The Little Engine That Could, and The Big Engine That Isn’t Trying

Not that anyone in the media noticed, but Saturday was a campaign finance filing deadline in Vermont. With the passing of primary season there’s a relative dearth of interesting stuff in them, but c’mon.

So, into the breach. The only statewide race that’s a contest in any sense is the gubernatorial. The latest finance reports show Gov. Phil Scott sleepwalking his way through the campaign, while Democrat Brenda Siegel continues to outperform expectations. In the month of September, Scott raised $35,311, giving him a campaign total of $155,724, which is a minuscule amount of money for a gubernatorial race.

For the second month in a row, Siegel outraised the incumbent with $45,998, for a campaign total of $149,193. Her fundraising shows some momentum; she’s peaked in the last two months. The big question: Is it enough with Election Day a little over a month away?

But the money race isn’t as close as it might seem. Scott entered the race with $272,000 in surplus from previous campaigns. I’m sure he feels he’s got all the money he needs. Siegel has enough for a well-staffed campaign, but not enough to buy swaths of airtime on WCAX and WPTZ. (In fact, she spent no money on TV, radio or print advertising in September.)

Meanwhile, the Republican Governors Association PAC, A Stronger Vermont, continues to lie in the weeds. It raised and spent no money in September, meaning its leadership is fully confident of a Scott victory. ASV could outspend Siegel and Scott combined without batting an eye.

In the absence of big media, Siegel has to work hard elsewhere to close the name recognition gap and persuade low-information voters that Scott needs replacing. It’s a daunting task, but Siegel is used to being in that situation.

SIegel continues to attract far more donors than Scott. The September numbers were Siegel 291, Scott 79. For the entire campaign, it’s Siegel 758, Scott 442.

As for high rollers on Scott’s list, one name jumped out at me: Maximus, a Virginia firm gave him a maximum (sorry) gift of $4,210. Remember the unemployment insurance fiasco at the start of the Covid pandemic? The Labor Department was overwhelmed with a flood of claims — but waited almost a month to put out a contract for temporary call-center help. When it finally did, it got precisely one bid — from Maximus. Which won the contract. I guess the company felt some gratitude. Or it’s hoping for more work the next time the Labor Department implodes.

Maximus, by the way, has a decidedly mixed track record. Per Mother Jones, it’s notorious for bad working conditions in its call centers, and it has cashed in big-time on privatization of government social and health care services.

Other big donors for Scott include black-hat lobbying firm MMR ($4,210), Burlington developer Ernie Pomerleau ($4,000), Christine Miles of the R.K. Miles kitchenware retailer ($2,500), St. Johnsbury Subaru ($2,000), and apostate Republican activist Stuart Stevens ($1,000).

Many of Siegel’s donations were of the small variety, but she did get several large gifts in September. Four members of the extended Patel family, which appears to be in the motel business, gave $2,500 apiece: Dhruv, Daxa, Nirav, and Preyas Patel. She received $4,210 each from two organizations: the VT-NEA Fund for Children and Public Education and Common Good Virginia, a fund that supports Democratic candidates. Two out-of-staters gave $2,105 each: Vikas Naik of Pennsylvania and Niket Mody of Virginia. Anti-F-35 activist Rosanne Greco gave $1,000 in September, for a campaign total of $3,000. Travis Belisle, who tried to develop a wind farm in Swanton, gave Siegel $1,500.

Campaign spending was a shadow of its usual self. Siegel spent $25,657 in September for a campaign total of $67,582. Her biggest expenditures were for staff pay and benefits. She enters October with $81,611 in cash on hand. Scott has $65,164 for this cycle, but he’s got that $272,000 surplus he can draw on if he needs to.

Scott’s big September expenses were for staff, printing and mailing ($21,019 to Jet Service Envelope), and Facebook ads ($12,560).

Lean times for Vermont’s TV stations, eh?

That’s the gubernatorial picture. Scott floating along, SIegel battling to make her insurgent campaign competitive, and the big money still betting on an easy Scott victory. We shall see.

2 thoughts on “The Little Engine That Could, and The Big Engine That Isn’t Trying

  1. Walter Carpenter

    “Maximus, by the way, has a decidedly mixed track record.”

    They were also the call center of the Vermont Department of Health Access, which must have outsourced their own call center to this Maximus (I wonder how much Maximus paid for that one in campaign “gifts”), and when I called to re-up on Medicaid I got a Maximus lady in Virginia. I don’t know if they are still doing it now. The Maximus rep was nice, but she made a gaff that caused me months of the usual grief associated with our health care fiasco. I was peeved that our tax dollars were being farmed out to this private company without our permission to do the work that the VDHA should have been doing themselves and could easily have done it. Again, I wonder how much Maximus paid in campaign “gifts” to get this contract.

    Reply

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