Campaign donations reach an all-time high; Senate hopefuls raise a combined $100k

ADDISON COUNTY — Addison County candidates running in contested elections for posts in the state Legislature and county government on Nov. 6 have thus far raised a combined total of around $176,000 to fulfill their political aspirations.
It’s already an all-time record for campaign fundraising in Addison County, and the number will undoubtedly swell by the time candidates do their final accounting after the election night confetti has been swept up.
The county’s gaudy campaign finance numbers are largely being driven by a six-person race for the county’s two state Senate seats that as of Oct. 15 had yielded a combined total of around $100,668 in contributions. It’s the first time ever that the collective campaign coffers in an Addison County state Senate race have swelled into six-figures.
Eric Davis, the Independent’s political columnist and a Middlebury College professor emeritus of political science, said the amounts raised by five of the six Addison County state Senate candidates are more akin to what one would normally see in Chittenden County, which has many more voters and three times as many seats (six) in the Legislature’s highest chamber.
“It’s an indication of the competitiveness of the race,” Davis said. “I would say this (Senate) race is going to be close.”
First-time state Senate candidate Ruth Hardy, a Middlebury Democrat, leads the fundraising pack headed into the home stretch. She reported contributions totaling $30,655, including most recently $1,000 from the Addison County Democrat Party Committee (ACDPC) and $270 from Barbarina Heyerdahl of Montpelier.
Hardy reported expenditures totaling $16,206.
On her heels is incumbent state Sen. Christopher Bray, D-New Haven. He reported donations of $24,684, of which he’s spent $2,638. His most recent contributions include $1,000 from the ACDPC, $400 from the Vermont Association for Public Justice, $500 from Gale Hurd of Weybridge, $500 from Progressive Voters of America, and $400 from the Ashe for State Senate campaign.
Interest in the two seats representing Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore has been fueled by the retirement of incumbent state Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison. Democrats have held both seats since 2002, and they aren’t keen on losing them. The ACDPC has thus far contributed $2,750 to both the Hardy and Bray campaigns. Bray currently chairs the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee, a particularly high-profile assignment in light of the very tricky and expensive logistics of fulfilling a federally mandated cleanup of Vermont’s waterways.
Hoping to disrupt the status quo are independent candidates Marie Audet of Bridport and Paul Ralston of New Haven. Audet is a co-owner of the Blue Spruce Farm and a frequent spokesperson on agricultural issues. Ralston is founder and CEO of Middlebury’s Vermont Coffee Co., and has gleaned support for this Senate run from some Democrats and Republicans who believe he will bring a more pro-business attitude to the state’s highest chamber.
Ralston is a former Democrat who represented the town of Middlebury in the House from 2010-2015. He served on the House Commerce Committee.
Ironically, Bray once worked for Ralston. He served at Vermont Coffee’s vice president of marketing & sales from 2010-2011.
Audet and Ralston are running as a team, with joint campaign material. And they are keeping up in the election fundraising department.
Audet on Oct. 15 reported total contributions of $21,130, of which she had spent $19,524. Her largest recent donations have included $250 each from Nick Artim of Middlebury and Harold Nisun of Salisbury; and $500 from Edward Townley of Williston.
Ralston reported campaign donations of $16,730 on Monday, and reported expenditures of $20,212.
His largest recent donations have included $250 each from Nick Artim of Middlebury and Kevin Commins of Weybridge, and $500 from Heidi Scheuermann of Stowe.
Republican Peter Briggs of Addison reported a fundraising total of $7,467 as of Oct. 15, of which he had spent $4,343.
His largest recent contributions have included $1,000 from Tom Breuer of Stowe, $500 from the Addison County Republican Committee and $250 from Steve Thurston of Ferrisburgh.
Libertarian candidate Archie Flower had no campaign finance paperwork on file with the state as of Oct. 15.
It’s no coincidence that the most animated House contest has seen the most financial activity.
The four candidates vying for Addison-4’s two seats have raised a combined total of $28,540. Addison-4 includes the towns of Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton and Starksboro.
Candidates’ interest has been fueled by the impending retirement of longtime Rep. Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol.
Topping the fundraising field in that district is Lincoln Democrat Mari Cordes, who reported contributions totaling $9,301, and $8,309 in spending. Cordes, a registered nurse, is making her second bid in Addison-4. Her largest recent contributions included $500 from the ACDPC.
Close behind is fellow Democrat Caleb Elder of Starksboro. Elder, who works in the renewable energy field, reported total campaign donations of $7,765, of which he had spent $5,680. He, too, recently received $500 from the ACDPC, along with $250 from the Vermont Conservation Voters PAC, $250 from (his dad) John Elder of Bristol, and $250 from Carleton Smith of Middlebury.
Monkton Republican Valerie Mullin is making her third bid for an Addison-4 seat. She’s a local businesswoman who reported contributions totaling $6,775, of which she had spent $1,860 as of Monday. Her largest recent donations have included $1,020 each from Skip and Denise Vallee of Shelburne, $250 from Jams Pizzagalli of Shelburne, $1,000 from Lenore Brighton of Burlington, $500 from Hazel Anderson of Orange, Calif., and $500 from Bruce Lisman of Shelburne.
Rounding out the fundraising field is incumbent Rep. Fred Baser, R-Bristol, who was also the district’s top vote getter in the last general election. Baser, a member of the powerful House Ways & Means Committee, reported contributions totaling $4,699, of which he had spent $1,946 as of Monday. His largest recent donations have included $300 from Gunsensevt Victory Fund of Brattleboro and $350 from Mary Evslin of Stowe.
Meanwhile, the belated return of an incumbent into the Addison-3 race has ramped up campaign solicitations in that district, which represents Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham.
Leading the pack is first-time candidate Matt Birong, a Vergennes Democrat and owner of 3 Squares Café in the Little City. Birong reported donations amounting to $11,284 as of Oct. 15, of which he had spent $5,488. His largest recent contributions included $500 from Progressive Voters of America, and $200 each from Shyla Stewart of Norwich and William Stetson, also of Norwich.
Close behind Birong is the man he’s hoping to unseat — incumbent Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh. Van Wyck announced in May he wouldn’t seek re-election to the seat he’s held since replacing the late Rep. Greg Clark in February of 2012.
But he had a change of heart this summer and ran a successful write-in campaign during the Aug. 14 primary election that will ensure his name gets on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Van Wyck on Monday reported total donations of $10,850, of which he had spent $4,347. His largest recent contributions have included $1,000 from Lenore Broughton of Burlington, $500 from A.A.C. Leasing of Ferrisburgh, $200 from the Vermont Ski Areas Association, and $250 from Charles Johnson of Ferrisburgh.
Rounding out the field is longtime incumbent Rep. Diane Lanpher, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Lanpher reported donations of $3,387, which includes a $1,087 carryover from her previous campaign. She’s spent $2,740 thus far. She reported $225 in contributions during the most recent filing period, all of which came in amounts less than $100.
In the Addison-Rutland House district, Democrat Barbara Wilson of Shoreham has raised $5,568 thus far, of which she’s spent $3,065. Wilson, who operates an organic berry farm, is making her first bid for the seat that represents Benson, Orwell, Shoreham and Whiting. Her largest recent contributions have included $400 from the ACDPC, $270 from Barbarina Heyerdahl of Montpelier and $250 from Vermont Conservation Voters PAC.
Her opponent, incumbent Rep. Terry Norris, I-Shoreham, had raised $1,024 and has spent $1,774 in his re-election bid. He and his family have financed $774 of his campaign thus far, according to state records.
Middlebury Democrat Peter Newton has so far spent $14,364 in his effort to succeed Don Keeler as the county’s next sheriff. He showed contributions totaling $13,744 as of Monday. Newton is currently a lieutenant with the Addison County Sheriff’s Department and has been endorsed by Keeler.
His opponent, Bristol independent candidate Kevin Gibbs, had not filed campaign finance paperwork with the Secretary of State’s Office by Monday’s deadline. The Independent reached out to Gibbs for the financial details of his campaign. Gibbs, the former Bristol police chief, said he had raised $702 and spent $4,385 as of Oct. 15.
Gibbs said he was unaware of the filing requirement and said he would file a financial report with the Secretary of State’s office Wednesday, Oct. 18.
Even the usually placid contest for Addison County assistant judge has triggered a campaign finance filing with the secretary of state. New Haven Republican Doug Tolles reported having raised $1,576 thus far, of which he’s spent $1,368. The other candidates in the race include incumbent Middlebury Republican Alice George, Addison Democrat Jacqueline McLean and Cornwall Democrat Patricia Ross.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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