Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman keeps more than 10,000 people updated about state happenings and his work with a monthly email newsletter. The content is innocuous enough but the email address it comes from —firstname.lastname@example.org — raises questions.
“Under no circumstances would we ever have advised to use a campaign address for that type of thing,” said John Quinn, the Agency of Digital Services secretary. “You’re blending the line. You’re meshing official business and political business.”
While perhaps inadvisable, it does not appear to be illegal. Staff at the Secretary of State's Office and the Attorney General's Office knew of no state law that prohibits the use of campaign email accounts or other resources for official state business — or vice versa. The personnel policy for state employees prohibits the use of government equipment for political activity, but not the reverse.
According to Zuckerman’s chief of staff Megan Polyte, there is no intermingling of information between the lieutenant governor's office and his campaign. The email addresses of Vermonters who sign up for the newsletter — either at events the lieutenant governor attends or through his official state website — are kept in the same database used by his campaign. But Polyte said they’re entered into a hidden field that only she and one administrative assistant can access.
“It’s not paid for by the campaign. It’s not accessible by anyone in the campaign,” said Polyte, who also serves as an unpaid advisor to the campaign. “It’s my password, my account.”
Polyte said she started using the campaign domain name because newsletters sent from state accounts were ending up in recipients' spam folders. She tried several other fixes before deciding to use zuckermanforvt.com.
The newsletter spotlights recent legislation, highlights upcoming events — such as a veterans' town hall or the lieutenant governor's movie night — and features guest posts from lawmakers, students and others.
Quinn pointed to the state's electronic communications policy, which stipulates that employees are "expected to use state-provided systems for state business." That requirement ensures public records can be easily accessed, he noted.
To avoid the entire state email system being deemed spam, official state accounts can only send email to 5,000 recipients. But according to Quinn, the Agency of Digital Services has helped multiple state entities find other ways to send mass emails and could easily have helped Zuckerman’s office find a workaround.
"We would absolutely help them. Any state agency, any one of the three branches [of government] that asks us for help, we’ll always advise them on what to do," Quinn said.
Polyte said she spoke at length with people at the agency and was left with the impression that they couldn’t help her. "I’m more than happy to call them back and try to figure it out," she said. "That would make my life a lot easier."