Category Archives: Campaign finance

Why is the Scott Campaign Trying All of a Sudden?

Gov. Phil Scott’s re-election campaign has been sleepwalking through the 2022 campaign, barely bothering to raise money and spending very little.

Until now.

The Scott campaign’s recent financial disclosures show that, with very little time remaining, Team Scott has seriously kicked it into overdrive.

Between October 27 and November 4, the Scott campaign filed five Mass Media spending reports, totaling $63,471. That’s more than they’d spent on mass media in the entire cycle before then. The media buys break down like this: $45,086 for TV, cable and streaming ads, $1,142 for Facebook ads, and $7,513 for newspaper ads.

In the six weeks before that big splurge, the Scott campaign had spent less than $10,000 on mass media.

Why spend so much so late? In fact, almost too late? The impact will be limited because so many have already voted. Did they get a bad poll?

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How About That, Team Scott is Actually Trying

Well, well. Somebody in the Phil Scott campaign has turned the spigot.

After sleepwalking its way through 2022, Team Scott got serious about fundraising in the first half of October. Before that, Scott’s fundraising had totaled $151,514, which is peanuts for a gubernatorial campaign. Then, in only two weeks, Scott raised $47,544 according to his latest finance filing (due on October 15).

That’s nearly one-quarter of his campaign total in only two weeks.

Is somebody hearing footsteps?

The flurry of activity meant that for the first time in three campaign finance cycles, Scott actually outraised his challenger, Brenda Siegel. She took in $16,613 in the first half of October for a campaign total of $163,342. That’s a solid pace for only 15 days. As usual, Siegel donors far outnumbered Scott’s. She’s received donations from 875 individuals and groups compared to Scott’s 545.

Neither candidate spent much money in the period. Siegel has more than $84,000 in the bank, which should allow her to finance a significant TV ad buy. Scott has $91,519 on hand, plus a nice $272,000 kitty left over from previous campaigns, so he’s got plenty to spend if he wants to.

Now, let’s take a closer look at who suddenly opened their wallets for the governor.

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The Dem Statewides Are Doing Just Fine, Thanks

In a post following the September 1 campaign finance deadline, I noted that “three of the big Democratic primary winners emptied their coffers in an effort to get across the finish line.” It put them in a potentially hazardous position for the general campaign.

Well, it would have if their Republican opponents weren’t all unknown, unfunded, and largely unloved.

I speak of Charity Clark (attorney general), David Zuckerman (lieutenant governor), and Sarah Copeland Hanzas (secretary of state). Zuckerman had $16,771 in the bank on the first of September; Clark actually entered September with a $1,200 shortfall, Copeland Hanzas had about $12,000 on hand, but only because she reported loaning her campaign $14,000. So, according to her own report, she had a $12,000 deficit outside of her own pocketbook.

Well, hold on a minute. According to her campaign manager Lizzy Carroll, that $14,000 number was a mistake. The actual self-loan was $3,500, which is not insignificant but it does make her bottom line look a lot better. The deficit falls from $12,000 to about $1,500. (She carried forward a $1,160 surplus from past campaigns, which would lower her real deficit to less than $400.)

So, where are the three of them now?

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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.

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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.

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Looks Like Maybe We Got Ourselves a Race

There were no competitive primaries for governor last month, but there were definite signs that business is picking up. Gov. Phil Scott and challenger Brenda Siegel increased their fundraising from their previous very modest levels. In fact, it seems as though Scott actually began putting some effort into it last month, which is something he famously doesn’t like to do. Conventional wisdom has it that Scott will win in a walk. Do the August numbers suggest he’s getting a bit concerned about Siegel?

As of July 31, Scott had raised a total of $49,989. In August alone he upped that to $54,580, bringing his campaign total north of $100,000. He also has a $272,000 surplus from previous campaigns, so he’s not cash-poor by any means.

Siegel, meanwhile, took in $44,259 in August, which made it her best month to date. She’s raised a total of $103,195, a few thousand less than Scott. And of course, she doesn’t have a handy-dandy surplus to fall back on.

There are a couple of notes that make Siegel’s performance better than the sheer total. First, she had a burst of fundraising in the last few days of the month. If that momentum carries forward, she’ll do fine. She won’t match Scott dollar for dollar, but her campaign won’t live or die on money alone.

It’d also help if Scott kicked a few more balls into his own net, as he did this week with the announcement that an emergency rental assistance program was virtually out of money — something his officials failed to notice or predict. As a result, thousands will lose rental support at the end of this month, and thousands more at the end of November. You know, just when it’s getting seriously cold?

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A Tale of Two Treasuries

Obligatory “War Chest” Reference

As if it needed any more emphasis, the September 1 campaign finance reports starkly illustrate the difference in fortune between the Vermont Democratic and Republican Parties. In case you need to be told, the Dems’ war chest is on the left; the VTGOP’s is on the right. The exception is Gov. Phil Scott, who seems to finally be taking the campaign seriously. Maybe he’s a little worried about Brenda Siegel?

Fundraising numbers to date for statewide races besides governor:

Lieutenant Governor: David Zuckerman $236,687, Joe Benning $38,546. That’s the good one for the Republicans.

Treasurer: Mike Pieciak $126,500, H. Brooke Paige 0.

Secretary of State: Sarah Copeland Hanzas $74,078, H. Brooke Paige 0.

Attorney General: Charity Clark $129, 835, Mike Tagliavia 0.

Auditor: Invincible incumbent Doug Hoffer $100 plus a $1,115 surplus from 2020, Rick Morton 0.

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Bruce Lisman Plays the Field (UPDATED)

While we wait for the final September 1 campaign finance reports to trickle in, here’s a little thing I noticed. Bruce Lisman, failed (and self-funded) candidate for governor, founder of Campaign for Vermont, and former Bear Stearns executive who may have been portrayed as a real dummy in the movie version of “The Big Short,” has made a total of three donations* to Vermont candidates so far this year.

*Update! Phil Scott just reported a $1,000 contribution from Lisman. So, four.

Together, they could serve as the dictionary definition of “mixed bag.” Let’s see if you can discern a pattern here.

He gave $500 to Sen. Joe Benning’s campaign for lieutenant governor. Not surprising at all.

He gave $500 to Patricia Preston’s hopeless bid for LG as a sort of centrist.

So far we’ve got what used to be called a mainline Republican and a moderate Democrat. *Plus a putatively moderate Republican.

The third fourth gift? $1,000 to “Farmer” John Klar’s campaign for state senate.

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No, It Wasn’t the “Dark Money”

Some people just loooooove the taste of sour grapes. Myself, I prefer to let them ripen before consuming, but Molly Gray and some of her devotees simply can’t help themselves. They’re shoveling fistfuls of the bitter things into their mouths like they’re consuming caviar.

And what’s left of Vermont’s political media is feeding this strange hunger by obsessing over the tide of big, out-of-state money spent on behalf of Becca Balint’s Congressional campaign. Seriously, they’ve missed a boatload of good stories about the primary, but they’re chasing this one like a starving dog sniffin’ roadkill.

So let’s start here. No, the last-minute flood of independent money didn’t make the difference. There is no way on God’s green earth that the outside expenditures created a 24 PERCENTAGE POINT MARGIN OF VICTORY. I’m sure they contributed a few points to the margin, but Balint would have won handily without a single outside dime.

She beat Gray fair and square. The longer Gray and her minions keep beating this drum, the longer it will take to rehabilitate her political reputation in Democratic circles. She’s already at serious risk of never eating lunch in this town again.

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If Lenore Broughton Had a Clue, She Could be Dangerous

Reclusive Montgomery Ward heiress Lenore Broughton, who must be referred to as “reclusive heiress” under the immutable laws of journalism, is by a longshot the most generous conservative donor in Vermont.

She is, of course, a modestly-sized frog in a tiny pond. She’s nowhere near the DeVoses or Uihleins of the world. But in Vermont, she’s got enough muscle to move our political center of gravity to the right.

Fortunately, she has no idea how to effectively spend her money. She wastes a lot of it on fruitless ventures, outmoded ideas, and candidates who are far too conservative to make any difference in public office even if they win. (What should she do instead? Read on, my friend.)

Most recent example: Broughton donated a cool $100,000 to Vermonters for Good Government Action, the thinly-veiled anti-abortion group trying to defeat Article 22. In a year when 59% of voters in goddamn Kansas refused to open the door to abortion restrictions, what hope is there of prevailing in deep blue Vermont?

You might chalk that up to unshakable belief. Broughton probably can’t help but spend heavily against reproductive rights. But how do you explain her bankrolling True North Reports, that seldom-read outpost of conservative commentary and “news”? There’s no way to know how much she spends on TNR because it’s a private venture, but it must be quite a lot. The return isn’t a bang for her bucks; it’s more like a wet fart.

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