Category Archives: Campaign finance

10/15 Campaign Finance Filings: Same Old Song (UPDATED)

Nothing in this column bears illustration, so let’s go with some clickbait.

In case you were wondering why all the commotion last night — the rowdy partying, the fireworks, the parades, the desperate closing-time hookups — well, the mid-October campaign finance reports are in.

Yippee!

There’s nothing that changes the complexion of the Vermont political season, but there are a lot of fascinating details. Let’s get started!

The Governor is in cruise control. Phil Scott’s campaign didn’t even break a sweat in the first half of October. He pulled in $41K, bringing his campaign total to a measly $376K. (For those just joining us, conventional wisdom has it that you need at least seven figures to seriously compete, and $2 million is a better starting point.) What’s really telling, though, is that he only spent $14K in the past two weeks. He did a bunch of small newspaper ad buys and no TV. He didn’t pay a dime to his big national campaign outfit, Optimus Consulting. He has over $100,000 in the bank, and shows no sign of making a serious dent in it.

Zuckerman fights the good fight. The Democratic/Progressive nominee is a spider monkey battling a gorilla: Impressively crafty, but likely to get squashed. Zuckerman raised a healthy $62K in the two weeks since October 1, for a campaign total of $629K. And there’s the problem: it’s really not enough money to fuel a statewide campaign against an entrenched incumbent.

If you look at his donor list, you see where his problem lies. He’s getting a ton of small gifts, but the Democratic power players are sitting it out.

Look at these numbers. Scott has 1,141 unique donors, and has taken in 768 “small” donations of $100 or less. Zuckerman has 5,234 donors, and has accepted 6,055 donations of $100 or less. (The latter number is higher because many of his donors have made multiple gifts.)

Even with Scott’s late entry into active campaigning because of the coronavirus, those are some telling numbers. Despite his broad popularity, Scott doesn’t have people lining up to give him money. Zuckerman has a much larger base of enthusiastic donors.

But his problem is, he isn’t getting the big money to augment the small fry. The state’s two largest public sector unions wrote big checks to Beth Pearce, Doug Hoffer, Jim Condos and TJ Donovan — but nothing, as far as I can tell, for Zuckerman.

Meanwhile, Democratic megadonor Jane Stetson donated $500 to Zuckerman’s campaign. That’s a buck in the tip jar for Stetson. If she was committed, she and her husband WIlliam would have each kicked in the maximum $4,160.

That’s only one data point, but it illustrates the disconnect between Zuckerman and the Democratic moneybags. He also, apparently, hasn’t received any money from Vermont’s Congressional delegation. (Bernie has done his bit for Zuckerman on the intangible front, but no direct contributions.)

Zuckerman has received a healthy $13,000 from the Vermont Progressive Party, which makes the absence of Democratic cash all the more glaring. And he’s given $22K to his own campaign. He’s needed every dime.

Still to come: The LG race and the PACs, including a surprise entry for most impactful PAC of the cycle.

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Why Are Liberal PACs Giving Thousands to Beth Pearce?

Nothing against our incumbent state treasurer, but she’s sailing to re-election and a bunch of liberal PACs have just made big donations to her campaign. Sure, reward a faithful officeholder and all that, but she doesn’t need the money and she’s not spending the money.

Look: Her Republican opponent, Carolyn Branagan, has filed her October 15 campaign finance report — and it shows no activity whatsoever since the previous reporting deadline of October 1. No fundraising, no spending, nothing. Before that, Branagan’s campaign had been a low-budget affair largely funded by herself. She’d raised $26,000 including $20,000 from herself, and spent $18,000. Total. On a statewide campaign.

Pearce, meanwhile, had raised $25,000 and spent a little less than 10 grand as of October 1. Her opponent has essentially given up, she drew 68% of the vote in 2018 and hasn’t been seriously challenged since her first run for the office in 2012. If she has a pulse on November 3, she’s gonna win.

During this 15-day reporting period, the VT-NEA Fund for Children and Public Education gave Pearce the maximum $4,160. The VSEA PAC has donated $1,500. VPIRG Votes chipped in $400. And she got $250 apiece from the Professional Firefighters of Vermont and the Vermont Building Trades PAC.

(She’s also received $2,000 from Emily’s List, but those are pass-through contributions from individuals giving to Pearce through the List. No conscious effort on Emily’s part.)

This shouldn’t really bother me, but it does. I mean, why?

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Where’d the Big Money Go?

To paraphrase the great Yogi Berra, it’s getting late early out there. Almost three weeks remain until Election Day, but we’re closing in on 100,000 ballots already cast in Vermont. That’s likely to be between one-third and one-quarter of all the votes. Which means that political spending will be less and less impactful as the ballots keep on rolling in.

So, where’s the big money? It’s absent, for the most part. The next round of campaign finance reports isn’t due until Thursday night, but we’re in the Mass Media reporting window: Within 45 days of an election, any mass media buys over $500 must be reported immediately to the Secretary of State’s office. In recent weeks, there’s little sign of big spends.

This would seem to be terrible news for Scott Milne, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. On September 24, the Republican State Leadership Committee spent $210,000 on TV ads backing Milne. I took it as a sign that national Republicans saw Milne as a credible contender — perhaps even a future successor to Gov. Phil Scott, whenever he rides off into the sunset or Congress, depending.

But the ballots are pouring in, and the RSLC hasn’t spent a dime here in three weeks. Either they have bigger fish to fry, or they’ve decided that Milne is a lost cause.

Despite that poll.

After the jump: a deeper dive into PAC and Super PAC spending. I warned you.

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10/1 Gov Campaign Finance Reports: Spare change

I was going to call this post “Pedal to the Metal,” and on a relative scale that’s true. Both Gov. Phil Scott and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman dramatically picked up the fundraising pace in September. But by historical standards, both campaigns remain at bargain-basement level.

Zuckerman raised $107K in September, by far his best month to date, bringing his campaign total to $567K. He spent even bigger, a total of $141K in the month. By my calculation, he entered October with about $60K on hand (I’ve seen other figures in other reports, and I don’t know how they arrived at their numbers. I subtracted intake versus outflow.) Zuckerman also has $27K in the bank from past campaigns.

Scott raised $200K in September, bringing his campaign total to a measly $335K. He spent much of this year in a self-imposed campaign quarantine, as he devoted his efforts to the Covid-19 pandemic. September was the first month he took fundraising seriously, and he got decent if not spectacular returns. He didn’t spend all that much in September, so his cash on hand (again, other reports differ) is about $75K. He also has a $106K surplus from past campaigns.

Neither candidate entered October with significant wiggle room. Both will need to step up their fundraising pace if they want to boost their advertising and ground games down the home stretch.

And don’t forget that the Republican Governors Association is still lurking about. They could still pump in a flood of cash to back Scott, as they did in 2016 and 2018.

After the jump: Sources, spends, and recent history.

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National Conservatives Bet Big on Scott Milne

Molly Gray is on notice: If she wants to be lieutenant governor, she’s gonna have to fight for it.

First came Scott Milne’s roundhouse attacks in Thursday’s VTDigger debate (more on that in a separate post). Now comes a big-money investment in Milne from the D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee.

National Republicans have yet to throw any real money at Gov. Phil Scott, presumably because they are convinced he doesn’t need it. But clearly they see an opportunity to take the Lite-Guvship and position Milne as Scott’s successor.

RSLC Vermont, an independent political action committee, has reported a mass media buy totaling $209,500, the bulk of it on a TV ad blitz in support of Milne. Yep, in a single shot, the big boys put down as much cash as an entire LG campaign used to cost.

So much for Gray’s financial advantage over Milne. And this was a single expenditure; there’s a virtually unlimited supply of cash where that came from. For these folks, $200,000 is pocket change.

The RSLC is a key component of the conservative effort to buy American politics lock, stock and Supreme Court. Atop its list of donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, is the Judicial Crisis Network, the far-right organization spearheading the drive to install conservative-minded judges and, ahem, Supreme Court Justices. Other big-dollar RSLC backers include the US Chamber of Commerce, tobacco giant Altria Group, Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the Republican Governors Association, PhRMA, Amway, Koch Industries, and good old Blue Cross-Blue Shield. (Aww, and Big Blue always sounds so kind and community-spirited in its ad campaigns.)

Yeah, the same people who fueled the rise of Donald Trump, Scott Walker and Ted Cruz, and are doing their best to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a Brett Kavanagh thinkalike, are here in Vermont promoting the putative moderate Scott Milne.

But hey, RSLC Vermont is an independent PAC with no connection to the Milne campaign, so he has plausible deniability — just like Phil Scott, whose rise to the governorship has been fueled by outside conservative interests. In both 2016 and 2018, the Republican Governors Association spent far more on Scott than did the candidate himself.

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Aside From the Pandemic, It’s a Great Time to be Phil Scott

The last pre-primary campaign finance reports are in, and the big winner is… yep… Your Governor, Phil Scott.

Not that he raised much money. In fact, he raised so little that it’s clear he feels no urgency whatsoever. (Of course, he’s spending minimal time campaigning as long as the pandemic still hovers, but c’mon, if he had to raise money he’d find ways to do it.)

The latest fundraising reports cover the month of July, basically. During that time, Scott raised a mere $19,000 — bringing his campaign total to $99,000. (Numbers of more than four figures are rounded to the nearest thousand.) Even more telling is how much money he spent: A measly $1,133 for the entire month.

(Interesting entry in Scott’s “Expenses” column: $218.44 in fees to ActBlue. Which means the Democrats’ number-one online fundraising tool is serving as a conduit for Phil Scott?)

Scott is not afraid of John Klar. He’s not afraid of Rebecca Holcombe or David Zuckerman. He’s not afraid, period.

The other gubernatorial reports reinforce Scott’s apparent bulletproofness. Whoever wins the Democratic primary is going to emerge with little or no money in the bank, and the national Democratic donors aren’t coming to the rescue.

After the jump: The Dems’ respective hauls and the race for Lite-Guv.

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The Good Senator from ALEC

An unknown number of Vermont Republican state lawmakers are affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative organization that promotes model legislation for statehouses across the country.  The most recent estimate came from State Rep. Bob Helm (R-Fair Haven), ALEC’s state chair, who figured there were about 20 Vermont lawmakers on the ALEC rolls.

Which is about one-third of all Republicans in the Statehouse.

But of all those 20-odd people, there’s one who has benefited from ALEC’s largesse more than any other Vermonter. And you probably wouldn’t be able to guess who it is.

Kevin Mullin, Republican from Rutland, not especially known for being a hardliner. Indeed, like a beige house with beige trim, his blandness is his most distinguishing characteristic. Well, that and being Norm McAllister’s clueless roomie.

(The Rutland area seems to be a hive of ALEC activity. In addition to Mullin and Helm, Sen. Peg Flory is also on the ALEC list, as are a couple of former Rutland-area lawmakers. Is it something in the water?)

We can’t tell exactly how much Mullin has dipped his snout into the ALEC trough because for the past several years, the group has refused to release information about its members, its “scholarships” and free travel to ALEC meetings and conferences, usually held at top-flight hotels and resorts.

See, it became too embarrassing to its beneficiaries.

But the figures are still out there for 2009 and before. And boy howdy, has Sen. Mullin cashed in.

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A moment of dismay, dissipated

I was skimming around in campaign finance reports the other day*, when I came across something that made me say “Hmm.” And here it is:

Lisman donation

This is taken from the latest campaign finance filing of Common Sense Leadership PAC, House Minority Leader Don Turner’s slush fund political action committee. It indicates that one Bruce Lisman made a donation of $4,000 to CSLPAC on October 11.

Bruce Lisman. Of 716 Kipling Street, Houston, Texas.

Oh please, say it ain’t so, Bruce. Say you haven’t left us for a warm-weather tax haven. Especially after a campaign full of bumpf about what a true-blue Son of Vermont you were.

Reinforcing my curiosity were the fact that Lisman’s Twitter feed has been inactive since August 10, his campaign’s Facebook page was last updated on August 15, and his campaign website has been consigned to the same Internet purgatory populated by the remnants of AngelFire and GeoCities.

(Kids, ask your parents.)

Fortunately, I’ve been reassured by Lisman’s costly campaign manager, Shawn Shouldice:

Have no fear Bruce is still very much in Vermont.

Whew.

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Big donors, big money in targeted House districts

Two years ago, the Republican State Leadership Committee funneled $370,000 into Vermont, backing candidates in close races for the Vermont House. The VTGOP won several of those seats and took away the Democrats’ supermajority status.

So far this year, the RSLC has spent a lot less. But a handful of closer-to-home moneybags have taken matters into their own hands. They’ve donated more than $100,000 to individual Republican House candidates and House Minority Leader Don Turner’s political action committee.

In the small-dollar world of State House campaigns, that’s a huge amount of money.

First, a hat tip to Green Mountain Daily’s Sue Prent, who reported on the Franklin County iteration of this phenomenon a couple weeks ago. Turns out, it’s only part of a bigger pattern. But because the money is broadly dispersed, the pattern has attracted little attention.

Two of the donors are familiar names to anyone who follows Vermont politics. The other two might be new to you.

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Bernie Steps Up (and Pat Already Has)

Time for a follow-up to my recent post about the lack of support for Sue Minter from Vermont’s Congressional delegation. First, the good news:

Yep, that’s Bernie Sanders deigning to appear at not one, but two rallies on behalf of Sue Minter and the Democratic ticket. I’ll step out on a short limb here and predict that we’ll see more such events before Election Day. Extra added bonus: the involvement of Rights & Democracy. It’s nice to see them make the smart political calculation that a moderately liberal Democrat is a better choice than a questionably center-right Republican.

This erases the only question surrounding Bernie’s endorsement of the Democratic ticket last week: would he step up, step out, and make a public effort on their behalf? The answer is a developing but hearty “Yes!”

And now, the senior Senator from Vermont, Pat Leahy. Last week, I wondered why he hadn’t been more public with his backing of Minter. Well, that post generated a response from the Leahy camp listing all the times and places that the good Senator had appeared with Minter or acted on her behalf.

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