Tag Archives: Republican State Leadership Committee

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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We’re gonna need a whole lot of cheese

… To go with all that whine.

“Tis the season for complaints about dirty campaign tactics. It’s a game we love to play in Vermont, because we so ardently cherish the belief that Our Politics Are Better. Smaller scale, personal connections, trust, character, etc., etc. None of that nasty big-money negative attack stuff.

But we have our very own twist on “negative campaigning” — the ever-popular double reverse “accuse your opponent of negative campaigning.”

This has become a dominant theme in the race for lieutenant governor. Scott Milne accuses Molly Gray of being backed by a “shady” political action committee and hints at illegal collusion — without offering any proof. The PAC, Alliance for a Better Vermont Action Fund, produces ads that tie Milne to a national conservative PAC (Republican State Leadership Committee Vermont) that’s spending big money on his behalf — but cannot prove that Milne will feel any obligation to toe the RSLC’s line. Gray offers a selectively-phrased invitation to Milne to stop the negative talk and campaign on the issues. MIlne replies that the only negative advertisements are from the ABVAF, while all his advertisements are positive. Which is true, his ads have been positive*; but his own campaign traffics heavily in attacks on Gray. Gray drops hints that the multi-millionaire Milne is trying to buy the lieutenant governorship with his own money. Yes, Milne has spent roughly $100,000 on his campaign, but that’s far from “buying the election” territory.

*So far. On Friday, Milne reported spending $30,000 on TV ads that mention himself and Gray. Presumably they won’t mention Gray in a positive light.

In the race for governor, incumbent Phil Scott is indirectly (the Phil Scott way) accusing opponent David Zuckerman of negative campaigning — by saying that he would never stoop to such tactics himself, cough, ahem, harrumph.

The truth is, all these attacks about attack politics aren’t going to move the needle.

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The VPR/VPBS LG Debate: Backwards in High Heels

Molly Gray was under some pressure today, to come back from last week’s meh debate performance and stand up against the attacks of Scott Milne. And she had to do so within the strictures placed on women and people of color who run for office: They have far less latitude than white men in displaying emotion of any kind or going on the attack. Obama consciously kept himself in check to forestall any “Angry Black Man” reactions. Hillary Clinton had to walk a tightrope — backwards, in high heels — while Donald Trump threw rotten tomatoes at her.

Gray did a fine job. She stood her ground. She attacked Milne’s record without sounding, in that wonderful world of female stereotyping, bitchy. It helped that Milne had shot his wad last Thursday; he had no fresh attack lines to spring on his opponent. All he could do was lob the old stuff at her, and this time she was fully prepared to answer.

Meanwhile, Milne often seemed churlish. He pushed lines of attack past the point of diminishing returns. He was patronizing. He complained about her answers. He was less skilled than she at deflecting to desired talking points. His performance did nothing to advance his campaign’s positioning of MIlne as Phil Scott 2.0, a nice-guy authentically Vermonty moderate Republican.

His handlers had better get him back into the bubble wrap. It’s time for Operation Deep Freeze to go into effect. Keep him out of the public eye as much as possible, to limit the chances that he’ll go off script and default to his snarky, self-pitying ways.

Now… let’s count punches.

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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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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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Party of One

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.

Eight.

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.

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The VTGOP is pretty much flat broke

I have occasionally chronicled the Vermont Republican Party’s perennially dire financial condition, but never have I seen the situation as bad as it is right now. Because heading into the heart of a campaign season, the state GOP is virtually out of funds.

Explanatory note: the VTGOP and Vermont Democratic Party file both state and federal reports. Because of the way federal law is written, the bulk of their activity is considered “federal” even though they are state parties.

In this case, it hardly matters; we’re talking peanuts wherever we turn. Its latest state filing listed less than $1,000 in cash on hand; its latest federal filing reported $1.104 in the bank.

(By contrast, the Vermont Dems filed a state report indicating it raised more than $100,000 in June and spent a little more than half that. Its federal filing indicates $120,000 cash on hand. The VDP’s fundraising and spending are in a completely different league than its Republican counterpart.)

Even on the VTGOP’s bare-bones budget, that’s less than two days’ worth of operating expenses. They’re tapped out, just when they need to kick things into high gear.

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The Trump Trickle-Down Financial FAIL

More and more signs every day that Donald Trump is spectacularly unsuited to be a major party’s standard bearer. There’s the constant screech of dog whistles, the obnoxious comments flying in all directions, the persistent failure to stay on-message for more than about 15 minutes, and oh, that hair.

But perhaps more important than all of that is… money. Or the lack thereof. Trump’s coffers are nearly empty and his fundraising “machine” practically nonexistent.

This has repercussions far beyond the Trump/Clinton campaign, because a major party candidate usually provides money and organization for candidates up and down the ticket and the state parties.  Talking Points Memo:

As the Republican National Committee — which also saw a drop in its May fundraising compared to 2012 — is forced to prop up Trump’s rickety campaign apparatus, it means less money will be passed down to congressional committees and to state parties. It also means less money to finance the party’s crucial but costly get-out-the-vote efforts.

Which is really bad news for the perennially impecunious VTGOP, whose own federal filing shows a piss-poor $11,190 in cash on hand. It can’t afford any significant campaign push, and it shouldn’t expect any help from the national party.

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Who’s paying Meg Hansen’s salary?

Yesterday I outlined the inflammatory, far-right views of Meg Hansen, the person handling “strategic communications” for the state House Republican Caucus.

And the more I thought about it, the more I wondered: who’s paying for her services?

It’s extremely unusual for a Vermont caucus — minority or majority — to have any paid staff whatsoever. The House Speaker has one staffer paid by the state; the Senate President Pro Tem historically has one, but John Campbell’s staff was expanded to two because he needed extra help to handle the job. Nobody else in the Legislature has any staff, unless they use their own money.

So, who’s paying Meg Hansen? Short answer: right now, I have no idea. We might find out more on July 15, the next campaign finance filing deadline; for now, the available information raises more questions than it answers.

One thing’s for sure: Vermont Republicans aren’t swimming in money. The VTGOP is perennially short of funds, and can barely keep the lights on at its headquarters.

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Good Ol’ Norm: Bloodied but not unbowed

Heh-heh. Just as I predicted, Senator-in-Purgatory Norm McAllister has filed petitions to run for re-election.

Heh-heh-heh. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Sorry. Political junkies get a little excited at the prospect of chaos among the comfortable class. And I bet the Franklin County GOP is wetting its collective pants.

VTDigger broke the news; McAllister dropped off his petitions at the Franklin County courthouse this morning, and (showing uncommon restraint for him) was not immediately available for comment.

Need I remind you: McAllister faces two trials on numerous sex-crime charges; he allegedly coerced women (over whom he exercised some measure of control) to have sex with him. He was arrested on the Statehouse grounds in the last days of the 2015 session; the Senate then spent the entire off-session with its head stuck in the sand, hoping Norm would just go away. When he didn’t, the Senate decided to suspend him for the remainder of the session.

So now that he’s thrown his hat in the ring, let the speculation begin…

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