With Voting Underway, Campaign Finance Reports Show Uptick in Spending | Off Message

With Voting Underway, Campaign Finance Reports Show Uptick in Spending


Gov. Phil Scott and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Gov. Phil Scott and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman
Gov. Phil Scott had his best fundraising month of this election cycle. Republican lieutenant gubernatorial nominee Scott Milne injected $100,000 of his personal wealth into his own campaign.

Scott's opponent, Progressive/Democratic Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, and Milne's, Democratic nominee Molly Gray, each continue to find broad financial support. And all four candidates have ramped up spending ahead of the campaign's homestretch, posting more than $415,000 in combined receipts over the last month.

Those were some of the key takeaways from the most recent campaign finance reports submitted to the Secretary of State's Office ahead of the October 1 filing deadline, weeks before the November 3 election.

The time for candidates to make their cases is running short, though. Vermont began sending every registered voter a ballot on September 22, meaning some have already cast theirs — and more are in the mail every day.

Scott, a Republican seeking a third term, took in $200,000 from 789 donors, and about $31,000 of that total came in contributions of $100 or less. Donors who contributed the maximum allowable amount of $4,160 include Champlain Valley Equipment; former Sugarbush president Win Smith; Dawn Tatro of G.W. Tatro Construction; DEW Construction; and Glen Wright, a former executive at accounting firm KPMG.

Zuckerman, a two-term LG, reported raising $107,000 from 1,095 donors. According to his campaign, 400 of those were first-time contributors. Zuckerman's top donors included the Vermont Progressive Party, which kicked in $8,000; the Vermont-NEA teachers' union ($4,160); and Elizabeth Steele ($4,160), president and owner of real estate development company Main Street Landing.
Zuckerman also gave his campaign $8,320, writing in the comments that it was "in memory of my parents who would have donated." The contribution brought his personal investment to $14,800.

Zuckerman vastly outspent Scott, reporting $141,000 in expenses to the governor's $66,000. Zuckerman's biggest expenses were salaries for seven campaign staffers, as well as about $60,000 toward television ads.

For Scott, more than half of his expenses were online advertisements and mailers. He has $180,000 left in his war chest, including $106,000 left over from his previous campaign, while Zuckerman heads into October with $92,000.

In the LG's race, Gray benefitted from 453 donors to post a $63,000 haul. Her top donors were the Vermont-NEA ($4,160), Patricia Highberg of Woodstock ($3,000), and the Vermont Building and Construction Trades PAC ($1,250).

In a press release Thursday night, Gray's campaign made a point to contrast her fundraising approach to Milne's, writing that she remains "the only major party candidate in the Primary and General elections for Lieutenant Governor not to self-fund her campaign."
Molly Gray and Scott Milne at a debate last month - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Molly Gray and Scott Milne at a debate last month
Indeed, while Milne posted his best fundraising month to date with a $125,000 haul, more than half of that total — $77,500 — came from the candidate. Milne made personal loans to pay several TV ad bills, as well as $34,000 for a voter survey. He also paid $4,300 toward a mailer bill and took in a maximum donation from a real estate firm he owns, Masaii Properties.

He otherwise took in about $43,000 from some 230 people. Scott Boardman, president of Hickok & Boardman Insurance Group, contributed $4,000. Former Wall Street executive and 2016 GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lisman, who donated $500 to Gray's campaign in June, appears to be covering his bases: He gave Milne $2,000 last month.

On the spending front, Gray reported $54,000 in expenses, largely toward salaries for five campaign staffers and a $15,000 TV ad. Milne, on the other hand, directed most of his money toward the voter survey and $110,000 in TV ads. He spent the most of any candidate last month: $156,000.

The blitz left Milne with only $14,000 cash on hand compared to Gray's $85,000.

Thursday night was also the reporting deadline for super PACs, two of which have recently taken a notable interest in the LG's race.

The Republican State Leadership Committee — whose donors include cigarette giant Altria Group and the Judicial Crisis Network, which is currently spending millions of dollars on a pressure campaign aimed at convincing Republican lawmakers to confirm Amy Coney Barett to the U.S. Supreme Court — filed a disclosure showing that it had not yet kicked in any more money beyond the previously reported $200,000 ad buy in Milne's favor.

The left-leaning Alliance for a Better Vermont Action Fund, which issued an attack against Milne's voting record last week that turned out to be partially inaccurate, reported spending only $10,300 in September, almost all of which went toward a poll.

As for the governor's race, the super PACs representing the two major party's gubernatorial associations barely spent a dime in Vermont last month. Their continued silence suggests that neither have found a compelling reason to throw money into the campaign.

That is not a good sign for Zuckerman, who could use all the help he can get in his bid to upset Scott; a recent Vermont Public Radio/Vermont PBS poll gave the incumbent a 30-point advantage.

A Stronger Vermont, which is funded by the Republican Governors Association, spent only $150 on "research" last month. The Democratic Governors Association, meantime, dumped $50,000 into its super PAC, Our Vermont, at the end of August but has yet to spend any of that money.

The campaigns will have to submit two more reports before Election Day. The next deadline is in two weeks.

Correction, October 2, 2020: A previous version of this story misreported the amount of money Scott has on hand.

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