Tag Archives: public financing

Senate Tweaks Doomed Program

Well, huzzah. The State Senate has approved a change in the public financing law. Currently, a candidate who wants public financing has to wait until February 15 to say or do anything campaign-related. Given the current fashion in extra-early campaign launches, that’s a significant handicap.

Tne new bill would start the clock “as soon as a privately financed candidate raised or spent up to $2,000 on a gubernatorial or lieutenant gubernatorial campaign — up to one year before Election Day,” reports Seven Days’ Paul Heintz.

This solves the too-late problem without ensuring ever-earlier campaign launches. Good idea.

However, it’s quickly becoming apparent that the deadline is far from the biggest problem with the public financing system. The biggest problem is the skyrocketing cost of statewide campaigns and the paltry sums on offer through the public funding system.

Currently, a gubernatorial hopeful who earns enough small donations gets to (a) keep that money and (b) get enough public dollars to bring their campaign total to $450,000. For lieutenant governor, the figure is $200,000.

And those are absolute limits. Not a penny more, from any source. Not even a mention in a party’s email blast.

These days, that’s simply not enough to support a competitive campaign.

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Time to get serious about public campaign financing

So a federal judge has upheld the constitutionality of Vermont’s public financing law. Too bad he couldn’t rule on the ridiculousness of the law, because that decision would have gone very differently.

In the wake of his ruling, two things have to be addressed ASAP. First, the absurdly punitive $72,000 fine imposed on Dean Corren for a piddly-ass technical violation of the law. Imposed by that self-righteous hypocrite, Our Eternal General Bill Sorrell.

There is no way in Hell that Corren should have to imperil his personal finances because the Democratic Party included him in an e-mail message. The value of that “impermissible contribution”? $255, if I remember correctly.

Fining a guy $72,000 for what was, at most, a petty violation is like sending a guy to jail for not feeding the parking meter. It mocks the very concept of justice.

Okay, that’s number one, and I don’t care how we do it. If it involves a sock full of quarters applied to Sorrell’s noggin and a bit of backroom “persuasion,” so be it. Well, maybe the Darn Tough Convincer is a bit much; let’s just tase him. (He shouldn’t mind; given his record on police brutality cases, he must think getting tased is no big deal.)

The second issue is the public financing law itself. It’s a joke. It’s so restrictive that it seems designed to prevent candidates from using it.

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Further thoughts on the Lite-Gov race

My recent post on Sen. David Zuckerman’s candidacy for lieutenant governor drew a couple of intelligent comments, which prompted this return to the subject. But I’ll begin with another reminder from the archives, which creates some doubt about Rep. Kesha Ram’s appeal to Dem officeholders and party regulars.

Almost exactly one year ago, when the House Democratic caucus met to elect officers. Willem Jewett was stepping down as Majority Leader, and two women — Sarah Copeland-Hanzas and Kesha Ram — competed to replace him.

Those familiar with the House org chart know that Copeland-Hanzas came out on top. In fact, Ram withdrew before the vote. Which is what people do when they know they’re going to lose. She claimed it was “a very close race,” and cited concerns about the Chittenden-centric nature of House leadership. (Copeland-Hanzas is from Bradford.)

Okay, whatevs. But political bloggers and other tinfoil-hat wearers can’t help but wonder why her colleagues turned elsewhere for leadership. There is some sentiment that Ram is a bit of a climber, aching for the spotlight before being truly ready. That’s one way to read things. Maybe it was a simple matter of geography. But maybe there are doubts among key Democrats about Ram.

And now: letters, we get letters…

Veteran blogger nanuqFC posed a couple of good points.

— First, on whether Zuckerman’s push for public financing could even the playing field. I didn’t mention this because I don’t see it as a factor. Under current law, Zuckerman is disqualified from public financing due to his early entry into the race. He and Dean Corren are challenging the law in court, and he’s also pushing for the Legislature to reform the process. But even if he prevails on either track, it’s unlikely to come soon enough to help him in 2016. So he’s on his own, as far as I’m concerned.

— Also, nanuq noted that Dem/Prog fractiousness is not only a Chittenden County phenomenon. Which is true; it’s at its height in Chittenden, but it exists elsewhere. That’s a negative for Zuckerman’s chances. On the other hand, it’s an open primary, so nothing would stop non-Dems from supporting Zuckerman. Overall, a slight negative. (See also: the impact of the gubernatorial primary, below.)

And now meet our second correspondent, David Grant.

— He gives Zuckerman a slight edge in Chittenden County due to name recognition; so what about the rest of the state? Well, Zuckerman’s name recognition advantage is bigger elsewhere. It’s up to Ram to raise her profile. She should have the resources and the contacts to do so; whether she truly connects, remains to be seen.

Her presence in the House Dem Caucus ought to be a big help; state representatives can be the backbone of a statewide campaign. She had a strong turnout of officeholders at her campaign launch, which is a positive sign. There is, however, that failed run for Majority Leader, which makes you wonder if her colleagues will back her with enthusiasm. We shall see.

— Grant also points out the importance of building a quality campaign staff, and wonders who has the advantage there. I don’t know who’s signed on with whom. But I can say this: the Democrats have an undeniable edge in experienced, effective campaign operatives. Ram’s ability to draw on that talent pool is a significant advantage for her.

— He also asks how the gubernatorial primary will impact the Lite-Gov race. I gave a bit of an answer last time — Sue Minter might give Ram some coattails among voters who feel that men have been far too dominant in Vermont politics, which they have. But I ignored the elephant in the room: The gubernatorial primary will drive turnout higher, and will put the Lite-Gov race on the back burner.

The Democratic primary is certain to draw the largest turnout since 2010 at least. Many of those voters will have followed the Minter/Dunne contest and given little thought to Ram/Zuckerman. They’ll be making quick, uninformed decisions. Do they remember Zuckerman’s name from past Senate debates? Do they opt for the female candidate for both offices?

And there’s the surprise twist ending. I’ve sifted through this factor and that, and finally realized that they all pale in comparison to a primary that will be heavily focused on the race for governor. For every voter who carefully weighs the pros and cons of Kesha Ram and David Zuckerman, there’ll be another (or two or three) who’s flipping a coin in the booth.

So yeah, all my sound and fury signifies not much.

The Progressives are kinda screwed

Whiter the Progressive Party? I don’t know; there isn’t a clear path forward, and obstacles litter the landscape. They’ve gained strength in the legislature, mainly by running candidates on the P/D or D/P tickets; but they’ve just about reached the limits of that tactic, and may have hit a glass ceiling.

The Progs are anxious to make a splash in 2016, having sat out the last three gubernatorial elections in order to give Peter Shumlin a better shot at creating a single-payer health care system, hahaha. His abandonment of that goal, barely a month after his third re-election victory, plus the Dems’ habit of triangulating to the center on a host of issues, has left the Progs in a bitter mood. They’re itchin’ for a fight, and would especially like to field a credible candidate for governor.

That’s looking increasingly unrealistic. For starters, nobody seems to want to run.

This is an unintended side-effect of the Prog/Dem strategy, which has put several Progs in positions of legislative influence. Examples: Tim Ashe chairs the Senate Finance Committee; Anthony Pollina has a bully pulpit in the Senate; organic farmer David Zuckerman is vice chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee; and Chris Pearson is vice chair of the House Health Care Committee. One could argue that the Progs have been granted more influence than their sheer numbers would warrant. Or, in the words of Lyndon Johnson, the Democrats saw it’s better to have the Progs inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.

And indeed, it’d be hard to give up that level of influence to make a long-odds, short-funded bid for higher office.

Compounding the difficulty is that any high-profile Progressive would likely depend on public financing. That was a difficult enough pursuit in previous years (just ask Dean Corren or John Bauer). Now, it seems to have become completely untenable.

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Sorrell caves (updated)

I can explain everything

I can explain everything

It’s rare when a journalist can draw a straight line from his/her news story to a significant event. Such is the case today for Seven Days’ Paul Heintz, whose reporting on Attorney General Bill Sorrell started the ball rolling — with ever-quickening speed — to today’s events. Because after several days of blithe assurances that there was no need for an independent investigation of Bill Sorrell because Bill Sorrell had looked into Bill Sorrell’s activities and determined that Bill Sorrell did nothing wrong, Bill Sorrell reversed course today.

It’s hard to imagine this would have ever come to pass without Heintz’ stories about sloppy campaign finance reporting by Sorrell, questions about a big out-of-state donation that helped him win the 2012 Democratic primary, and questionably cozy relationships between Sorrell and some big national law firms that do business with the state.

Throughout last week, Sorrell denied he’d done anything wrong and insisted an investigation would be a waste of money. Today, in a statement to the Senate Government Operations Committee, he acknowledged the need for an independent probe. Further, he heartily endorsed the creation of an independent commission to oversee election law, which would remove that authority from his own office.

When asked about his change of heart, he said:

What I realized was that this was a distraction here in the building and certainly a distraction in my office. I didn’t want the appearance that I had something to hide, so even though it will cost money, the integrity of the office of Attorney General and my personal integrity are too important. If we have to spend some taxpayer moneys to clear my name — or see that justice is done, either way — it’s worth it.

Nice stick save, General.

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The absurd extremities of the public financing law

The Vermont Democratic Party, having lopsidedly endorsed Prog/Dem Dean Corren as its candidate for Lieutenant Governor, seems to be doing all it can to strip away any value from that endorsement.

The Vermont Democratic Party this week sent glossy color mailings to reliably Democratic voters, urging them to vote for its slate of statewide candidates. But Corren wasn’t mentioned.

Dean Corren at the Democratic State Committee meeting in September.

Dean Corren at the Democratic State Committee meeting in September. Photo courtesy of… well… me.

When the Democratic State Committee endorsed Corren, party officials made it clear that there were significant restrictions on their ability to offer him any tangible support — voter data, Coordinated Campaign, etc. — because by accepting public financing, Corren had to forswear all other fundraising avenues. Including in-kind support. Indeed, they said they would have adhered to the same limits if the Democratic hopeful, John Bauer, had qualified for public financing.

The Dems were advised by their lawyers to steer clear of anything that might run afoul of the law. Which allowed them to circumvent questions about the wisdom of sharing the party’s legendary database with a Progressive, who might then share it with his party. A valid concern, when the Progressive Party often runs candidates against Democrats.

But to exclude any mention of Dean Corren from mailings? To me, that seems an excess of caution. And a serious handicap for his campaign.

And while Corren was in full agreement with the Dems on their withholding of voter data and the Coordinated Campaign, he seems less satisfied with this move:

Corren said he’s prevailing upon Democratic officials to include him on the next round of mailings.

“The conversations go on,” Corren said. “We’re in the midst of conversations. So it’s not like it’s a one-shot deal.”

Corren has dutifully played nice, and I commend him for that. But excluding Corren from a mass mailing, to me, is stretching the legal point. It raises doubts about the Dems’ real motives.

I’ve been told that the Dems don’t want to turn “tangible assistance” into an issue for Phil Scott; but issues like that are inside baseball, and have little or no effect on voters. Maybe the risk is small enough to merit the potential reward.

At the very least, it points out a serious shortcoming with the public financing law. The qualification standards need to be loosened, so more candidates can qualify. And, apparently, there needs to be a better definition of “tangible assistance” so that parties don’t have to pretend that one of their own doesn’t exist, just because s/he qualified for public financing.

Phil Scott’s turning out to be a right whiny li’l bastard

Update: He’s also whining — a lot — about Governor Shumlin. See below. 

For the first time in his Lieutenant Gubernatorial life, Phil Scott faces an honest-to-goodness, fully-financed candidate who can match him dollar for dollar.

And how does Everybody’s Buddy react to the situation?

Kicking, screaming, and griping, pretty much. 

Our Lieutenant Governor. (Not exactly as illustrated)

Our Lieutenant Governor. (Not exactly as illustrated)

As reported by VTDigger’s Anne Galloway, Scott’s recent speech to a Republican gathering was full of complaining about Dean Corren’s publicly financed campaign.

Scott bemoaned the notion that the money for public financing will come out of the state budget.

“It’s coming out of our tax dollars in some form,” Scott said.

Well, yes and no. As debated and approved by the State Legislature, the money is set aside for the purpose of financing any candidate who qualifies for it — which is a very difficult thing to do. Corren had to amass more than 750 donations from registered Vermont voters, none of which could be over $50. He did it in a little over a month. This system’s been in place for quite a few years, and Scott never uttered a peep of protest until now, when the system is aimed squarely at his precious sinecure.

This isn’t the first time Scott has whinged about public financing since Corren qualified. Indeed, so far, it seems to be the major running theme of his campaign.

Which could be a matter of principle. But there’s a distinct whiff of sour grapes about the whole thing. If Scott continues down this very unappealing trail, he could lose a lot of his bipartisan appeal.

Also, he said one thing that prompts a Serenade For Tiny Violins:

“I receive letters from people who said I can’t afford to send you money, I’m living on a fixed income. I support your cause, I support you. Please help us, please make the state more affordable so we can all live here.”

See, Phil Scott’s at a disadvantage because all of his potential supporters among Vermont’s poor and retiree population can’t afford to underwrite his campaign. And it’s all because of Dean Corren’s heartless raid on the public treasury, forcing their tax burdens ever higher.

But that’s not the end of Scott’s bellyaching. He’s also repeating, ad nauseam, his displeasure with Governor Shumlin’s endorsement of Corren. The Freeploid’s Terri Hallenbeck:

Scott said he was surprised that though Shumlin has said he will steer clear of his own re-election campaign until September, he decided to weigh in on the lieutenant governor’s race. “I thought he made up his mind he wasn’t going to campaign until Labor Day. I guess he didn’t include me in that,” Scott said.

Awww. Poor baby.

Although I’d dearly love to see a campaign featuring the whiny bastard side of Phil Scott, it’d be best for our public discourse and for the dignity of the Office Of The Lieutenant Governor if he would stop complaining and face up to the task at hand. You know, roll up his sleeves and get to work.

He’s supposed to be good at that, isn’t he?