Vermont Democratic Party Asks AG to Investigate 'Vote No' Signs | Education | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Vermont Democratic Party Asks AG to Investigate 'Vote No' Signs


Published June 12, 2024 at 3:35 p.m.

Signs in Milton - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Signs in Milton
The Vermont Democratic Party filed a complaint with the state Attorney General's Office on Wednesday, asking it to investigate whether the Chittenden County Republican Party violated campaign finance law for failing to file reports about its spending for "Just Say No" signs.

The signs went up in Essex, South Burlington and Milton ahead of school budget revotes that eventually were all approved. Small print at the bottom of the signs stated that they were paid for by the Chittenden County GOP.

Seven Days first wrote about the signs on May 28 after executives with the local party gave conflicting answers about how they came to be and who paid for them.

The June 11 complaint, filed by Vermont Democratic Party executive director Jim Dandeneau, cites state statute that says political parties must report expenditures if they have have spent or accepted contributions that total more than $1,000 for the purpose of influencing an election. In this case, it would be a "public question," not an election between candidates. The Chittenden County GOP did not file a report with the Secretary of State's Office, the complaint said.

But, the complaint says, based on the number of signs that were displayed, "it is inconceivable that the expenditure to print the signs was less than $1,000."

Small text indicating the Chittenden County GOP paid for the signs - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Small text indicating the Chittenden County GOP paid for the signs
The complaint also cites Seven Days' article about the signs. It quoted Chittenden County GOP chair Janet Metz as saying her organization did not pay for the signs, which she said were funded by private donations.

The same article also quoted Chittenden County GOP vice chair Ron Lawrence, who initially said two community groups — which formed to counter diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in the Milton and Essex Westford school districts — had asked the Chittenden County GOP to purchase the signs on their behalf.

In either case, state law requires the groups to disclose the expenditure if it exceeded $1,000, the complaint says.
It still remains unclear how much money was spent on the signs and who purchased them. In a previous statement to Seven Days, Metz said she had"no idea how many signs were produced, at what cost, or where and when they were first deployed."

On Wednesday, Metz reiterated in an email to Seven Days that the signs were "paid for by private individuals" and that the Chittenden County GOP "mistakenly allowed our name to be placed on the signs." Her organization "had no involvement in producing or distributing them," she said.

Asked how the mistake was made, Metz took responsibility and said she "was distracted and didn't think it through."

"This is all much ado about nothing," she wrote in an email. "If the Democrats push the AG to investigate they will be embarrassed in the end."

In an interview on Wednesday, Dandeneau said he filed the complaint after speaking with residents who were disturbed by the Chittenden County Republican Party's "apparent obfuscation" about who paid for the signs.

Dandeneau said he hopes an AG probe will uncover how much was actually spent on the signs and by whom.

Ultimately, the complaint is "not about the punishment," but "the public's right to know," Dandeneau said. "Vermonters deserve to know who’s putting money into these efforts."

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