10/1 Gov Campaign Finance Reports: Spare change

I was going to call this post “Pedal to the Metal,” and on a relative scale that’s true. Both Gov. Phil Scott and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman dramatically picked up the fundraising pace in September. But by historical standards, both campaigns remain at bargain-basement level.

Zuckerman raised $107K in September, by far his best month to date, bringing his campaign total to $567K. He spent even bigger, a total of $141K in the month. By my calculation, he entered October with about $60K on hand (I’ve seen other figures in other reports, and I don’t know how they arrived at their numbers. I subtracted intake versus outflow.) Zuckerman also has $27K in the bank from past campaigns.

Scott raised $200K in September, bringing his campaign total to a measly $335K. He spent much of this year in a self-imposed campaign quarantine, as he devoted his efforts to the Covid-19 pandemic. September was the first month he took fundraising seriously, and he got decent if not spectacular returns. He didn’t spend all that much in September, so his cash on hand (again, other reports differ) is about $75K. He also has a $106K surplus from past campaigns.

Neither candidate entered October with significant wiggle room. Both will need to step up their fundraising pace if they want to boost their advertising and ground games down the home stretch.

And don’t forget that the Republican Governors Association is still lurking about. They could still pump in a flood of cash to back Scott, as they did in 2016 and 2018.

After the jump: Sources, spends, and recent history.

As for the last two campaigns, all four candidates spent far more than this year’s duo. Scott had raised $484K and spent $380K by 10/1/2018 — and he was running against Christine Hallquist, a first-time candidate who entered the race very late. She’d raised $358K and spent $294K by 10/1/18, and her campaign manager admitted that fundraising took a back seat to the basic work of introducing Hallquist to the voters.

Scott’s effort was significantly more robust in 2016, his first run for governor. As of 10/1/2016, he’d raised $1.1 million and spent just about the same. And that was the campaign in which the Republican Governors Association spent more than $3 million backing Scott and slamming Democrat Sue Minter. She, meanwhile, did far better than Zuckerman (for all the good it did her in the end), having raised $1.4 million by 10/1/16.

Too many numbers for comfort, but you get the point. Neither man is burning the house down. In terms of candidate spending, this will be an historically cheap gubernatorial election. You’d have to think that favors the incumbent; even though Zuckerman has been LG for three-plus years and served in the House and Senate before then, he still entered the race with a hefty name-recognition deficit.

As for where the money came from, no surprise: Zuckerman pulled in lots of small donations, and has a decent roster of repeat donors who still have room to give more. Scott has a much shorter list, and a lot more maximum donations of $4,160. (The max figure started at $4,000 and is corrected for inflation every year.) Zuckerman is closing in on 5,000 unique donors; Scott has only 1,057.

Scott didn’t spend a whole lot last month; most of his money went to the usual place, D.C.-based Optimus Consulting, which has handled his advertising strategy in each of his three gubernatorial campaigns. He paid Optimus $7,500 for polling and $30,000 for online advertising in September.

Zuckerman spent mostly on advertising, the bulk of that for TV. In fact, Zuckerman’s media strategy has a real old-timey feel to it: Lots of broadcast TV, some newspaper ads, and a fair amount of radio spots. He spent $59K on TV advertising in September and then, on October 2, reported a bunch of media buys: $38K for TV, $9K for radio and $1,600 for newspapers.

You might expect a progressive/Progressive candidate to go new-school, especially one who’s got to be careful with the cash. But it kind of makes sense that Zuckerman is doing radio and broadcast TV; he’s running as a farmer/politician (his logo is a tractor) , and he has consistently emphasized issues facing rural Vermont. Still, it’s interesting that the most progressive candidate on the statewide ballot has a media strategy from a generation or two ago.

At this point, the money is so small that finances are unlikely to swing the race. Unless the RGA comes storming in on Scott’s behalf. (None of the national liberal/Democratic PACs has shown any interest in the race. They have bigger fish to fry elsewhere.)

The RGA is the only entity with the resources to significantly move the campaign. If it’s going to do so, it’ll have to move quickly. Ballots are already being cast, so the longer they wait, the less impact they will have. The next campaign finance deadline is less than two weeks away; by then, we should know whether the RGA or any other national player is making a bet on Vermont.

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