Ram Hinsdale Got the Headline, But Not So Fast

The latest federal campaign finance reports are in, and State Sen Kesha Ram Hinsdale took the headline by winning the first-quarter fundraising race among the Democratic candidates for Congress with $444,213. Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint was next with $368,382. Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, rather surprisingly, was third with $292,208 in first-quarter takings. (Sianay Chase Clifford isn’t competitive in the money race with a little more than $7,000 in donations. She’ll have to hope for a people-powered David v. Goliath effort.)

But those topline numbers don’t tell the whole story. In fact, they’re downright misleading for a number of reasons. Ram Hinsdale took in the most during the first quarter — but if you look at fundraising for the entire campaign, Gray is first. If you look at cash on hand, Balint is first and Ram Hinsdale is a distant third. And that’s really the most important metric, isn’t it?

(Standard disclaimer: Fundraising is only one measure of a campaign’s strength. As long as you’re competitive, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve got. It’s how well you spend it and how strong your grassroots game is. But money is the only campaign metric that’s easily measurable, so we dutifully measure it.)

Another thing. Ram Hinsdale has 56 individual donors who’ve given the maximum $2,900 for the primary campaign. That’s $162,500 of her total, and none of those people can give to Ram Hinsdale again until the general election campaign. Balint, by comparison, has only 23 max donors, worth $66,700 of her total. She has a lot more room to go back to donors and ask for more money. (Gray has 27.)

On the other side of the ledger, Ram Hinsdale has been spending money at a brisk pace, including a boatload on out-of-state consultancies, strategists, and media production outfits. In fact, if you look at her fundraising and spending without knowing whose it is, you’d think you were looking at a big-money corporate Democrat’s campaign, not a self-described champion of working folk.

So let’s look at cash on hand which, to me, is the most important metric going forward. Balint has $432,597. Gray has $404,369. Ram Hinsdale? $218,691. She’s got much less room to fundraise, and she’s got half as much money in the bank. Does that sound like the “winner”?

Balint has a substantial edge over Gray in fundraising momentum, for what it’s worth. Gray took in $335,733 in the year 2021 compared to Balint’s $200,695. But in the first quarter of 2022, Balint outraised Gray by a margin of $76,174. Gray’s fundraising pace has clearly slowed, while Balint is picking up steam.

Ram Hinsdale’s donor list also looks more like a centrist Democrat’s than a Bernie Sanders acolyte’s. Her maximum donors include corporate executives, developers, landlords, venture capitalists, investors, bankers, and high-powered lawyers. Notable names: Burlington developer Eric Farrell; Lisa Steele of Main Street Landing; Barre Republican Thom Lauzon and his wife Karen; and Vermont Coffee Company founder Paul Ralston, a renegade Democrat who tried to grab Addison County’s two Senate seats from the Dems in 2018 by running a slate of independent candidates. (Spoiler: It didn’t work.) Jacob and Irene Hinsdale of Hinsdale Properties, who I’m guessing are Ram Hinsdale’s in-laws*, gave $2,900 apiece. Raj Bhakta, founder of WhistlePig Whiskey, and Danhee Bhakta, current head of WhistlePig, were also max donors.

*Note: I’ve been informed that Jacob is Ram Hinsdale’s husband, Irene is her mother-in-law. Irene’s husband is no longer with us.

Let’s look at Ram Hinsdale’s profligacy in hiring expensive consultancies. 75 Words, a D.C. media production outfit, earned a cool $50,000 from Ram Hinsdale. Summit Campaign Strategies, the only Vermont-based consultant to her campaign, has received $35,200 for “digital consulting and email.” Dunis Political Impact of D.C. earned $21,553 for campaign strategizing. D.C.-based digital consultant Authentic Campaigns, Inc., billed her campaign for $10,000. Convey Communications of Florida took home $9,000,

That’s a total of $125,753 — spent in the two and a half months between her announcement on January 13 and the March 31 end of the reporting period. Balint, by contrast, has spent $43,000 on big media outfits and consultancies in a much longer campaign. Gray has spent $38,447 on big-ticket consultancies.

So. While Ram Hinsdale technically won the first-quarter fundraising derby, she’s in a worse financial position than Gray or Balint. Much worse, in fact.

It’s not hard to figure all this out. It’s too bad the political media in Vermont follow the same rote pattern whenever they report on campaign finance filings: Focus on the topline, list a few prominent donors, and call it a day.

They missed the real story.

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