👏👏👏👏👏 to Seven Days’ Sasha Goldstein for doing what few reporters have bothered to do: He took a deep dive into Congressional candidates’ campaign finance reports. Those filings are more than a month old, but as he discovered, there was still plenty of meat on them old bones. Let him serve as an example to us all.
What did he find? Turns out Lt. Gov. Molly Gray has a f-ton of D.C. lobbyist money behind her campaign for Congress.
I don’t begrudge her raising money wherever she can. Running in a competitive primary for Congress is an expensive proposition, and I don’t really think she’ll be at the beck and call of big-money interests any more than St. Peter Welch has been. He’s taken loads of money from lobbyists and corporate interests. And we know he’s not compromised.
Anyway. Gray is cashing in on her D.C. connections and her very real ties to the Welch/Pat Leahy orbit. Fine. Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale has received max contributions from quite a few AAPI donors, and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint has the support of LGBTQ+ contributors and organizations.
They’ve all got their affinity groups. Gray’s happens to be D.C. insiders. But the trouble starts when this recipient of Beltway Bucks attempts to claim the moral high ground on campaign finance. She doesn’t have a leg to stand on, or a pickup truck to ride in.
The three front-runners in the race have all promised not to accept donations from corporate PACs. During VTDigger’s April 14 Congressional debate, they were asked if they would also forswear money from corporate lobbyists. Gray responded, “I won’t here tonight say that I won’t accept state or federal lobbyist contributions. But I will be disclosing every dollar, and Vermonters can judge who supports the campaign for themselves.”
That’s basically the Republican position on campaign finance: “We’re against limits on campaign donations, but we’re in favor of transparency.” That’s a poor substitute in many people’s view. Including the vast majority of Democrats.
The funny thing is, Gray went on the attack against Balint on this very issue. Balint initially replied that she wasn’t sure whether she’d received any donations from corporate lobbyists. (As she later explained, “for the first time in my political career … I don’t personally know everyone who’s giving me money.”)
“There was a question to you about whether or not you’re accepting federal lobbyist contributions. And I just wanted it to be clear because I didn’t fully hear the answer: Are you accepting contributions, currently, from lobbyists?”
Balint replied that her campaign was not soliciting lobbyist money, but she couldn’t be sure whether she’d received any.
Gray, sensing weakness, pressed the point. “I just think that it’s really important,” she said. She noted that she’d taken some heat for accepting money from Luke Albee and Ed Pagano, D.C. lobbyists who used to work for Leahy and had given “decades of service to Vermont,” while Balint couldn’t rule out the alleged taint of lobbyist cash.
That’s fine. A little rough-and-tumble in a debate, an opening seen in an opponent’s defenses. But at that moment, Gray had to know that her campaign ledger was chock-full of lobbyist donations. And there she was, claiming she’d only taken a bit of scratch from authentic Sons of the Soil while questioning Balint’s bona fides.
At the time, it seemed like a point for Gray. In retrospect, it looks hypocritical.
Indeed, Goldstein reports that not only was Gray accepting lobbyist cash, she was actively soliciting it. “She called me out of the blue one day,” said lobbyist Nathan Daschle, who gave her the max donation of $2,900. Why?
“She introduced herself and talked a little about the campaign, and I was impressed with her. I also appreciated that she wasn’t running as the candidate of the far left.”
That makes me wonder exactly how she convinced Daschle that she was the acceptably moderate choice. We’ll never know. But if there was any doubt that Gray is the centrist in this race and is apparently presenting herself as such, Daschle’s words should lay it to rest.
In truth, I’m not terribly bothered by lobbyist donations. Happens all the time in D.C. and in Montpelier, for that matter. Plus, I’ve never seen any indication that it makes a difference to voters.
But hypocrisy? That bugs me.