As we all know, the Vermont Republican Party has been chronically short of funds for quite a while. Right now, they’re either just above water or actually in the red — at a time when major parties ought to be flush with cash to spend on campaigning.
But as I was poring over Tuesday’s campaign finance report filings, I noticed something that struck me as a little odd. Or more than a little.
While the state party is desperately clipping coupons and searching the sofa cushions for spare change, some of the local and county party organizations seem to be going through quite a bit of cash. And what are they spending it on?
Well, a lot of it goes to food, drink, and entertainment for themselves. Very little seems to go toward party-building or candidate support. In fact, virtually no money has been given to candidates with one exception, listed below.
State Republican leaders have openly talked about their grassroots organizations being in terrible shape, and needing to rebuild at the town and county level in order to compete with the very well-organized Democrats. But some of the GOP’s local branches seem to have the resources; they’re just frittering the dollars away on keeping themselves fat and happy.
The term “circle jerk” comes to mind.
Let’s look at some figures. (All donation totals are for the campaign cycle, not just the most recent period.)
The Barre Town Republican Committee reported raising $7,841 and spending $3,443. Virtually all of that — $3143 — was spent on “meals” at the Elks Club.
The Caledonia County Republican Committee raised $3,675 and spent $3,545 — including $2,050 at the Elks Club.
The Washington County Republican Committee has raised $17,800 and spent $10,870. No sign of gifts to candidates; but they did blow about $2,500 at a single restaurant — an old-fashioned meat-and-potato joint called The Steak House.
The Windsor County Republican Committee raised $6,400 and spent $2,500, almost all of it on food and drink. Including $528 for a Super Bowl party at the Coolidge Hotel in White River Junction.
The Orange County Republican Committee raised $3,150. About $800 went to a spaghetti dinner and a golf tournament. However, they did spend a fair bit of their money on a booth at the Tunbridge Fair and materials to hand out there. That’s a tangible party-building activity — but one of only a few.
The Rutland County Republican Committee has raised $3,020 and spent $2,455, including $805 on a “campaign kickoff dinner.” Most of their other expenses seem reasonable: postage, signs and mailers, advertising.
I will admit, right here and now, that I’ve never been involved in a county or town party committee, and I don’t know what goes on there. Maybe at these gatherings, a lot of folks are writing checks directly to their local politicos or the state GOP. (If they were writing checks to the local organization, it’d show up in the finance reports.) But looking at it from the outside, quite a few of the local Republican committees seem to be burning through decent amounts of money for very little in return — aside from their own satiation.
Are these functioning political machines, or are they Old Boys’ Clubs? It seems an especially pertinent question when the state party is going begging for money and is at a profound disadvantage at the grassroots level.
I could find only one local or county Republican organization that’s carrying substantial weight for the VTGOP, and that’s the Rutland GOPAC. It’s raised nearly $18,000 and spent over $15,000, and the bulk of that spending was on direct support to area candidates for House and Senate. So, good on ya, Rutland GOPAC. Considering GOPAC’s spending and the relatively on-point activity of the Rutland Republican Committee, can it be a coincidence that Rutland is one of the few Republican strongholds in the state?
The rest of the guys maybe need a shakeup. I don’t know how you do that with such an entrenched and tradition-bound bunch of folks. (“Give up our Steak House dinners? Never!”) And again, there may be more to this picture than I’m seeing in black and white. But I think this is part of the VTGOP’s problem. It’ll be a challenge to fix.