I have occasionally chronicled the Vermont Republican Party’s perennially dire financial condition, but never have I seen the situation as bad as it is right now. Because heading into the heart of a campaign season, the state GOP is virtually out of funds.
Explanatory note: the VTGOP and Vermont Democratic Party file both state and federal reports. Because of the way federal law is written, the bulk of their activity is considered “federal” even though they are state parties.
(By contrast, the Vermont Dems filed a state report indicating it raised more than $100,000 in June and spent a little more than half that. Its federal filing indicates $120,000 cash on hand. The VDP’s fundraising and spending are in a completely different league than its Republican counterpart.)
Even on the VTGOP’s bare-bones budget, that’s less than two days’ worth of operating expenses. They’re tapped out, just when they need to kick things into high gear.
What’s even sadder is the party had a pretty good fundraising month in June, pulling in $31,000 (on its federal report) . By their usual standards, that’s a lot. Problem is, they spent $41,000, which ate up all their receipts and almost all of their carryover cash.
So how are they going to provide an organizational structure for their candidates?
Well, they could step up the fundraising, but that seems unlikely to work. All the enthusiasm and (seemingly) all the donor money is going to Phil Scott, who will need all of it to compete with either Matt Dunne or Sue Minter.
They could turn to the national party. In 2012, the well-heeled Romney campaign gave the VTGOP $20,000 a month for its part in an accounting maneuver that allowed Romney to raise money beyond the legal limit. That ain’t happenin’ this year; Trump is hardly even pretending to fundraise for himself, let alone the party.
There aren’t any options. Which means the VTGOP will have all it can do to limp through the campaign season. It won’t be helping House and Senate candidates much, if any. The Democrats will have a massive edge in organization and resources, which will make it almost impossible for the Republicans to make inroads in the Dems’ massive House and Senate majorities.
Unless big outside money starts flooding into Vermont.
We saw it happen in 2014, when a last-days spending spree by the Republican State Leadership Committee helped the VTGOP make modest, but unexpected, gains in the House. The RSLC has already begun to spend in Vermont this year; it seems unlikely it will back off.
And by national standards, Vermont is a cheap buy. If national Republican groups pour a million or two into Vermont, chump change for them, they could reap a surprising harvest.
None of it will be under the control of the state party, because election law forbids any collusion or coordination. If such an outside putsch is successful, it’s likely to accelerate the process of turning the VTGOP from an old-fashioned moderate force into a bespoke adjunct of the national party, bought and paid for by the likes of the Koch brothers.
That process is already farther along than Vermont Republicans care to admit. That won’t make any difference to our politics as long as the VTGOP is in a perpetual minority position; but how will the balance of power be affected if we have a fatally weakened Vermont Republican Party and a conservative movement bankrolled entirely by outside forces?