10/1 LG Campaign Finance: The Disembodied Head of Scott Milne

Bad lighting, too far from camera, hastily arranged wrinkled-flag backdrop, 0/10.

The latest financial filings from Republican Scott Milne and Democrat Molly Gray reveal two vastly different campaigns in scale, source of funding, organization and tactics.

(I’ll be writing a separate post about the gubernatorial filings.)

Milne’s campaign has adopted what I call the Disembodied Head model, inspired by one of the great bits of political satire from my home state of Michigan. In 2006, Dick DeVos, scion of the Amway pyramid scheme multi-level marketing firm and husband of The Worst Education Secretary In History, decided to run for governor of Michigan. He dumped $36 million of his own wealth into the race… and (schadenfreude alert) got absolutely killed by Jennifer Granholm.

During the campaign, a delightfully snarky liberal created a website called “The Disembodied Head of Dick DeVos,” which is dormant but still extant. And more than a bit relevant, in our post-Citizens United era of fiscal oligarchy.

Extra bonus digression! DeVos’ father Richard was the co-founder of Amway. Dick ran the company after Dad’s retirement. Dick’s major accomplishment was to take Amway international. At that point Amway had pretty much tapped out the domestic market for Raising False Hopes Through Scammery, Dickie found rich fields of suckers in developing countries like Russia and China, where hardworking but financially naive people were desperate to climb the ladder of success. (The DeVos clan also owns the Orlando Magic, one of the worst franchises in the NBA.)

Scott MIlne is a multimillionaire, but a pauper by DeVos standards. Milne’s campaign is pocket fluff compared to DeVos’, but it’s the same basic structure: Largely self-funded, spending the bulk of its money on paid media with little to no grassroots organization.

Gray, on the other hand, has spent much less on TV and much more on staff, travel and events. She’s actually built an organization, how about that.

She also continues to fundraise far more impressively than Milne.

Milne actually outraised Gray by a substantial margin in September, but if that’s the headlline on any of the coverage it ought to be a fireable offense. Almost two-thirds of Milne’s September money came from Milne himself. Gray continues to outraise him in the key demo of The Human Race Not Including Scott Milne.

Milne raised $125K in September for a campaign total of $215K. But $78K of last month’s total came from Milne’s own pocket… plus another $4,160 from Masaii Properties, a Milne-owned real estate firm. So that’s $82K out of the $125K total from himself. (For the campaign to date, he’s now into six figures in the self-funding department.)

As for Gray, she pulled in $63K in September for a campaign total of $345K. So if you measure actual fundraising as opposed to cutting yourself a check, she outraised Milne by one-third, $63K to $43K. She has a total of 1,629 donors, compared to Milne’s 477.

And, despite having fought through a competitive four-way primary, Gray has a big lead in cash on hand. She’s got $93K in the bank, and MIlne has a pitiful $13K.

Of course, he can go on raiding his own larder anytime he wants to, so no biggie.

But the fascinating thing to me is the completely different organizational approaches of the two campaigns. Milne’s is old-school and top-down. He spent $61,000 on TV ads in September. And $48K of that went to the Big Three broadcast outfits, WCAX, WPTZ, and WFFF/WVNY. The other $13K was spent on cable.

Wow. Campaign manager Sen. Corey Parent just turned 30, but that’s astonishingly old-school. Does he have a set of rabbit ears atop his TV?

The sad thing is, $61K is probably nowhere near enough to be effective on TV. You have to flood the zone to have real impact. Milne could do that if he opens up his vault and lets Corey swim around Scrooge McDuck style, but otherwise it’s kind of a boondoggle.

Looking at that cash on hand, and Milne’s routine failure to effectively fundraise, and I have to conclude that he has only two paths to victory: Spend so much of his own money that his heirs ponder competency proceedings, or hope the Republican State Leadership Committee opens the floodgates.

RSLC Vermont spent $210K on advertising for Milne last month. If it maintains that pace, it could drag Milne over the finish line. And if that happens, it’ll be a huge win for out-of-state dark money.

Gray. meanwhile, spent $33K on TV. In the poker world they call that “limping in,” just betting enough to keep you in the game. Her finance report is littered with reimbursements for gas, meals, and event-related expenses like $18.29 for North Country Cakes. And she’s got several paid staffers, including a campaign manager, fundraising coordinator, scheduler and field organizers.

Milne’s much-vaunted campaign team, on the other hand, appears to be volunteering their time. The only staff expense I could find was $2,000 to Parent’s consultancy Forty Four Seven Strategies. Nothing for Mike Donohue, Jim Barnett, Kolby Lamarche, Cathy Frey or Janet Metz.

A paid staff isn’t the be-all, end-all, but it’s the only way to do significant grassroots activity. The Disembodied Head model depends on massive media spends, which Milne has yet to do.

Then again, it didn’t do Dick DeVos any good. He lost to Granholm by 13 points.


1 thought on “10/1 LG Campaign Finance: The Disembodied Head of Scott Milne

  1. Walter Carpenter

    Thanks for listing the fundraising of these two candidates. While I voted for Gray, all this cash sloshing about in Vermont for these races in our “coin-operated democracy” (a paraphrase from a book I read about how our democracy really works) is indicative that we the people in the majority will once again be the losers of these races.


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