Republican candidate for governor Randy Brock solicited campaign money from numerous registered lobbyists while the legislature was still in session, Seven Days has learned, in apparent violation of campaign-finance law.
Three different registered lobbyists provided Seven Days with copies of a two-page fundraising solicitation dated April 18 that was addressed and mailed to their offices in Montpelier. One lobbyist also shared two emails the Brock campaign sent to his work email address during the session containing news on the campaign and links to the "donate" page on the Brock for Governor website.
"I'm working hard to raise $5000 a day to fully fund my campaign budget and make sure we have the resources for TV and radio advertising, web ads, voter contact mail, and yard signs," Brock's letter reads. "But I cannot do it without your help. ...Can I count on you to make a contribution to my campaign of $100, $250, $500, $1000 or $2000 today?"
Brock, a former state auditor, is vacating his Franklin County state Senate seat to take on first-term Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin in November.
Vermont law bans political candidates from soliciting money from registered lobbyists or lobbyist employers while the legislature is in session. Lawmakers adjourned on May 5 but may come back into session anytime before May 22 to deal with vetoed legislation.
Darcie Johnston, Brock's senior adviser and fundraising consultant, said the campaign tried to purge its mailing list of registered lobbyists and said that if some were left in, "it was a mistake."
"If it arrived at lobbyist offices, that was a mistake," Johnston said. "We tried very hard to make sure they were out. The disclaimer was there."
Brock's April 18 letter contained a disclaimer at the bottom that read: "This letter is not intended for any lobbyist or lobbyist employer registered with the State of Vermont. If you are a lobbyist or lobbyist employer registered with the State of Vermont, please notify the sender that it was improperly delivered and return the original document to 97 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05602."
That disclaimer is almost identical to one the Shumlin campaign added to its emails last year after coming under fire for soliciting lobbyists during the session (which former Seven Days political columnist Shay Totten cleverly dubbed the "burn eyeballs after reading" approach).
As with Shumlin's emails, Brock's solicitation disclaimer went on to acknowledge that, "Brock for Governor LLC is prohibited from soliciting registered lobbyists or registered lobbyist employers for political campaign contributions until the final adjournment of the legislature. Brock for Governor LLC will not accept political contributions from any lobbyist registered with the State of Vermont in response to this solicitation."
Last year, the Shumlin campaign blamed the arrival of its solicitation in lobbyists' inboxes on the "opt-in" nature of email — in other words, people sign up voluntarily to receive campaign email, and the campaign can't always distinguish from email addresses alone who is a registered lobbyist and who isn't. Brock's solicitation was different in that it was a piece of direct mail addressed to at least three lobbyist offices in Montpelier.
Brock's April 18 letter tells recipients: "Your support of $100 will buy 4 radio ads, $250 will buy an ad on the 6 o'clock TV news, $500 will buy a week's worth of Google ads on the web, $1000 will buy a prime-time ad on TV and $2000 will buy a prime-time TV ad during a Red Sox or Patriots' game this fall."
The letter goes on to state that Shumlin has made Vermont "a laboratory for extreme policies," citing the governor's "single payer health care scheme" and a renewable energy policy that will cost ratepayers "millions." Brock also hits Shumlin for his immigrant-friendly policies.
"Not only does he tell the police to 'look the other way' on illegal immigration, he now supports a plan to issue Vermont driver's licenses to illegal aliens," the letter states. "These are just a few of the experiments that will destroy Vermont's economy if Governor Shumlin is re-elected."
The reach of Brock's fundraising letter — and the number of lobbyists who might have received it — is unclear; Johnston would not disclose the total number of recipients. Asked how Brock generated the mailing list, she said it's a database he has maintained and added to for years.
Johnston said the Brock campaign compared its own list against the state's official list of registered lobbyists to "clean up" its mailing list. Asked how the lobbyists who spoke to Seven Days ended up on that list, Johnston said, "I wish I knew."
"I don't know if it's people who have signed up on the website, if Randy had a stack of business cards from folks and over the last couple of years has been entering contacts in there," Johnston said, adding that one letter had in fact been returned to the Brock campaign. "We thought we had a pretty good list. This is not the first mailing we've done. We did a mailing in January and we didn't have a problem then."
Assistant Attorney General Susanne Young said that the attorney's office had not received complaints about the fundraising solicitation and wouldn't comment on its legality. Young also took a pass on whether the disclaimer at the end of Brock's letter covers him legally.
"I'm not aware that that language has been something that has been suggested by either the secretary of state or the attorney general as a good idea. I don't believe it [has], but I'd have to go back and check," she said. "You can look at the statute."
Broadly, the law states that soliciting lobbyists or their employers during the session is forbidden. But it's silent on the impact of disclaimers such as the ones Brock and Shumlin have used.
Vermont Democrat Party Chairman Jake Perkinson said he was made aware of the solicitation but said he hadn't determined whether the party would pursue a complaint over the letter with the attorney general's office. After the GOP brought a complaint against Shumlin's email solicitation last year, state Dems filed a retaliatory complaint against the former campaign of Republican Gov. Jim Douglas for sending a solicitation to a Vermont lobbyist during the 2009-2010 session.
Why wouldn't the Dems pursue a complaint this time?
"Frankly, I'm getting frustrated at being the campaign finance police," Perkinson responded. "The last time we filed a complaint, the attorney general didn't do anything about it. At a certain point, you've got to pick your battles."