Campaign finance reports reveal more than the amount of money a candidate has managed to raise; they offer insight into his or her political strategies. On both fronts, last week’s reports  delivered.
When he decided to run for governor , Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie knew one of his biggest challenges would be learning to ask people for cash . He seems to have gotten over it, having scared up $943,000 so far — a sum that is roughly equivalent to what he raised in all of his previous election bids combined. Also, he’s spent half the total, more than any other candidate in the race.
He’s collecting from Vermont’s loyal GOP base, which includes owners and employees of a number of prominent paving and construction companies. He’s also raked in $120,000 from out-of-state backers, including current GOP governors Tim Pawlenty (Minnesota) and Haley Barbour (Mississippi).
Dubie is also receiving checks from small-dollar donors, the kind of folks he can hit up a few more times before Election Day. Small contributors are Vermont pols’ bread and butter, and offer proof of a grassroots campaign strategy. You don’t raise that kind of money just using email appeals. Their money and votes are a result of one-on-one connections.
A similar pattern emerges in Secretary of State Deb Markowitz’s finance reports. She continues to outpace her Democratic rivals: She’s raised $525,000 in a competitive five-way primary, $335,000 of which has come in since last July. Only about $75,000 flowed in from out of state. Impressive.
It’s impressive because she’s up against two skilled political fundraisers — Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windsor) and Google exec Matt Dunne — and she’s raising most of her money  from small-dollar donors.
Aside from Markowitz and Dubie, who list 1812 and 2724 donors, respectively, only Dunne has the right mix of in-state, small-donor and larger contributors — crucial components in a winning campaign. He’s raised $267,000, about $90,000 of which came from out of state.
With 1131 donors and $25,000 raised in the 96 hours before the filing deadline, Dunne appears to be picking up steam, and that could spell trouble for his competition. In 2006, he surprised many by defeating the popular House Majority Leader John Patrick Tracy (D-Burlington) in a lite-gov primary — only to lose to Dubie in the end.
Then there’s the millionaire, Shumlin, who proved he’s his own biggest fan by writing a $150,000 check to his own campaign. He made additional in-kind contributions and donations valued at $10,000.
He also raised $90,000 from out-of-state donors, for a total haul of $418,000. Absent his own money, he’s raised a respectable $258,000.
No surprise that Sen. Susan Bartlett (D-Lamoille) finished last in the money race, having raised just $70,000, $12,000 of which came from out-of-state donors.
What was surprising? That Sen. Doug Racine (D-Chittenden) couldn’t cash in on his recent flurry of labor and environmental endorsements .
He raised just $110,000 in the past year, for about $222,000 total. Relying on volunteers to make phone calls, knock on doors and get the word out may be a smart primary strategy. But it’s hard to see how, in a matter of weeks, he could go from $80,000 in the bank to the $1 million needed to win the general election.
The five-way Democratic race remains Markowitz’s to lose, with Dunne, Shumlin and Racine within striking distance. They’ll give Markowitz a run for her money, anyway.
The only candidate with a better chance of beating Dubie in the general election is … Dubie. How? With a major gaffe or poor public showings in debates.
Is the Air Force reservist using his bunker time wisely as Democrats wage war against each other? We’ll find out soon enough.
Debates Are a Drag
The five Democratic candidates for governor took part in an LGBTQ forum on Monday night at Champlain College. The first of roughly 50 primary debates and forums focused on LGBTQ issues was sponsored by several groups: Vermont CARES, Vermont Freedom to Marry, RU12?, Outright Vermont, Pride Vermont, VT TransAction and the Samara Foundation of Vermont.
The candidates tackled a wide variety of issues, from HIV/AIDs funding to discrimination in schools and in the health care system. As is normal in these forums, all five vowed to be more responsive to LGBTQ needs. More than Douglas has been, at least. Or than everyone thinks Dubie would be.
Shumlin played up his leadership on same-sex marriage last year and subsequent endorsement by the Vermont Freedom to Marry Action Committee.
Racine proudly announced he’s a card-carrying member of the League of Drag Queen Voters.
Another LGBTQ forum will be held on October 6. All gubernatorial candidates will be invited.
Given Dubie’s public opposition to civil unions, same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ legislation, will he show up?
Who Audits the Auditors?
Democrat Doug Hoffer didn’t have to embarrass himself to get some much-needed ink in the auditor’s race. He did what number crunchers do best: donned his green eyeshade and broke out the slide rule, or abacus, or whatever counting device it is they use nowadays.
Hoffer examined his rivals’ campaign-finance reports and found some interesting discrepancies.
Democrat-turned-Republican incumbent Thomas M. Salmon’s report included contributions and expenses from the previous reporting period, giving the illusion that Salmon had raised and spent more since July 1, 2009, than he actually has.
In all, Salmon has raised about $2285 in the past year, $1000 of which came from his father, former Gov. Thomas P. Salmon. He spent $2167. The spreadsheet attached to his report made it appear as if he had raised $7350 and spent more than $3200.
Hoffer saved the harshest criticism for his opponent in the Democratic primary: Sen. Ed Flanagan (D-Chittenden), who once held the auditor job.
The report Flanagan filed last week listed $27,000 in rollover funds from “previous campaigns” and showed no expenses, even though he has sent out fundraising emails and developed a website.
The only campaign surplus reported to the secretary of state’s office in recent years was roughly $5000 in December 2006. But Flanagan’s 2008 reports, all of which were filed in mid-2009, showed no carry-forward money. No expenditures or contributions, either.
Flanagan told “Fair Game” he believes most of the excess cash is from his failed U.S. Senate bid in 2000.
“But, I’m not sure. It really can’t be traced back to a single campaign,” said Flanagan. “I mean, I’ve run for office almost a dozen times, and it has kept accumulating and carrying forward.”
That’s not good enough for Hoffer, who urged Salmon and Flanagan to file amended reports to clear up any confusion or errors.
“The auditor is called upon to inspect the financial reporting of state agencies,” said Hoffer. “At a minimum, candidates for auditor should be able to properly complete these simple forms.”
Labor of Love?
When is an employee not an employee? When he or she is an independent contractor.
Taxes for Social Security and Medicare are withheld from an employee’s wages. The employer is also obligated to provide workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance.
An independent contractor is paid a flat fee and expected to file quarterly self-employment taxes.
The rules are no different in political campaigns. Several high-profile pols have been caught paying workers as contractors instead of employees, including Bernie Sanders in his 1990 congressional race, and Gov. Jim Douglas in his 2004 reelection bid.
Caught by the media, or political rivals, both Douglas and Sanders reversed course.
This year it’s Susan Bartlett who may be bending the rules. To date, she has paid her campaign manager John Bauer $3900 for “consulting” and three other workers nearly $3400 for “casual labor.”
The campaign believes it’s playing fair, said Bauer. “I choose when and where I work,” he said. The campaign’s part-time field director, who has been paid $4000, also sets her own schedule. Ditto the “casual labor” employees.
“But, since you’ve asked, we’ve put a call into the Department of Labor to clarify,” said Bauer. “We think we are doing this appropriately, but if we’re not, we’ll correct it immediately.”
BT by the Numbers
According to an internal report, Burlington Telecom has lost customers in each of the past three months, dipping below 4700 for the first time since last November.
As noted last week , BT general manager Chris Burns said the exodus of college students caused BT to shed customers in the past two months. He refused to provide further details, though, citing proprietary information.
However, a report generated by Burns and obtained by “Fair Game” shows that, as of June 30, BT’s customer count was 4679, a drop of 83 from its peak of 4762 in February and March.
Between February and June 2009, BT gained 238 customers. It lost 130 subscribers, though, over the subsequent two months. Looks like 2010 is trending a little differently.
As “Fair Game” wrapped last week, the Burlington Free Press announced it was changing its online commenting rules  — finally — to curb the nasty remarks that have become standard fare on its website. Its online comments will now be moderated off site, in a way that can better weed out offensive comments, or blocks users who violate the Freeps’ terms of service.
Gannett, the Freeps’ corporate parent, is also outsourcing the local daily’s design. Where will the art happen? Maybe Phoenix, where outgoing Free Press publisher Brad Robertson is headed? Des Moines? Nashville? Louisville?
Gannett picked Asbury Park, N.J., home of the Asbury Park Press, as the design shop for the Freeps and 14 other papers from the eastern United States.
Road trip to the Joisey Shore!