Local House race sparks record fundraising ahead of August primary – Waterbury Roundabout

Local House race sparks record fundraising ahead of August primary – Waterbury Roundabout

Jonathan Griffin, another newcomer to local politics and the only Republican challenger vying for one of the district’s two seats, is watching the Democratic primary with great interest. With no opponent in the Republican primary, Griffin is virtually assured of a spot on the ballot for the general election in November.

“I’m not a politician and I’m probably a little behind because I’m a working dad with two jobs. I’ve been watching Elizabeth closely and I really like what she stands for. It’s inspiring,” Griffin said. “I’m the only Republican running unopposed in the primary. I’ve just been watching the Democratic primary closely because my next steps will really be determined after August 13,” he explained.

Griffin may need some time before he gets his campaign up and running and has campaign materials ready, but in the meantime he has put up a “Vote Brown” sign at the end of his driveway.

Large donations across party and district boundaries

Not only has Brown raised a significant amount of money, but most of her donors are outside of the Washington-Chittenden district she is representing. According to her disclosure statement, over $15,000, or 90%, of Brown’s cash donations of $100 or more came from individuals or businesses based outside the district; a third of that amount came from donors in other states.

Brown’s donors include prominent Republican Bruce Lisman of Shelburne, who gave $500. Lisman, a Republican candidate for governor in 2016, lost the primary to Phil Scott, but he has donated $2,500 to his former opponent’s campaign so far this year.

Lisman, a retired Wall Street executive, is the founder of the nonpartisan organization Campaign For Vermont, which advocates for state government budget reforms.

So far this election cycle, Lisman has donated to four state legislature candidates, including Brown. Two others are Democrats — Stewart Ledbetter of Winooski, a candidate for the Chittenden County Senate ($1,000) and David Kelley, a candidate for the House of Representatives from Greensboro ($500). Thomas Renner, the Democratic challenger to Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, P.D., received $3,000 from Lisman, and Rep. Scott Beck, R-St. Johnsbury, reported a $1,000 donation from Lisman to his re-election campaign.

In addition to Vermont bankers and real estate professionals, Brown’s report said 37% of her 16,980 donations over $100 came from out-of-state donors, most from Florida and Massachusetts. Four of her donors gave the maximum amount of $1,120 for this election cycle; only five gave less than $100, for a total of $375, the finance report said. Candidates are not required to identify these smaller donors by name and address.

A search for potential donors who might also be Washington-Chittenden voters yields only two donors from Waterbury — Chris Viens, who contributed $700, and Lisa Meyer, who donated $250. Viens, a former Waterbury Select Board member, challenged Stevens and Wood in 2020 and ran unsuccessfully as an independent candidate for the House. A $300 donation from Kristen Rodgers lists a Waterbury mailing address, but Rodgers lives in Moretown, where she was a member of the Harwood School Board and served as chair until the election in March of this year.

All four candidates in the local House race are Waterbury residents and are running to represent a district that includes Waterbury, Bolton, Huntington and Buels Gore.

“That’s the nature of fundraising,” said Stevens, who has received donations from outside his district during his 16-year career in the state House of Representatives. “Rare are donations in the range of $500 or more,” he added.

Wood stressed that her goal is to “hear primarily from our local constituents, and those are the people who give me campaign donations. I have not contacted any large corporations or people from outside my constituency, other than MPs who are retiring from their legislative work. One of them has already made a donation,” she said.

Under Vermont’s campaign finance law, surplus campaign funds, unless used for a new election campaign, must be donated to another candidate, PAC, political party or charity, in accordance with donation limits.

Griffin observed the process and acknowledged that “there is obviously a preference for local money to support local elections – that is my view. But that has not been the reality in any way in our election. I assume that (Brown) as a successful businesswoman has many personal contacts who support her as an individual.”

In addition to fundraising, the July 1 financial reports also list campaign spending. Brown’s report shows that the campaign spent just under $13,000, with the largest expenses so far being graphic design, printing, postage and advertising.

Neither Wood nor Stevens reported any campaign spending during this period. Since Griffin has not raised any funds to date, he has not filed a financial report.

Brown invites candidates and voters to forums

To engage voters in a discussion about important issues, Brown Two candidate forums are planned next week and invited the other candidates in the race, all of whom have accepted the invitation. The town hall-style forums, intended to be informal hearings, will be held on Thursday, July 11, at the town library in Huntington and on July 17 at the Main Street Fire Station in Waterbury. Both are scheduled for 7 p.m.

Moderators are Huntington Select Board Chair Dori Barton and Waterbury Select Board Chair Roger Clapp, who were elected to nonpartisan positions and serve as neutral parties moderating the events.

Brown said she expects the forums to provide an opportunity for voters to share their most pressing concerns and issues. Her fellow candidates said they welcomed the opportunity for these conversations.

Wood admitted that she and Stevens “had actually talked about doing something, and she had just beat us to the punch in organizing the events.”

“I’m looking forward to engaging with voters in all four communities we serve,” Wood said. “Hopefully a lot of people will come. As a legislator, the most important thing is to listen. That’s my big plan: I’m going to make sure I listen to people who have questions and comments about what should be done in Montpelier.”

Griffin, who admitted he entered the campaign because he was “a little frustrated with Parliament’s spending policies”, said: “It will be nice to meet people face to face, in a forum where we can hear other perspectives. Of course I will share my ideas, but I’m really interested in listening and learning.”

Stevens said he expects a good turnout from voters from all parties. He said the forums are an opportunity for voters to “get to know us (and) see the differences between the candidates.”

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Elizabeth Brown did not respond to requests for comment prior to publication.

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For more information on Vermont campaign finance requirements and filings for all state and federal candidates, as well as other candidates this election cycle, visit the Vermont Secretary of State’s campaign finance website. The primary election will take place on Tuesday, August 13, and early voting is already open.