Might seem like an oxymoron, but a radio guy has created the second-best visual representation of Governor Shumlin’s fundraising power. (VPR’s Taylor Dobbs by name.) It’s a simple bar graph: Shumlin’s money totals are indicated by two impressively erect columns reaching for the sky; Scott Milne’s are two thin smears on the bottom line.
I say “second-best” because the best comes from the legendary cartoon “Bambi Meets Godzilla.”
There are a couple of big takeaways from the size of Shumlin’s warchest: (1) He came into 2014 with enough money to virtually guarantee re-election. He’ll exit 2014 with enough money to virtually guarantee victory in any race he chooses to enter for at least the next four years. And (2) It’s not Lenore Broughton who’s responsible for bringing big money into Vermont politics. It’s Peter Shumlin. And Peter Welch and Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders.
Oh, and (3) a very interesting collision is shaping up for the 2015 legislative session, with VPIRG focusing its energy on campaign finance reform and our top Democrats greatly benefiting from the system as it is.
Let’s go deeper, shall we?
First point: Shumlin departed the 2012 campaign having spent only $346,000 to beat Randy Brock. He had a surplus of $915,000. Which meant he started 2014 with basically a million-dollar head start. That’s more than had ever been spent in any state-level campaign in Vermont with, I believe, three exceptions: Jim Douglas in 2008, and Brian Dubie and Peter Shumlin in 2010.
He had a huge lead. And he has continued to raise money. And to spend very little of it. Chances are, he’ll exit 2014 with an even larger kitty — it wouldn’t surprise me if he has $1.5 million in the bank on December 31. If he tries at all, he could make it $2 million or more.
(Scott Milne has talked of Vermonters becoming fatigued by campaigns that cost $2-3 million. Which misses the point because while Shumlin’s campaign might possibly raise that much, it’ll spend only a tiny fraction of that. This will not be anything like a $2 million campaign. It may not even top a half mill.)
Which gives him an even bigger edge next time around, and ensures that he will be a prohibitive favorite for re-election in 2016 and beyond — or, if he decides to run for something else, he will be the prohibitive favorite for that race.
Unless, of course, he has to run against Peter Welch for any Senate seat that might open up between now and 2020. (Safe to assume Shumlin wouldn’t challenge Pat Leahy or Bernie Sanders, right?) Because Welch has even more money on hand, and even less reason to spend any of it.
My conclusion: the only reason Shumlin is raising money at all is to (a) make it prohibitive for anyone to run for Governor as long as he’s in office and (b) block out any potential competition for a future Senate race.
Bringing me to point #2. Lenore Broughton did her best to influence the 2012 election by spending a million bucks on Vermonters First. It was a complete flopperoo, and if her latest finance filing is any indication, she has no plans to repeat the experiment. Her case is incessantly cited by top Democrats as a rationale for campaign finance reform, but she was an outlier. And a failed outlier at that.
The real, structural change to the financing of Vermont politics is that our Governor and our members of Congress have taken fundraising to a whole new level. They are drawing from the bottomless pool of money at the national level, while everyone else in Vermont is still playing at the state level.
This fact hit home for me when I looked at the latest filing from the Coca-Cola Nonpartisan PAC for Good Government. It’s 29 pages long! The typical filing by a state-level PAC is more like five or six pages. In terms of money, it’s the difference between the Vermont Lake Monstera and the New York Yankees. And, to stretch the analogy further, that’s the field Shumlin et al. are playing on.
So if you want to complain about the influx of money into Vermont politics, don’t complain about Lenore Broughton; complain about Peter Shumlin, Pat Leahy, Peter Welch, and yes, Bernie Sanders. No one, Republican, Democrat, or Progressive, could hope to mount a competitive race when the incumbents have such an overwhelming advantage.
Third, VPIRG’s annual summer outreach program is about campaign finance reform. Last summer’s was about GMO foods, and it set the stage for easy passage of a GMO labeling bill this year. If you read the polls, campaign finance reform is a popular cause, just as GMO was. How will Shumlin and the Dems react when VPIRG drums up a groundswell of public support for a ban on contributions by corporations and lobbyists? Should be an interesting legislative battle in the new biennium.
Unlike many of my friends on the left, I don’t see many signs that the money is having a corrupting effect on the Administration. But it sure does look bad, especially when the Governor does something like strongly opposing a tax on soft drinks and then rakes in thousands of dollars from Coca-Cola, as the Burlington Free Press’ Terri Hallenbeck Tweeted today. I will say this: if you believe Shumlin is being corrupted by big money, what about Pat Leahy and Peter Welch? (I’ll give Bernie a pass on corporate donations, since he’s gotten most of his money in small amounts from individuals. But he’s still playing with millions, while most Vermont politicians get by with a few thousand at most.)