The leader of the State House’s perpetually undersized Republican caucus is feeling his oats.
[House] Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, said he believes the Republican Party can increase its presence in the chamber from the current 53 seats to 76 — a majority.
I understand it’s part of his job to put on a brave face, but there is no way on God’s green Earth that the Republicans rack up a net gain of 23 House seats. After all, 2014 was a horrible year for Vermont Democrats; their ticket-topper was the roundly unpopular Peter Shumlin, there was no race for President or U.S. Senator, and turnout was dramatically depressed. And even with all that in their favor, the VTGOP only managed a net gain of eight seats in the House.
And 2016 should be a bounceback year for the House Democrats. (More on this below.)
There’s also the inconvenient fact that the House Republicans’ campaign warchest appears to be in the red. According to its most recent campaign finance filing, the Vermont House Republican PAC has raised $5,095 this campaign cycle and spent $7,832.74. That dip into penury was triggered by an Attorney General’s ruling that the PAC had improperly accepted contributions from lobbyists during the legislative session. It had to return $3,000 in donations and pay a $2,000 fine.
So, no help there. But it’s not like the VHRPAC is alone. Pretty much every Republican aside from Phil Scott is begging for spare change.
My previous post chronicled some of the curious spending decisions taken by Your Party of Fiscal Responsibility, the VTGOP. One item was Jeff Bartley’s compensation as Executive Director.
When he was hired last December, his announced salary was said to be $50,000 a year. But according to party filings with the Federal Elections Commission, Bartley had collected $37,516 by the end of June — which works out to something like $75K/year.
But I overlooked one small detail: That $37,000 is Bartley’s net pay — after taxes. Which means his actual salary has to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000, right?
So, questions for VTGOP Chair David Sunderland: What exactly is Jeff Bartley’s salary? And why is it so much higher than the announced figure?
And questions for other top Republicans: How do you feel about Jeff Bartley taking home so much of the VTGOP’s meager resources? And what kind of ROI do you think you’re getting?
Those with an interest in fiscal responsibility want to know.
Writing my most recent post on the continuing troubles inside the Vermont Republican Party brought me back to a subject I’d been ignoring: the VTGOP’s monthly finance reports to the Federal Elections Commission. Even though the VTGOP is a state party, most of its activities are now classified as “federal” under FEC rules.
The last time I looked over the filings was a few months ago. There have been three new reports since then, and some curiosities emerge after close examination.
Bartley was chosen in a last-minute election announced slightly more than 24 hours before the Dec. 1 [state Republican Committee] meeting. Insiders say the decision was rushed to leave no time for other candidates to come forward or for a search process to take place. Bartley was confirmed by a 6-4 vote of executive committee members.
Three of those “No” votes came from prominent conservatives with ties to former party chair Jack Lindley: Mark Snelling, Wendy Wilton, and Randy Brock. After the vote, Snelling resigned as party treasurer.
At the time, VTDigger reported that Bartley would draw an annual salary of $50,000.
Funny thing about that. As of the end of June, according to FEC filings, Bartley had already drawn $37,516 in salary. That projects out to an annual salary of about $75,000.
The claim, from various party bigwigs, is that the emergent Phil Scott/Bruce Lisman primary “brings energy that we haven’t had” and “shows that the Republican Party in Vermont is very much revitalized.”
Well, pardon me, but I don’t buy it.
The party’s one and only viable statewide politician, Phil Scott, is finally running for governor. And a rich guy has talked himself into a candidacy. That’s it.
The fact of a gubernatorial primary proves nothing about the state of the VTGOP. Now, if they come up with viable candidates for the other statewide offices, then I’ll start listening. And if they put together a foolish slate of quality candidates for the Legislature, I’ll be impressed.
But the real test of a “revitalized” party is its ability to field a competitive organization. And on that score, the VTGOP lags far behind the Democrats.
This ought to be a pretty good time for Vermont Republicans, comparatively speaking. They won some notable victories in 2014. The 2015 legislative season began with the Governor abandoning his signature issue, and the legislature facing a big budget deficit and a bunch of tough issues.
The Democratic majority did a pretty good job all told, but they certainly left plenty of room for Republican attacks. The tax increases, the education reform plan, the unresolved problems with Vermont Health Connect, the apparent disconnect between Governor and legislature. Lots of red meat.
Suggested truth-in-advertising logo for the VTGOP.
But there are signs that the Vermont Republican Party is still in the doldrums: low on funds, poor on party-building and grassroots organizing, surprisingly passive during a season of opportunity, and suffering from a seemingly intractable rift between the True Believers and the Inclusivists.
Some of this is nothing but rumor. But rumor with a consistent, believable storyline that’s reflected in the cold, hard facts of the VTGOP’s financial reports.
I see a party with a negative balance. More expenses than revenues for this campaign cycle so far.
The key numbers:
Total contributions, campaign to date: $61,367.32.
Total expenditures, campaign to date: $62,523.00.
Negative eleven hundred bucks, amirite?
Now, the VTGOP also files with the Federal Elections Commission; its most recent filing came in mid-June, and showed a balance of $36,430.25. I’m not smart enough to know the difference between the state and federal filings; I can say that either way, the bottom line is kinda pitiful. Still gonna be a long slog for “Super Dave” Sunderland as he tries to rebuild from the inglorious days of Angry Jack.
Also, there’s a curious fact in today’s state filings: while the state GOP is bereft of funds, quite a few local and county GOP organizations are rollin’ in it. Well, by Vermont Republican standards anyway. There seem to be a lot of die-hard Republicans who are supporting their local colleagues/cronies, but aren’t doing so for the state organization.
I’m still pondering the meaning of that. And I’ve got some other notes on deadline day coming along shortly. Stay tuned!