I’ve written before of the delicate high-wire act between moderates and far-righters that VTGOP chair Paul Dame is perfectly unsuited to carry out. He’s got to try to encompass the Phil Scott camp and all the ultraconservatives who litter the party apparatus.
Turns out, he also has to play nice with a coterie of big donors ($1,000 or more apiece) who are keeping the party above water, and most of them tilt strongly rightward.
The VTGOP has had fundraising trouble since I started tracking #vtpoli back in 2011. They still do. A check of the party’s FEC filings shows that, from January 2021 through February 2022, total party fundraising added up to $94,081. They got another $14,350 from the Republican National Committee, bringing total takings to $108,431.
That’s less than $10,000 a month, even with the RNC’s pity money.
Compare that to the Vermont Democratic Party, which raised almost $300,000 from individual donors in the same period — at a time when the party was seriously disorganized and suffering frequent turnover among leadership and staff. But that’s just the beginning; the VDP took in another 300K from other organizations. Almost two-thirds of that came from the Democratic National Committee. Most of the rest came from Democratic politicians’ campaign funds and members of Vermont’s Congressional delegation as well as a couple of big labor unions and, for some reason, $500 apiece from sports-gambling giants FanDuel and DraftKings.
Add it all up, and it’s more than $600,000 in the same period when the VTGOP barely cleared $100,000.
So the VTGOP is scrambling for any dollar it can find. And of its fundraising total, $42,670 — more than 45% — came from big-dollar donors. Well, big-dollar by Vermont standards anyway. But clearly, they make up enough of the VTGOP’s donor base that they have to be catered to. Now, let’s look at who they are.
It wouldn’t be a list of far-right donors without Lenore Broughton, who gives tremendous amounts of money to conservative candidates and causes (Jim Jordan, Josh Hawley, Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Mo Brooks, among many others) and also bankrolls True North Reports, the seldom-read conservative “news” site. She’s given the VTGOP $5,500 during the time period we’re discussing.
Other donors with a track record of far-right giving:
Jeffrey Steinkamp of Rochester gave the state party $1,000. He’s also a generous donor to the House Freedom Fund, Matt Gaetz, Marsha Blackburn, Dan Crenshaw and Steve Scalise. Paul Decelles of Newport gave $2,000 to the VTGOP; he also supported Donald Trump’s campaign and has given a lot of money to LPL Financial LLC PAC, which is operated by his employer, LPL Financial. It supports a whole bunch of conservatives and a smattering of Blue Dog-style Democrats. Frederick Fritz, a Florida resident, gave the VTGOP $1,500 and also supported Joni Ernst, Josh Hawley, and the Florida Republican Party. Sen Russ Ingalls gave the state party $1,145; he hasn’t given any other political contributions, but he is one of the most conservative members of the Legislature. Former state party chair Deb Billado, an ardent Trump supporter, gave the party $1,440. Former candidate for attorney general and all-purpose extremist Deb Bucknam donated $1,000; hubby Charles kicked in $485. Frequent Republican donor James Pizzagalli gave $1,250.
Other big VTGOP donors: Michael Stack of Saxtons River gave $10,000 and Patricia Howes of Milton gave $7,630. Neither has much of a track record of other political giving.
The rest of the list: Suzanne Butterfield, last seen as one of the VTGOP’s two members of the Republican National Committee ($2,100), Keith Milne, presumably related to Scott ($2,500), Scott Milne ($1,500), Susan Bowen ($1,000) and former Barre mayor and current city councilor Thom Lauzon ($1,000).
With a couple of exceptions (Lauzon, the Milnes), this list is full of hard-right conservative Republicans. And their support is vital to keeping the lights on at VTGOP headquarters.
Under these circumstances, would you really expect party chair Paul Dame to tack to the center? No; all he can do is shave off the rougher edges of Republican rhetoric. It’s his natural bent anyway, but it’s also a financial necessity for his party.