The VDP Got Its Groove Back

At the beginning of this year, the Vermont Democratic Party was in bad shape. Constant turnover in leadership and staff, low morale, poor fundraising, ineffectiveness in the face of Phil Scott.

Well, that last one hasn’t changed. Yet.

But the other stuff? Things are looking up. The credit, it would seem, belongs to party Chair Anne Lezak and Executive Director Jim Dandeneau. They’re the new leadership team, and they’ve turned things around in a hurry. The money is flowing, party regulars are engaged, they’ve refilled a bunch of staff vacancies, and their latest press release shows a newfound willingness to get in there and mix it up.

At the dawn of 2022, the party had a single staff member. This week, the VDP announced the hiring of its fifth staffer, Finance Director Shelden Goodwin. She joins Dandeneau, Coordinated Campaign Director Elliot Kauffman, Senate Caucus Director Sally Short, and House Caucus Director Cameron McClimans. They’re geared up for the campaign season.

They’ve been able to assemble a team because, well, they’ve got the money. Major donors and officeholders are doing their part, and the donor lists are getting longer.

Also, it must be said, the VDP has benefited tremendously from the generous support of national Democratic organizations. It all adds up to a healthy bank balance in spite of growing payroll costs. On January 1, the party had $43,238 in cash on hand. Five months later, that figure had grown to $129,316.

For the month of May (the most recent filing on the FEC website), the VDP took in $99,217. It spent $69,225, ending the month with a nearly $30,000 jump in cash on hand.

The bulk of the money came from national Democratic sources: The Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund gave $73,700; the Vermont Senate Victory Fund (based in Washington, D.C.) $14,550; and the Democratic National Committee kicked in $21,226. National Dems, it would seem, are dead serious about building the party from the ground up.

Which is not to say that Vermont Dems aren’t doing their part. Individual gifts added up to $23,149. May not seem like much, but it’s a marked improvement. Numerous officeholders and candidates made substantial contributions in May, even as they were running campaigns of their own. Lezak herself gave $2,005. Former party chair Dottie Deans gave $2,549, Dem megadonor Jane Stetsen gave $5,000, as did maple farm operator Arthur Berndt. When the party was at its nadir, those big names were either absent or cutting much smaller checks.

Now, let’s compare with the Vermont Republican Party. From January 2021 to May 31, 2022, the Dems received more than four times as much as the VTGOP. And that period includes a year of Democratic underperformance.

The VTGOP got a very generous $52,350 in May from the Republican National Committee. Until then, RNC support hadn’t been anywhere close to that level. Problem is, the VTGOP’s fundraising total for May was only $58,528.

The Vermont Republican Party raised a mere $6,178 on its own. In an entire month! In an election year!

That’s sad. They’d better hope that RNC bolus wasn’t a one-time affair, or they’re in deep shit. The VTGOP had $72,722 in cash on hand at the end of May; that figure would have been less than $20,000 if not for the RNC windfall.

Needless to say, the VTGOP continues to totter along with no paid staff.

I promised you a look at the VDP’s piping-hot press release. The headline: “VDP Congratulates VTGOP On Newfound Opposition to Fascism.”

Ouch.

The release noted that the VTGOP had formally disavowed far-right candidate Mark Coester, the guy who ran that big ugly hateful truck in the Colchester Fourth of July parade.

But the release then noted that numerous VTGOP officials and officeholders had signed a letter to then-vice president Mike Pence, urging him to block the January 6 Congressional approval of the 2020 presidential election. And the VDP asked if all these people, election truthers every one, would also be disowned by the VTGOP.

These people include Gregory Thayer, candidate for lieutenant governor; Windham County Republican chair and state Senate candidate Rick Morton; Republican National Committeemember Suzanne Butterfield; former VTGOP chair Deb Billado; the party chairs in Rutland and Caledonia County; twelve members (not counting Billado) of the State Republican Committee; and five candidates for the Legislature.

That’s one hell of a lot of election deniers in positions of authority. Why Phil Scott continues to associate himself with these people, you’d have to ask him.

Anyway, it’s the toughest press release to come from the VDP in I don’t know how long. These things are usually boilerplate rehashes of party positions and tired, repetitive criticism of the other guys.

This ain’t that.

You may not like this kind of sharp-elbowed political rhetoric, but… (1) the Republicans fully deserve it, and (2) it’s the stuff a political party ought to be doing. You add that to the Democrats’ rapidly improving financial condition and robust staff, and you have a party that’s definitely got its groove back.

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