A Candidate’s $4,700 Biscuit Gift – Smart Policy?

Erick Russell, locked in a three-way race for state treasurer, was about to finish his speech at the Democratic convention on a Saturday in May when his volunteers hit the aisles with a surprise.

For each of the approximately 2,000 delegates present — a cookie. Chocolate chip, the classic. Wrapped in plastic with a campaign sticker. And they weren’t supermarket cookies. “Baked by Katalina’s, a woman-owned bakery in New Haven,” the sticker read prominently.

With this week’s campaign finance reports, we saw the price Russell’s campaign paid for those treats: $4,679. No sugar coating, that’s a lot of dough.

A half-baked idea, spending thousands on cookies as campaign spoils? Or maybe it was a brilliant ploy to crumble the competition – Dita Bhargava of Greenwich and Karen DuBois-Walton, another New Havenite.

Conventional wisdom says that a candidate should opt for a durable product rather than a consumable. Buttons, t-shirts, hats, that sort of thing.

I still use my Audrey Blondin fly swatter for Secretary of State, which the Torrington nominee signed for me in 2005. It didn’t win but I would vote for it – the plastic tool works great.

But Russell’s cookies might have been just the thing to rise to the occasion and satisfy the delegates’ thirst for impression. Each candidate has a different background and skill set, but when it comes to politics, they are more or less all the same.

Months later, people who were there remember the document. And all Russell needed to recoup the $4,700 investment was a few swing votes, at that point.

The Bhargava team distributed small purses with small mints or candies inside. To find? The Treasurer manages the more than $40 billion in state pension funds, among other monetary duties. She also had shirts and, according to her campaign finance report, $1,688 for food from Panera Bread, though it’s unclear whether she handed out labeled sandwiches to delegates.

DuBois-Walton has t-shirts at his table and stuff. Her report shows she spent $8,441 on “convention materials” from a Guilford company, DNA Campaigns.

Sharon Thomas, a delegate from Simsbury, favored DuBois-Walton. “I made a comment,” Thomas recalled this week, “‘Are these cookies going to be considered a bribe?'”

She added, “I don’t usually eat cookies. They were good.”

As it happens, food was scarce that day at the Xfinity Theater in Hartford, with long lines at the concession stands.

“For a lot of people, it was really nice to have something that they didn’t have to wait 45 minutes for,” said Akash Kaza, a Democratic Party activist and staffer for the mayor of Hartford. “They were pretty crispy.”

He prefers softness. I’m a cookie crunch guy myself.

Russell won approval, with 47% of the vote in the first round, leading Bhargava and DuBois-Walton to forfeit their right to a second round, as each won enough votes for a primary.

This August 9 election matters, whether you are guided by your brain, your heart or your stomach. The Connecticut Treasurer has enormous discretionary power over investments. For the record, pensions could buy enough cookies to go to the moon and back 7 times, at a dollar for every 6 inches of cookie.

For his part, Russell would rather talk about the stakes and his qualifications in the three-way Democratic treasurer primary. He is a young partner in a law firm, working in finance – and would be the first openly gay black elected official statewide in the United States if he were to win.

Bhargava is a money management professional and leader, campaigning aggressively with a new ad about abortion rights and how she would invest state money.

DuBois-Walton is the only one of the three to have run a public or quasi-public agency, the New Haven Housing Authority, of which she is the executive director. She’s also the only one who hasn’t yet raised enough money to qualify for public funding — $484,125 for the primary.

Regarding the cookies, Russell said in a written comment: “It was a deliberate choice – as someone who spent time working at the cash register at my mom and dad’s convenience store, I know the incredible value and importance of local small businesses, and I will have those values ​​in mind as Connecticut’s Treasurer.

The order definitely mattered to Kathy Riegelmann, who founded Katalina’s in 2011 and knows Russell from weightlifting in a gym together at 5 a.m. — long after her workday had started. Making and packaging 2,200 cookies, each a good size, took her and her team two days, she told me. “We just kept going.”

Thomas, the delegate from Simsbury, enjoyed the tea but said to me, “I don’t think they were effective, it didn’t change my mind.

I spoke with a political consultant whom I often call about these issues. “Erick Russell will now be known as the Cookie Monster candidate,” said Jennifer Schneider of Democratic media company Metro Square.

“The question is, how do you convince voters to trust him with $40 billion of taxpayers’ money? On the other hand, he is sure to make inroads with the Girl Scout vote.

Schneider said she was skeptical of spending on something that disappeared the next day. But in this case, if, say, 50 delegates had voted for one of the other two instead of Russell, it could have forced a second ballot, where anything could have happened.

You never know in marketing and politics. This is how the cookie crumbles.

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