Top donors support Dean’s campaign shakeup

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(Host) Vermont contributors to Howard Dean’s presidential campaign were among those who pressured the candidate to shake up his staff this week. The candidate reached out on Wednesday to those supporters as he scrambled for cash.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Host) Dean held a conference call Wednesday afternoon with a group of about 100 high-end donors called the Dean’s List.

Bill Stetson from Norwich has been a Howard Dean supporter since Dean was lieutenant governor in the 1980s. He was on the call and says Dean’s donors wanted to know how the campaign spent most of the $41 million it raised last year.

(Stetson) “I think people want to know what’s happened, why so much money has been spent. And it was explained that the campaign used the money for the visibility. We needed to fight the onslaught and it’s really been an onslaught.”

(Dillon) Stetson says he expected the contributors to be angry, but instead they promised to raise more money.

They also were supportive of the changes Dean made. Campaign manager Joe Trippi resigned on Tuesday, and Dean hired Roy Neel, a former top aide to Al Gore, to take over. The high-level donors were among those who pressured Dean and his staff to make the changes. A group of contributors met in New Hampshire over the weekend and delivered the message that they were unhappy with the campaign’s lack of organization.

Stetson says some donors were also dissatisfied with the negative TV ads that Dean used in Iowa. The ads were produced by Trippi’s own company and he is paid a percentage of the money spent on the TV buy. Some reports say Trippi has earned about a million dollars from the advertising blitz.

(Stetson) “Most of the people I’ve talked to and the people who’ve been vocal on our committee have not really liked the ads. And that was something that worried us, because the ads were done kind of in-house. I mean, they’re involved with their own public relations, and there’s a certain lack of check and balance there.”

(Dillon) Steve Terry, a Green Mountain Power executive, has followed Vermont politics for years. He points out that Dean is a frugal person who has built his political reputation as a tight fiscal manager. Terry is not on the Dean’s List of top end donors, but he says the contributors he talked with were concerned about where the money went.

(Terry) “These people are very committed to Governor Dean. But they don’t like to see their money wasted, either.”

(Dillon) With Joe Trippi gone, the campaign loses the person who galvanized the Internet as a resource for fund raising and grassroots organizing.

But Arthur Berndt, a Dean donor from Sharon, says many organizations go through similar cycles in which the entrepreneurs give way to managers more skilled in organization.

(Berndt) “Here you have a start up company that a year had $100,000 and raised some $40 million in less than a year. So it’s obviously got to have growing pains, I don’t think that’s unusual.”

(Dillon) Berndt says Dean has deep support among large and small donors alike. He points out that in the last five days Dean has raised more than $1 million over the Internet alone.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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