It’s getting to be a pattern with Scott Milne, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Launch an attack on his Democratic opponent Molly Gray; it misses the mark; he drops the line and tries something else. Which immediately backfires.
His first attack was the most impactful. Immediately after the primary, his campaign started pointing to Gray’s admittedly poor voting record. (He launched this attack even as his campaign manager was promising a positive, issue-oriented campaign, but whatevs.) She is vulnerable on this point, but you can only repeat one single attack so often.
Since then, Team Milne floated a supposedly stunning revelation that Gray had an active voter registration on file in the District of Columbia. That one was quickly abandoned, perhaps because people who move frequently, as she did for professional reasons, probably don’t keep up with old registrations. (For all I know, I may be on file in multiple locations. Can’t say I officially canceled any of my old voter registrations. ) It wouldn’t be a scandal unless she tried to vote in more than one jurisdiction. There’s no evidence of that.
On Monday, the Milne campaign issued its alleged masterstroke: a list of 101 tweets sent during business hours from Gray’s campaign Twitter account. The campaign or someone affiliated with it had filed a wide-ranging public records request in search of evidence that she engaged in campaigning when she should have been performing her duties as an assistant attorney general.
Gray immediately explained it away, noting that it’s common practice for campaign staffers to have access to a candidate’s Twitter feed. Milne’s team proved her point when “MilneforVT” repeatedly tweeted during Thursday night’s MIlne/Gray debate on WPTZ-TV.
Yeah, disproving your own argument isn’t best practice. The List of 101 hasn’t been mentioned since.
Now we have another misdirected attack.
MIlne has been trying to tie Gray to the Alliance for a Better Vermont Action Fund, an independent political action committee that’s buying ads attacking MIlne’s record. This morning, Team Milne tweeted a screenshot of the corporate registration page for Alliance for a Better Vermont, highlighting two board members, Jake Perkinson and Lindsay Deslauriers, who’d hosted a campaign event for Gray and other Democrats.
Aha! Proof of a relationship between Gray and the SuperPAC run by her allies!
Ehh, not so much. “Alliance for a Better Vermont” is a 501c4 organization. It created the separate Alliance for a Better Vermont Action Fund as a SuperPAC to conduct campaign efforts. The Action Fund doesn’t have a board. Perkinson and Deslauriers have no authority over the Fund’s activities. The Milne camp had sent out a screenshot of the wrong organization’s registration.
It’s normal practice for nonprofits to spin off PACS or SuperPACs for poltiical expense purposes. Nonprofits operate under one set of rules, PACs and SuperPACs are governed by other rules. You might not like the system, but there’s nothing scandalous about ABV or its political arm. They are operating within the law. Milne can try to cast ABVAF as a “shady” organization funnelling “dark money” into the campaign, but then again, he has a much deeper-pocketed SuperPAC in his corner.
The Republican State Leadership Committee has spent $210,000 so far in support of MIlne’s candidacy — that’s seven times what ABVAF has spent on ads. The RSLC money comes from many of The Usual Suspects of the national conservative movement, including the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson.
Milne seems to think it’s better to benefit from huge infusions of outside cash, than to enjoy the backing of a home-grown SuperPAC. That’s… interesting.
ABVAF’s first TV ad, which dropped today, ties Milne to the RSLC. Milne characterizes this as an “attack ad,” and bemoans Gray’s alleged unilateral descent into the gutter. This is a very fine distinction. Each campaign’s own ads have been positive, so he’s technically correct about the Action Fund’s ad. But the rest of Milne’s campaign — press releases, debate arguments, social media postings — have been laden with attacks on Gray.
And again, Gray has no attachment to, or influence over, the activities of ABVAF. There may be friendships or social acquaintances because #vtpoli is a small insular place, but unless you can prove coordination, you got nothin’.
I’m sure the Milne campaign’s molehill hunt will continue. But the longer they go on without landing a clear blow, the more desperate they will appear.