No Money, No Problems

Turns out, three of the big Democratic primary winners emptied their coffers in an effort to get across the finish line. Now they’re strapped for cash entering the general campaign.

That’d be a real problem if their Republican opponents weren’t so utterly hapless.

Charity Clark went on a mass-media spending binge in early August. She spent a massive $81,000 in the month; $64,000 of that was for TV, radio, print, mail, and online advertising. She entered September with a cash deficit of about $1,200. Turned out she didn’t have to do all that spending, as she won her party’s nomination for attorney general over Rory Thibault by a better than two-to-one margin.

Sarah Copeland Hanzas’ war chest (obligatory war chest reference) was scraping bottom as the primary approached. She spent a relatively modest $15,602 in August, not much more than half what her rival Chris Winters spent. Copeland Hanzas had entered the race very late and never caught up in fundraising. She enters September nearly $12,000 in the black, but only because she loaned her own campaign $14,000.

Still, she won — by a scant two percentage points — and that’s what matters most.

David Zuckerman spent $57,149 in August as he sought to ensure victory over Kitty Toll, bringing his campaign spending total well over $200,000. He still has $16,771 in cash on hand, and an extremely large base of small donors who can be tapped for more.

Copeland Hanzas would have some serious work to do if she was facing a candidate with any prospects in November. But her Republican opponent is H. Brooke Paige, so no worries. She’ll have no problem raising enough money to (a) repay herself and (b) maintain an adequate campaign effort.

Back to Clark, and a closer look at her finance report. A couple of notable entries on the receipt ledger: a maximum $4,210 from Comcast, and $2,500 from TJ Donovan’s campaign fund. The Comcast one is a bit worrying, but it seems to be an isolated instance of a big regulated corporation backing her candidacy. If she got max gifts from a half dozen or more corporations, that would constitute a trend.

Clark spread her money broadly across the media landscape. Her biggest single investment, by far, was in good old mailers: $32,550 to two printing firms (which must have included mailing). She bought $6,163 in ads on WCAX-TV and $4,913 on WPTZ for a TV total of $11,076. (Sorry about that, Channels 22 and 44.) She put a fair bit of money into radio: $2,510 at Burlington-area Vox AM-FM and $600 at Manchester’s WEQX.

On to print media, which may also include their online editions. Vermont News and Media (Brattleboro Reformer, Bennington Banner, Manchester Journal) $1,300, Valley News $1,065, Rutland Herald $970, Burlington Area News Group (several weeklies) $695, Burlington Free Press $595, Seven Days $460. From this I deduce that Clark felt strong in Chittenden County and thought she needed to raise her profile from Rutland and the Upper Valley to the Massachusetts border.

From this I also deduce that the Burlington Free Press is rapidly becoming an irrelevant platform for political candidates. More money for the little area weeklies than for the Free Press? Ouch.

In the digital space, Clark spent $6,095 at Front Porch Forum and $2,000 at VTDigger.

In all, that’s a hell of a lot of money in a very short period of time. Also, honestly, it seems more like a shotgun approach than a targeted, thought-out strategy. A lot of money went to what we politely call “legacy media” — print, radio, postcards. (Vermonters got so many postcards as the primary grew near that they became an annoyance. Mine went straight to the recycle bin.)

And, as it turned out, she didn’t need to spend that much. Of course, campaigns on this level can’t afford their own polling, so she probably didn’t know she was that far ahead.

It may have been superfluous, it may have been wasteful, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Clark faces unknown Republican Mike Tagliavia, who just became the VTGOP’s nominee and hasn’t raised a dime. This time around, she’ll know full well that she’s going to win no matter how much cash she has to spend.

Zuckerman spent a notable quantity on media, although nowhere near as much as Clark. He gave $10,000 to a Connecticut firm to do TV buys for his campaign, spent $13,635 on mailers and $1,970 on radio advertising. No print. Another notable spend: $6,000 to Summit Campaign Strategies, a Shelburne-based consultancy led by Ben Eisenberg, former finance director for the Vermont Democratic Party and for Bernie Sanders’ campaign fund.

Zuckerman actually has less cash on hand than his Republican rival Joe Benning, who entered September with a war chest (obligatory war chest reference) of $20,942. There’s little doubt that Zuckerman can make up that ground and more with a single email blast. He may have lost badly to Gov. Phil Scott in 2020, but his political appeal seems intact. He’s received donations from 1,226 donors, far more than anyone else on the state ballot. (Not including Congressional candidates Peter Welch and Becca Balint, who re in their own fundraising universe.)

How far? Brenda Siegel is in second place with 556 donors, less than half Zuckerman’s total. Next is Mike Pieciak with 483, then Gov. Scott at 369, Clark 333, and Copeland Hanzas 251. (Doug Hoffer, who I think is trying to set a new record for winning with no effort, has a grand total of one donor this entire cycle.) Zuckerman’s ability to activate small donors is unrivaled in state-level politics, and he’s still got it.

He won’t need it to defeat Benning, who’s a credible candidate but has a huge disadvantage in name recognition, little money to help close that gap, and little to no support from the VTGOP, which has troubles of its own.

So. It could have been a case of Democrats hurting themselves by shooting all their ammunition in competitive primaries. They did empty their armories, but were their November prospects damaged? Not that I can see.


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