.)

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The Milne/Boies connection

Big, important, can’t-miss story at Green Mountain Daily: my colleague BP has explained why an out-of-state family suddenly donated $10,000 to Scott Milne’s gubernatorial campaign — and, as a bonus, revealed Milne’s deep involvement in a high-stakes development project in the Upper Valley. It’s a story that Vermont’s professional media has completely whiffed on.

Milne, reports BP, is one half of B&M Realty and Development. The “B” is David Boies III, son of the David Boies best known for his advocacy on marriage equality.

B&M’s big project is Quechee Highlands, a 168-acre mixed-use development that would be built along I-89 near Exit 1. Reportedly, Milne has already invested $4 million in the deal, which has run into trouble with local and state regulators, and Milne himself has angrily threatened an all-out legal battle. Kind of at odds with his pleasant, moderate image, eh?

The most recent blow to QH was a decision in late May to modify local land-use rules in a way that would force changes to QH. That’s what touched off Milne’s threat — and it’s roughly contemporaneous with his sudden and late decision to run for Governor. Hmm.

Anyway, I highly recommend you click the link and read BP’s story.

The Campaign Finance Report Day That Was: more miscellany

I’m going to put off a couple items till tomorrow, if you don’t mind: The full impact of Governor Shumiln’s money tsunami, and the Curious Case of the Local Republican Committees. For now, let’s clean out the ol’ inbox.

— If dollars are any indication, the Windham County Democratic Senate primary is definitely taking shape. Incumbent Jeanette White hasn’t submitted a report, which most likely means she raised and spent little or nothing. Okay, so she’s the incumbent. Two other Dem candidates posted relatively meager totals: Joan Bowman and “The Artful Roger” Allbee. The financial powerhouse in the race is Becca Balint, who raised more than $10,000 and spent about $4200. Her many donors include one Jane Lynch of Los Angeles, California, who kicked in a cool grand. Would this be the Jane Lynch of Glee fame? Don’t know.

But most of Balint’s money came from within the county. Which is a sign that the local money is on her side, and she’s off to a sizeable lead over her competition. (Recap: there are two Senate seats in Windham County. Jeanette White’s running for re-election, and Peter Galbraith is, praise the Lord, not. There are four candidates on the Dem primary ballot, fighting for two spots. No Republicans have entered the race, unless you count former Douglas Administration functionary Allbee, who’s running as a Dem.

— As far as I can tell, the most well-endowed (please hold the locker-room yucks) Senate candidate is one Dustin Degree of Franklin County. He’s raised over $15,000, including $6,000 from members of the Vallee family. One notable expense: $1700 to the St. Albans Messenger for what Degree’s filing calls “print adds.” A bit of remedial spelling is in order chez Degree.

Phil Scott has picked up his fundraising pace, now that he has to deal with the publicly-funded Dean Corren. Our Lieutenant Governor carried forward a $41,000 balance from his yawnfest of a win over Cass Gekas; he’s raised $61,000 and spent a chunk of that, leaving him with a current cash balance of $78,000. He vows that he will match Corren’s $200,000 in public-financing dollars with at least that much of his own. A lot of his contributions, natch, are from corporations and business-friendly PACs.

— Two years after losing to Bill Sorrell in the Democratic primary, TJ Donovan has finally closed out his campaign account. He’s folded virtually all the remaining funds — more than $4,600 — into his campaign for re-election as Chittenden County State’s Attorney. Which is probably $4,599 more than he will need to win. I guess he can always open up a new Attorney General campaign committee and shift the money back over.

— Donovan’s campaign filing for State’s Attorney had one interesting donation: $1,000 from Thom Lauzon, the Republican Mayor of Barre. 

— Lenore Broughton’s colossal waste of money, Vermonters First, looks to be inactive for this season. The SuperPAC is carrying a balance of roughly $3,000, but there was virtually no activity during the most recent reporting period. If Broughton is gearing up for another push, she’s hiding it well. (Oh, and her new Minion of Record is Robert Maynard, best known as a writer for the useless True North Reports. Her former Minion, Tayt Brooks, landed himself a new gig with the conservative movement-building enterprise American Majority.)

FedEx may be unfriendly to union organizing, but it seems to like Democrats — at least in Vermont. The FedEx PAC gave $4,000 to Governor Shumlin’s campaign, plus $1,000 each to the Vermont Democratic Party and the Dems’ House Campaign Committee. And not a sou for the GOP. Sad.

That’s it for tonight. Tune in tomorrow for the last two big items from filing deadline day. And thanks for reading; this site set a new record for single-day pageviews, and I appreciate the traffic and the implied respect.