The Vermont Republican Party doesn’t have much money to spend right now, but here’s a suggestion: Invest in a metal detector. You might improve your fortunes by finding some spare change and, who knows, maybe a pirate doubloon or two.
This isn’t exactly new for the perpetually impecunious VTGOP. But if anything, it’s gotten worse — especially when compared to the Vermont Democratic Party, which had a gangbusters 2022 by comparison.
The latest Federal Elections Commission filings covered the month of November. It’ll be a few days before we get the year-end reports. But I doubt the situation will change all that much, and the situation merits exploration right now.
(Reminder: Although the VDP and VTGOP are state parties, the vast majority of their financial activity is under federal jurisdiction. The figures that follow are all from FEC filings.)
The VTGOP ended November with a paltry $2,204 in cash on hand. The Dems: $207,060, nearly 100 times as much. And that was after generous Democratic expenditures in the run-up to Election Day. The VDP’s goal was to enter the off-cycle period with enough resources to avoid post-campaign staff cuts. They’ll have to maintain a solid fundraising pace to accomplish that, but so far things are looking good.
Meanwhile, the VTGOP just suffered its worst legislative defeat ever and couldn’t sniff a statewide victory for any candidate not named “Phil Scott.” They need some serious rebuilding, and they have no resources to even begin the work. The numbers tell the tale.
How about total receipts from January 2021 to end of November 2022? Republicans: $238,923. Democrats: $1.74 million. That’s an advantage of more than seven to one.
Want another scary marker? The Democrats had a gangbusters September, as the hotly contested primaries were over and the party was making a big push toward November. The VDP took in $325,321 in September alone — far more than the VTGOP raised in the entire two-year period.
“Receipts” include individual donations plus transfers from other entities — mostly naitonal party orgs supporting state parties. The VDP had a huge advantage in both categories. Total contributions for the two-year period: Dems $689,358, Repubs $144,866.
Total receipts from affiliated orgs: Dems $651,100, Repubs $82,300. More than seven-eighths of the VTGOP’s total came from the Republican National Committee.
The Dems took in $344,500 from the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund, a super PAC funded by high-roller liberal donors that helps state parties with direct donations and joint fundraising operations. They also got $62,500 from the Vermont Senate Victory PAC, which is connected to Senator-elect Peter Welch’s campaign, plus $42,500 from Balint for Vermont (since U.S. Rep-elect Becca Balint had more money than she needed). Also $32,990 from the Democratic National Committee.
Heck, the party even received $1,000 from underdog gubernatorial candidate Brenda Siegel. That may not seem like much, but (a) it was a considerable sum for Siegel, and (b) it was more than the VTGOP received from any of its candidates.
That includes Gov. Phil Scott, whose campaign had more money than it knew what to do with. Neither he nor his campaign gave a single dime to the VTGOP.
The VDP also got a handful of big donations from outside the state. Silicon Valley venture capitalist Reid Hoffman and his wife Michelle Yee each gave $10,000, as did Fred Eychaner, president of Chicago-based Newsweb Group. Hotelier Pritham Singh and his wife Ann Johnston each gave $10,000. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker gave $2,041.
Also, a couple of potentially embarrassing gifts: Arthur Blank, owner of the aggressively anti-union Home Depot, gave $7,125. And Abigail Wexner gave $10,000.
Thereby hangs a tale. Abigail is married to skillionaire Les Wexner, who has been described as the “chief benefactor” of disgraced pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Wexner claims that he cut off the relationship after Epstein was accused of having sex with underage girls.
Funny thing about that. In December 2007, not long after Epstein was so accused, Abigail Wexner established a charity called the YLK Charitable Fund. The following month, according to the Columbus Dispatch, Epstein gave $47 million to the foundling organization. That was the only money ever raised by YLK.
Yeah, you get into the political money game and sooner or later you find yourselves getting dirty to some degree. Public campaign financing, anyone?
That’s a blot on the VDP’s escutcheon, but ten grand is a drop in the bucket for a party that gets tens of thousands from party committees and plenty of five-figure gifts from individuals. The VTGOP’s donations (aside from the RNC) top out at four figures, and there are damn few of those.
In state, the Dems have some reliable high rollers. Jane Stetson gave $11,020, former party chair Dottie Deans gave $4,099, and former party treasurer Billi Gosh gave a total of $1,781. No VTGOP panjandrum even hit four figures.
There’s also a huge difference in fundraising from party candidates and officeholders. The VDP’s long list of donors includes a lot of both, plus a bunch of former officeholders. Only two Republican officeholders gave money to their party: Reps. Art Peterson and Larry Labor. Two former lawmakers also stepped forward: Peg Flory gave $250 and Thomas Koch gave $220. It’s sad, really.
And the VTGOP is falling further behind. That’s because current VDP chair Anne Lezak and executive director Jim Dandeneau have devoted a lot of energy to party-building and fundraising. The monthly totals spell it out. In the first three months of 2022, the Dems raised less than $60,000 per month. In April, the total jumped to $68,645.
In May, Dandeneau came on board and Lezak had been in office long enough to have a solid grip on things. That month, the party received $99,217. In June, the total jumped to $184,844. ‘There was a dropoff in July and August when all those Democratic primary candidates were taking up all the fundraising oxygen: $84,121 in July, $63,143 in August.
And then came September, with that big fat $325,321. You think that didn’t help seal the party’s huge wins in the Statehouse?
The VDP took in a respectable $227,532 in October and November. It’s that burst of donations in those three months that has put the VDP in an unusually healthy post-election position.
Meanwhile, there is no sign at all that the VTGOP is getting its act together. Party leadership is full of far-right conservatives who have no idea how to broaden their appeal. Either that, or they don’t care. The party has no paid staff. Its candidate “recruitment” effort basically consists of accepting anyone who steps forward, which is why the Republican ticket was full of embarrassments like John Klar, Maryse Dunbar, Roger Drury, Kathi Tarrant, Jarrod Sammis, and Rob North. These weren’t just ideologues who stumbled into candidacies; these were people who got the active support of the party — and in some cases, a public endorsement from Gov. Scott himself.
Party chair Paul Dame’s visible activity consists of writing terrible essays and email blasts, and recording tacky YouTube videos. That’s not what a party chair should be doing. That thankless job should involve, say it with me, party-building, candidate recruitment and fundraising. But it’s a lot more fun to crank out propaganda that won’t do anything to broaden the party’s narrow base.
Not that Dame can pull this thing out of the ditch by himself, but his “strategy” will, at best, keep the VTGOP in the political wilderness. At worst, he’ll drive the party even deeper into oblivion.
And now, for the first time in years, he faces a Vermont Democratic Party that seems to be firing on all cylinders. Have pity on the sad elephant.