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Candidates and the Money Chase 

Published July 16, 2010 at 11:31 a.m.

* updated & corrected, see note below *

News flash: Candidates running for Vermont's highest office raise money from businesses, lobbyists and ordinary people. In some cases a lot of money, and in other cases not so much.

That's one takeaway from yesterday's campaign finance reports.

Another is that several candidates — Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, former state senator and Google exec Matt Dunne, Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, Sen. Doug Racine and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin — are treating their campaigns more like small businesses. How so? They don't pay their staff as consultants and some even provide health care to their key staffers.

Markowitz and Shumlin are providing health care through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, while Dubie is buying insurance through MVP Health Care, based in New York. Racine is paying one staffer's COBRA benefit, while another staffer is receiving coverage via Catamount Health.

Another finding is that Democratic donors appear to be hedging monetary bets, i.e., campaign contributions, among three of the five Democrats running for governor: Markowitz, Shumlin and former state senator and Google exec Matt Dunne.

Markowitz has a solid group of in-state supporters who have yet to give the maximum $2000, and her out-of-state haul appears to be lower than that of any other candidate, save senators Doug Racine and Susan Bartlett — neither of whom has raised much money at all.

That said, it's clear the EMILY's List endorsement is helping Markowitz raise cash from donors around the country. From them she received about $75,000 out of $325,000 raised during the reporting period. Markowitz has accumulated more than $525,000 since announcing her bid for governor, but has spent more than $330,000. So she currently has about $180,000 in the bank.

Markowitz has spent roughly $14,000 on fundraising via EMILY's List mailings, another $18,000 on polling, and another $5300 on an outside political consultant. The rest of her money has gone into printing supplies and postage for other mailings, and voter identification and outreach.

Shumlin has also raised a good chunk of change from, well, Shumlin. He's his own largest donor, having written a whopping $150,000 check to the campaign. At least Shumlin has convinced himself he's the best candidate.

Shumlin raised about  $90,000 from out-of-state donors, most of it in $1000 and $2000 contributions, and largely, it appears, from supporters of same-sex marriage. Shumlin "raised" a total of $418,000, but has spent $200,000 — leaving him with $217,000 in the bank. Were it not for his $150,000 check, he'd only have $57,000 in the bank. Shumlin has spent about $30,000 on three separate consultants, including $14,000 to Vermonter Kate O'Connor, and another $80,000 on advertising, along with staff salaries and campaign materials.

Dunne, too, has been pulling in money from his Silicon Valley, Washington, D.C., and New York City contacts: about $90,000 from out-of-state donors, out of a total haul of $267,000. A small chunk of that money came from ex-pat Vermonters. Dunne has spent about $129,000, which leaves him with $132,000 in the bank. He's spent close to $40,000 on out-of-state consultants and the rest on staff and fundraising.

Racine, who has been endorsed by more unions and other organizations than any of his competitors, has not been able to translate that into cash: He's raised a paltry $100,000 since he last filed a report in July 2009. Using third parties to augment your own field operations is one thing, but having them be your field operation is quite another. Racine contends otherwise, saying he has a small army of 400 volunteers around the state and in-house interns doing what other campaigns are paying people to do.

Racine has raised only $2300 from out-of-state donors. In all, he's spent about $133,000 and has about $80,000 in the bank. Most of his spending has been on campaign staff. Racine spent $5000 so far on adviser Joe Trippi.

Bartlett has raised the least money, at slightly more than $70,000, and has about $11,000 in the bank. Of the sum she's raised, $11,700 came from her previous senate campaigns and $5000 from herself and her husband. Bartlett has received about $12,000 from out-of-state contributors. Of the $60,000 she's spent, some $45,000 has gone to out-of-state consultants, with the rest going to her lean campaign staff.

Meanwhile, Dubie raised an impressive $943,000 — almost more money than he's raised in all his races for lieutenant governor combined. He's received about $120,000 from out-of-state contributions, which came from a mix of individuals, businesses, business PACs and GOP political PACs.

Dubie has spent $36,000 on direct mail, another $32,000 on political consulting and $26,500 on polling. Meanwhile, he's plunked down $46,450 to have his face pop up on your computer screen — via online ads that embed in such websites as the New York Times and other national sites viewed by Vermonters. He's also paid out more than $6000 to Michigan-based firm Stormo & Associates for "opposition research."

Independent Dennis Steele has raised $2300 from contributors and spent $1100.

Finally, another major takeaway from yesterday's filing is this: Vermont's campaign-finance laws and its reporting requirements are ridiculously weak. Donations less than $100 are not reported, but above the $100 mark, people aren't required to put down their occupation or where they work, so it can be difficult to determine if business owners are "bundling" donations with those of employees or corporate board members.

Without that information, it takes a lot more sleuthing to determine which lobbying firms, or with businesses with state contracts, are spreading their wealth in hopes of gaining access or currying favor with the candidates.

It's also nearly impossible to independently verify candidates' claims about in-state versus out-of-state contributions. With only paper copies in hand, one has to go through each report line by line and add each donation up by hand or calculator. The information isn't provided in such a way that it can be easily sorted and manipulated in a database.

You can thank the Vermont legislature for not funding a key upgrade to the state's elections database for the latter problem.

* This post was corrected to reflect that the Racine and Dunne campaigns are paying their staff as employees, not consultants. Racine's camp is also providing health care to its two key staffers. My apologies for the error.

One or more images has been removed from this article. For further information, contact [email protected].
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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.


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