Big Money in the Democratic LG Race (And Other Campaign Finance Notes)

The big takeaway from the first campaign finance deadline of 2022 (for state candidates only, not federal) is that the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor is going to be a heated affair. All four candidates raised respectable amounts of money, with a couple of them clearly rising to the top.

Disclaimer: Fundraising is not the only measure of a campaign’s health. Organization and grassroots appeal are also key, but it’s very hard to measure those and very simple to read financial filings, So we look for the missing keys under the streetlight where we can see.

Leading the pack is former state Rep. Kitty Toll, widely believed to be the choice of most party regulars. She raised $118,000, which is quite a lot for this early in an LG race. She had 323 separate donors, 227 of them giving less than $100 apiece.

Coming in a sollid second is former LG David Zuckerman, with $92,000. Patricia Preston, head of the Vermont Council on World Affairs, raised $89,000 with a big fat asterisk: $23,000 of her total came from in-kind donations. That’s a very high total, and it means she has far less cash on hand than it appears at first glance. Rep. Charlie Kimbell is a distant fourth with $44,000 raised.

You want deets? We got deets.

Toll’s total is impressive; even more so is her donor list. It includes a lot of Democratic officeholders, ex-officeholders and prominent party figures on Toll’s donor list. Current and former lawmakers: Matthew Hill, Sara Coffey, Maida Townsend, Kari Dolan, Amy Sheldon, Kate Webb, Kathleen Keenan, Jessica Brumsted, Beth Pearce, Kathleen James, Tony Klein, Mitzi Johnson, Jane Kitchel and Joan Lenes. Other notables: Shap Smith, Steve Howard, Jane and William Stetson, Frank Cioffi, Luke Albee, Vince Illuzzi, and Charity Clark.

Zuckerman’s total shows that he’s still got political appeal, which wasn’t a sure thing after his very disappointing run for governor in 2020. His $92,000 came from 501 separate donors. The vast majority gave less than $100 apiece, but Zuckerman also benefited from a long list of high-dollar donors. A total of 28 individuals gave Zuckerman’s campaign $1,000 or more each.

Preston’s the interesting one. She began he campaign as a virtual unknown in the usual political circles — not unlike Molly Gray two years ago. But she faces a tougher field than Gray did, and she’ll have to work harder to close the money gap. If her heavy dependence on in-kind donations is any indication, she might have trouble doing so.

Preston received donations from 245 separate donors; 172 of those gifts were under $100. Her donor base can be characterized as “centrist Democrat” and “Dem-friendly businesspeople.” Regular readers of campaign finance reports can recite the names in their sleep: Ernie Pomerleau, Tom Torti, Eric Farrell, Yves Bradley, John Casella, Win Smith, David Blittersdorf, Thom Lauzon, Dave Wolk. Gene Richards, ousted CEO of the Burlington Airport, donated $1,000. Lisa Senecal of the Lincoln Project gave $200.

Preston does have one thing going for her: A lot of donors who can write big checks, and only a handful have already given the $4,210 maximum.

On to Kimbell, who might be starting to rethink this whole “run for LG” thing. The Woodstock lawmaker’s donor list is short — only 62 separate donors — and very heavy on residents of Woodstock and the Upper Valley. No sign of broader support. Kimbell’s a moderate Democrat who might appeal to the Pomerleaus and Casellas of the world if they weren’t already on Team Preston. He might draw support from House Democrats if not for Toll’s candidacy. He has only two House colleagues on his list: John Gannon and Curt Taylor. We can safely say that Toll occupies that lane.

Really, $44,000 is quite a respectable total for an LG race at this stage. Unfortunately for Kimbell, his competitors did a whole lot better.

Republican Sen. Joe Benning is far behind the Democratic field. He raised only $8,175, and that includes $1,781 carried forward from his Senate campaign fund. Now, he doesn’t need the money anytime soon; his only primary opponent is the ridiculous Gregory Thayer. But it’s an inauspicious start for Benning. Assuming he wins the nomination, he’ll face a Democrat with proven appeal.

The only other contested Democratic primary so far is the race to succeed Jim Condos as Secretary of State. His deputy Chris Winters is running with Condos’ blessing but not his outright endorsement. Winters took in a total of $21,380 since he announced in mid-February, which is respectable — but there are a few spiders in the attic. More than one-quarter of that money came from people named Winters. There’s a surprising lack of elected officials and top Democratic donors on his side, considering that he’s supposedly the Anointed One.

It’s certainly not a knockout blow. That’s good news for Montpelier City Clerk John Odum, who announced the day before the deadline and reported total donations of $6,648. Two-thirds of his total came from Rep. Tiff Bluemle of Burlington, so he’s ahead of Winters in elected officials 1-0. Obviously too soon to tell how he’ll fare, but it’s clear that Winters hasn’t wrapped anything up. (Disclosure: I donated $50 to Odum’s campaign. We were both involved in the now-mothballed blog Green Mountain Daily. Nothing at all against Winters, but I’ve got to support my former blogmate.

The money race we’re all waiting for is the Democratic contest for U.S. Congress, now involving four women with this week’s entry by Sianay Chase Clifford, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Alanna Pressley of Massachusetts. Federal candidates’ next filing deadline is April 15, but there’s a few tea leaves to read right now. That’s because the other three candidates still have state campaign funds active from previous races.

Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale was actively fundraising for her Senate campaign last fall before she announced her run for Congress. She raised $43,000 since last July, and spent $39,000. She had a surplus of $14,000 from her 2020 Senate bid, so she brings a total of $18,000 to her Congressional campaign.

Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint raised $6,700 for her state campaign fund in the same period, and spent only $31.00. Her state fund has a cash on hand total of $17,000, including more than $10,000 carried over from previous campaigns.

Lt. Gov. Molly Gray raised $21,500 for her LG fund and had another $22K in surplus from her 2020 campaign, but she spent $44,000. So she’s pretty much got zero dollars to carry forward. There’s really no significant difference between the three; $18,000 is pocket change for a Congressional campaign.

Finally, a couple of finance notes from Statehouse candidates. Rep. Becca White, who’s running for state senate, raised $4,250, quite a good total for this early in the cycle. Notable donors: Jane and William Stetson, the power couple of Democratic donors, gave White $500 each. White faces the uphill challenge of competing with three established Democratic incumbents in the Windsor County district, assuming all of them seek re-election: Alison Clarkson, Dick McCormack, and Alice Nitka. White’s off to a good start on that difficult path.

The two-seat Windham County district is losing Balint; the other incumbent Jeanette White has yet to declare if she’s seeking re-election. But the race has attracted three challengers with respectable bankrolls, two Dems and one independent. Former state Rep. Nader Hashim leads the pack with $11,000 raised (including $750 in in-kind donations) and only $900 spent. Normally, that would be more than ample for a full Senate campaign, so Hashim is in a strong position. The bulk of his money came from Windham County; the only name I recognized off the bat is Rep. Sara Coffey, who donated $500.

The other Democrat in the race is Wichie Artu, who describes himself as a gay Puerto Rican Vermonter. He’s a health care data engineer and a leader in the Windham County NAACP. Artu raised $6,300 and has spent $550. Not in Hashim’s league, but more than enough for this point in the race.

And then there’s independent Timothy Wessel, who raised $4,500 and spent $1,700, so he has the smallest bankroll going forward. That’s enough to compete, but two-thirds of his money came from his own wallet, so we’ll see how he fares in the wider world. Wessel is a TV/film producer and a member of the Brattleboro Selectboard.

One final note to file away. Brian Shelden, former candidate for House and Essex Selectboard, has reported raising $4,000 as a state Senate candidate. If not for redistricting, he’d have a tough battle to break through the Chittenden County Incumbency Barrier. But the six-seat district must, by law, be broken into pieces of no more than three seats each. And based on population, Chittenden will probably get an additional seat. Shelden’s chances depend, first of all, on how the lines are drawn.

Whew. That’s all, and more than enough. The next meeting of the Obsessive Campaign Finance Club will be held on the federal deadline of April 15, when we’ll get our next read on that very intense campaign.

1 thought on “Big Money in the Democratic LG Race (And Other Campaign Finance Notes)

  1. Walter Carpenter

    “The next meeting of the Obsessive Campaign Finance Club will be held on the federal deadline of April 15,”

    As usual, it’s follow the money. You gotta pay to play. Who will the winners serve the most?

    Reply

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