Hey, how ya doin’? I’m back at the old popstand after two and a half years of professional journalism and/or whoredom, depending on your POV. There will be more to say about all of this, but right now I’ve got some news to break.
Two weeks ago, my old colleague Paul Heintz at Seven Days reported that Vermont Democratic Party staffer Brandon Batham had resigned suddenly over allegations that he had embezzled slightly less than $3,000 in party funds.
Well, from what I’ve heard, the amount in question is actually much higher than that, and the case is likely to break wide open very soon.
Batham’s departure has roiled the waters in Demville. According to multiple sources familiar with the event, party leaders held an emergency meeting of the VDP’s executive committee earlier this week. Attendees were sworn to silence. The entire meeting took place in executive session, closed to outsiders. The meeting was brief, and little concrete information was on offer. The subject of the meeting appears to have been fresh developments regarding Batham’s embezzlement.
If the amount embezzled was higher than earlier reported, Batham may be in hotter water legally. But even more pertinent for the organization and Vermont politics, the case will cast a longer, deeper shadow over party leadership. I mean, $3,000 might be written off as carelessness. But if it’s, say, $20,000? That begins to look like dereliction of duty for people like party chair Terje Anderson, former executive director Josh Massey and party treasurer Billi Gosh.
After all, the party isn’t exactly swimming in cash. As I recently reported, the VDP is still struggling to overcome a 2017 financial crisis that involved missed or delayed payrolls for party staff. Fundraising efforts were either nonexistent or not working. The party has avoided actual red ink since then, but its finances remain in rebuild mode. This year, in fact, it’s been been heavily dependent on generous giving from the Democratic National Committee and some of its leading donors — to the tune of over $100,000. That’s uncomfortably close to half of the party’s overall takings for the first half of 2019.
If financial oversight has been lax enough to permit embezzlement on a significant scale, the repercussions are likely to be swift and severe. There’s also the question of how party leaders put this story out there when they apparently had yet to figure out the scope of the problem. That speaks to incompetence, carelessness or both. We may well see some notable resignations — triggering another round of the instability that’s hamstrung the VDP since the tail end of the Shumlin era.
It’s not a great way to ramp up to the 2020 campaign season, that’s for sure.