Category Archives: Campaign finance

A Ridiculously Deep Dive Into Molly Gray’s Money Pit

More signs of flailing from Lt. Gov. Molly Gray’s campaign for Congress. She’s now attempting the astounding feat of presenting herself as simultaneously (1) a paragon of Vermont values and (2) a Washington insider.

I dunno. Simone Biles might balk at that bit of gymnastics.

Gray’s last pre-primary (read: last) campaign ad leans heavily on her ties to Sen. Patrick Leahy, prominently featured, and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, who is named but not shown. Maybe Welch is being more judicious than his Senate colleagues and staying out of the primary. Or maybe, just maybe, he prefers Gray’s opponent?

But that’s not why I called you here on this muggy day. My purpose is to look at a couple of issues with Gray’s fundraising. The first is the portion of her war chest (obligatory “war chest” reference) that she can’t spend before the primary. The second is how much money this living embodiment of Vermont values has raised from inside the Beltway.

Hint: It’s a lot.

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Pre-Primary Campaign Finance: AG and SoS

Previously: Gov and Lite-Gov.

Well, the lively Democratic primary contests for attorney general and secretary of state continue to be lively, according to the latest campaign finance reports.

…with one sad exception. To judge by his campaign finance filing, Montpelier City Clerk John Odum has pretty much folded his bid for secretary of state. He’d been trailing in the money race with his two competitors, Deputy Secretary Chris Winters and Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, but in July he fell off a cliff. Odum raised $375 (from four donors) and spent $653. His only donation of more than $100 came from Montpelier property owner Fred Bashara, who kicked in $250.

As for the front-runners, Winters has modest edges on Copeland Hanzas with one exception: He has more than $25,000 in cash on hand to SCH’s $4,545. What he’s going to accomplish with that money between now and next Tuesday, I don’t know. If he loses, he may regret opportunities missed. The winner, after all, won’t need much of a bankroll to defeat whoever the Republicans dig up. And unspent cash won’t do the loser any good at all.

From the top: Winters raised $13,100 in July for a campaign total of $73,763. Copeland Hanzas netted $12,004 to reach $51,116 for the campaign. Not bad considering that she got a late start in the race.

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All Hail the Queen

Yes, it’s Photoshopped.

But seriously, Becca Balint’s latest campaign finance report is a wonder to behold. And it couldn’t be more different than Molly Gray’s.

The most dramatic number isn’t the bottom line, in which Balint outraised her Democratic rival in the race for Congress between July 1-20 by a margin of $145,000 to $65,000, putting her narrowly in the lead for the campaign to date. (And leaving her at a disadvantage in cash on hand, thanks to Gray’s lower spending.)

But that pales in comparison to the margin in unique donors, where Balint outguns Gray by basically a 12-to-1 margin.

Yes, I said twelve to one.

Balint’s FEC filing includes 6,548 “itemized receipts.” Gray’s: 532*. Balint’s campaign was absolutely flooded with donations in that 20-day period.

*Note: When a donor gives via ActBlue, the donation is credited to the donor AND to ActBlue. It’s counted once in the dollar total, but listed twice. There are a lot of these; many donors use ActBlue. So the number of donors is much lower than the number of “itemized receipts.” but that’s true for both campaigns. If Balint’s actual number of unique donors is 30-40% lower than 6,548, the same is true for Gray. The ratio remains more or less the same. Also, even if Balint “only” got donations from, say, 4,000 people in 20 days, that’s still incredible.

Balint’s list of donors is a remarkable thing. The vast majority of donors gave less than $100, and most of those gave $50 or less. Quite a few gave less than $10. There were very few large-dollar donations.

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Gray Doubles Down on Campaign Finance Hypocrisy

Another round of Congressional campaign finance filings are in, and the headline is that Lt. Gov. Molly Gray leads the money race. And she does, but not by a meaningful margin, not enough to sway the primary… and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint is catching up. (I’ll try to come back to the numbers in the near future, but that’s all you need to know for now.)

Plus, she’s got the LGBTQ Victory Fund PAC spending six figures on her behalf. As is her custom, Gray is slamming Balint for, um, I guess, not preventing this independent actor from acting independently on her behalf? Because Balint is legally barred from any kind of interaction or coordination with Super PACs.

Well, it’s all bullshit anyway, and disastrously-timed bulllshit at that. Really? When the LGBTQ+ community is under attack, you want the community to unilaterally disarm? You want Balint to condemn an LGBTQ+ fund from promoting LGBTQ+ representation?

Gray says her beef isn’t with this group; it’s with any outside spending: “Vermonters decide who represents Vermonters, and no one else,” she says. But she’s happily accepting big fat checks from D.C. lobbyists, isn’t she? Yes, she is.

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The Money Race: Attorney General

Third in a series. Part 1 covered the race for lieutenant governor; part 2 was about the race for governor.

The big money in the campaign for attorney general belongs to the guy who’s not in office anymore. TJ Donovan, recently departed for a sweet corporate gig that somehow advances his commitment to consumer protection, still has nearly $300,000 in his campaign treasury, most of it surplus from 2020. Unlike Treasurer Beth Pearce, Donovan has yet to disperse his money to other candidates or the Vermont Democratic Party or anyone else. I’m sure he’ll get around to it sometime. Or maybe he’s saving it for……

Regarding the people who want the job — former Donovan chief of staff Charity Clark and Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault — they’re in a competitive money race that leaves neither in a dominant position, although Clark has some advantages.

This race got off to a late start thanks to Donovan’s sudden decision to go corporate. The July 1 campaign finance reports include all of Clark and Thibault’s campaigns. Clark reported raising almost $80,000, while Thibault took in $74,000. But… Thibault donated $12,000 to his own campaign while Clark gave herself $4,000.

On the other hand, Clark raised $12K from people named Clark while Thibault only netted $4K from others sharing his last name, so those two factors are a collective wash.

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The Money Race: Gubernatorial

Second in a series on the July 1 campaign finance reports. The first installment covered the race for lieutenant governor.

We’re livin’ in an upside-down world, I tell ya.

There are six campaigns for statewide office. Second from the bottom, from a fundraising perspective, is the race for governor.

Yep.

Gov. Phil Scott and Brenda Siegel have raised a combined total of $82K. The only cheaper campaign is Auditor Doug Hoffer’s bid for re-election. He has raised precisely zero dollars in the past year. He carried forward a $1,115 surplus from 2020; he’s spent $862 of that, including a $200 donation to the Vermont Democratic Party. I guess he’s not worried about taking on H. Brooke Paige or whatever patsy the VTGOP digs up to take Paige’s place.

Otherwise? The six candidates for lieutenant governor have raised a combined $324K, including a paltry $16K for the two Republicans. The two Democrats running for attorney general check in at $154K. The three Dems competing for Secretary of State have raised a combined $120K. And good ol’ MIke Pieciak, running all by his lonesome for the Democratic nomination to succeed Beth Pearce, has raised $106K.

Meanwhile, the race for governor tootles along below the radar.

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The Money Race: Lieutenant Governor

If you want to encapsulate the Vermont Republican Party’s statewide ballot woes, the latest campaign finance reports spell it out right clear.

The four Democratic candidates took in a combined $110,000 in the period ending July 1.

The two Republicans? $8,000.

It’s even worse when you look at campaign-to-date totals. Democrats: $308,000.

Republicans: $16,000. (Sen. Joe Benning $14K, Grgory Thayer $2K.)

Now, the usual caveat applies: Money is only one way to measure the strength of a campaign. There are other factors — name recognition, a strong network of grassroots support, an ideology that appeals to a significant piece of the electorate. But c’mon. You’ve got to have some money to be competitive. The Republican hopefuls just don’t.

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Into a Conservative Cul-de-Sac and Out Again

We all know that the world of Vermont conservative politics is a small one. Recently, I was doing some campaign finance research when I came across an example of exactly how small a world it really is.

The object of my research was far-right megadonor Lenore Broughton. I’m tracking her state and federal campaign contributions for an upcoming post.

Most of Broughton’s activity is on the federal level, and she supports exactly the kind of politicians you’d expect: Donald Trump, Lauren Boebert, Josh Hawley, Jim Jordan, Ron Johnson, etc. But that’s a tale for another day. On the state level in the 2020 election cycle and the 2022 cycle (so far), she’s made four separate donations.

She gave $5,000 to the Vermont Republican State Committee. She gave $500 to the Rutland County Republican Committee. And she cut two checks totaling $8,050 to something called Right for Vermont.

This is where we turn into the cul-de-sac. It’ll be a short but entertaining ride.

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Red Box, Black Ops

You know, I’ve been complimentary of Lt. Gov. Molly Gray in the past. I’ve called her a history-making candidate who managed to win her very first election in a statewide contest. That’s an extremely rare feat. And now she’s a credible candidate for a seat in the U.S. Congress who’s earned the support of many party luminaries. Not bad at all.

But now? I’ve about had my fill.

Last night I wrote about her misleading attack on her closest rival, Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. Well, today Gray doubled down on the bullshit.

A reminder that this is about Super PAC money, which both candidates have forsworn. But Balint has been slammed for having a “red box” on her website. A red box is a link to talking points and images that could be used by Super PACs who want to run pro-Balint ads of their own. (The red box seems to be gone from Balint’s site; instead, there’s a link to a “digital toolkit” of talking points and images meant to be used by Balint supporters and not, I suppose, by any Super PAC that happened to wander by.)

Red box or no, Gray isn’t letting up. In fact, her campaign sent out a fundraising email blast today that fired all the rhetorical guns. You can see the full email at the end of this post.

It begins by accusing “our opponent” of “inviting dark money Super PACs into this primary.” Which is a stretch at best. But then it gets worse.

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In Pursuit of Performative Purity

A kerfuffle has seized the attention of #vtpoliland. It’s over the acceptance of Super PAC money, or connivance with those entities, by Democratic candidates for U.S. House.

And I’m here to tell you it’s fake news.

At a candidates’ forum last week, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray pestered Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint over accepting donations from Super PACs. The exchange ended with Balint forswearing such funds.

This week, we got Phase 2 of the kerfuffle, as both VTDigger and Seven Days posted stories about “redboxing” on Balint’s campaign website. That’s the practice of posting content meant to signal Super PACs about preferred messaging in any independent ads the organizations run. Nudge nudge wink wink, don’tcha know.

The fact that both outlets ran the same story on the same day tells me that they were likely tipped off by the Gray campaign, which sees this issue as a way to counter the impression that Gray is the establishment candidate. Which, to me, is a sign that Team Gray is a little desperate, going negative against the apparent front-runner.

Here’s the thing. Not all Super PACs are created equal, and it’s a fallacy to say that all Super PAC money is inherently evil. There are Super PACs run by giant corporations and oligarchs; there are others run progressive organizations, by labor unions, by LGBTQ+ groups.

Bernie Sanders has accepted Super PAC money from such groups, for Pete’s sake. So Neither Pat Leahy nor Peter Welch have had any previous qualms about such money. The latter has found religion this year as he tries to advance to the U.S. Senate, but he’s never seen Super PACs as universally problematic before.

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