The Vermont Democratic Party lodged a complaint with the attorney general's office Thursday alleging the Republican Governors Association and the gubernatorial campaign of Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie violated state election law.
The complaint is based on a series of allegations claiming that the RGA and Dubie campaign coordinated the filming of footage used in an RGA-purchased ad that aired on Vermont's television stations.
The Democrats allege the Dubie campaign, or Dubie himself, must have coordinated the footage filmed for the ad as it includes footage from private fundraising events and close-up shots that were likely more than "coincidental."
"The numerous scenes of intimate, private and staged shots contained in the campaign commercial reasonably infers that Lt. Governor Dubie must have consciously taken action to facilitate or approve the creation of the advertisement," the Democrats allege in the complaint.
[To read the full text of the Democratic complaint, scroll to the bottom of the post]
Dubie's campaign denies the allegations and called the complaint "absolutely false."
The ad first appeared the week before the August 24 primary, as part of the RGA's Green Mountain Prosperity political action committee's effort to get Dubie elected governor.
The RGA launched the ad along with a website, titled "Vision for Vermont." Ironically, "Vision for Vermont" is the title of likely Democratic nominee Sen. Peter Shumlin's economic development plan. Funny. I sure hope the RGA didn't pay too much for its "oppo" research.
"Brian Dubie doesn't have a public schedule, yet Washington Republicans spending thousand of dollars on his behalf knew exactly where he would be when to tape a television commercial. This evidence and more evidence coming to light points to a coordinated effort between the Republican Governor's Association and Brian Dubie which would be illegal," said Paul Tencher, coordinated campaign director for the Vermont Democratic Party. Tencher was recently hired by the party after running Secretary of State Deb Markowitz's losing bid for the gubernatorial nomination.
"Republicans in Vermont have a track record of ignoring campaign finance laws to give them an advantage and it is important that the attorney general investigates the evidence we have presented in this complaint quickly," added Tencher.
If the attorney general deems the ad was a coordinated effort between the RGA and Dubie's campaign, it would exceed the $2000 donation limit in state law. The RGA spent $30,000 to air the ad and additional money to produce it.
"Our office is drafting letters asking both the RGA and the Dubie campaign to respond to the factual allegations in the complaint," Sorrell told Seven Days. The letters should be delivered tomorrow.
"We aren't going to give them an extended period of time, and will likely ask them to respond to us within a week," said Sorrell.
Dubie's campaign denies the allegations.
“Election law is very clear on this issue,” said Corry Bliss, Dubie's campaign manager, in a statement. “Campaigns are legally barred from coordinating with outside groups, and we are diligent in adhering to both the letter and the spirit of the law. Let me be perfectly clear in saying we had absolutely nothing to do with the RGA’s ad. Peter Shumlin knows he cannot win on the issues and is desperate to distract voters. He is desperate to divert attention from his record of supporting job-killing tax increases in the Senate and the ethical cloud hanging over his head.”
It appears as if the footage in the RGA ad was taped at public events or at events to which hundreds, if not thousands, of people were invited, said Bliss. Those include a street festival at Jay Peak, along with a fundraiser held at the resort. It also appears as if footage was gleaned from visits to at least one of the state's many county fairs.
"Everywhere Brian shows up there are at least one, if not two, cameras filming him and we don't ask who they are," Bliss told Seven Days.
Besides, if Dubie and the RGA were coordinating the campaign, you'd think the two groups wouldn't run nearly identical ads. Dubie's "Pure Vermont" TV spot is thematically very similar to the RGA's ad.
An RGA spokesman also denied any wrongdoing.
"This is a baseless complaint by a losing team. We fully complied with Vermont law. The real story is Green Mountain Future hiding their donors from Vermont voters by creating a 527 at the last minute to avoid disclosure while the ad is running," said Chris Schrimpf, an RGA spokesman. "As far as we know Shumlin interests are funding GMF."
Green Mountain Future is a 527 lobbying group that launched a TV ad yesterday criticizing Dubie for being supportive of keeping Vermont Yankee open beyond its scheduled closing date in 2012. The group will not have to file an income or expense report until mid-October.
The RGA got into trouble in the waning days of the 2004 campaign season when it spent $300,000 in an effort to help re-elect Gov. Jim Douglas. Douglas was being challenged by Progressive-turned-Democrat Peter Clavelle, the former mayor of Burlington.
Sorrell's office ruled the RGA had violated state law by failing to register as a political action committee, but a judge refused to order the ads be pulled from television and radio stations.
At the time, Clavelle trailed Douglas in the polls and even Douglas didn't believe the ads were necessary to help him win re-election. He did, however, publicly support any enforcement action brought against the RGA by Sorrell's office.
In other campaign kerfuffle news, the Dubie campaign called on Shumlin Thursday to release a complete list of his assets, and not just his tax returns. Earlier this year Dubie released both his tax returns and a list of assets.
"Today, Peter Shumlin once again refused to release his assets and liabilities as is custom in Vermont gubernatorial campaigns. This is someone who makes $1 million a year and uses his personal wealth to finance his campaigns. What is Peter Shumlin trying to hide? What is he afraid of? Vermonters have a right to know who gubernatorial candidates are beholden to," said Bliss.
Alex MacLean, Shumlin's campaign manager, said the Dubie team had not contacted her or Shumlin about releasing the asset information. "That's not correct that we refused to release it, we never heard from them directly," said MacLean. "We have no problem releasing that information and we will as soon as we put it together. I would have told them the same thing had they bothered to contact us."* * * Full Text of the Democratic complaint filed with the attorney general's office * * *
September 9, 2010
Paul J. Tencher
Coordinated Campaign Manager
Vermont Democratic Party
29 Main St., Suite 3
Montpelier, VT 05602
The Honorable William Sorrell
109 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05609
Today, on behalf of the Vermont Democratic Party and the citizens of Vermont, I am requesting a civil investigation into expenditures spent on television advertising promoting the candidacy of Lt. Governor Brian Dubie for the office of Governor in the state of Vermont. According to state and federal law, any media purchases made on behalf of a candidate must be an in-kind contribution to said candidate unless there is a lack of coordination between the parties. I have reason to believe “Friends of Brian Dubie” and the “Republican Governor's Association” have broken the law by coordinating media activities.
This complaint and request for investigation is based on the following information that has come to light:
1. The video footage used in the advertisement purchased by the Republican Governor's Association includes footage of Lt. Governor Dubie at private campaign events. Since Lt. Governor Dubie does not publish a public schedule, it would have been practically impossible for the Republican Governor's Association to know where Dubie would be and schedule a film crew to film him without coordination and collusion. Contact between any agent of “Friends of Brian Dubie” and the Republican Governor's Association would be a violation under the law.
2. Numerous witnesses have contacted the Vermont Democratic Party stating that Lt. Governor Dubie was observed being transported by agents of the Republican Governor's Association on the previously mentioned public activities that were the setting for film scenes used in the aforementioned television advertisement sponsored by the Republican Governor’s Association.
3. The video footage utilized by the RGA advertisement is full of staged interactions between Lt. Governor Dubie and others indicative of the fact that he either intentionally facilitated or at the very least approved of the RGA’s activities in making the advertisement. These include:
1. Clips of Lt. Governor Dubie talking privately with supporters whereby the camera must have been positioned within a few feet of candidate.
2. Clips of the Lt. Governor Dubie talking privately with small business owners/employees. He is one of only two people in the room. Could the Lt. Governor actually claim with any credibility that he did not know where the camera crew was in that shot?
3. Clips of the Lt. Governor Dubie talking to small children. This shot indicates that a camera crew must have been positioned close to the candidate and the children from a ground level and only a few feet away. This further demonstrates that Lt. Governor Dubie knew exactly what the camera crew was doing in furtherance of the production of the television commercial.
4. The RGA expended over $30,000.00 on this television commercial plus the cost of the shoot and production.
5. Gov. Jim Douglas has acted as an agent of both the Republican Governor's Association and “Friends of Brian Dubie.” Governor Jim Douglas has been present and “hosted” fundraising activities for Lt. Governor Dubie, while at the same time he submitted his voice for advertisement in question. This activity presents a precarious situation where Governor Douglas was acting as an agent of “Friends of Brian Dubie” and the Republican Governor's Association.These facts indicate that Lt. Governor Dubie and the Republican Governor’s Association have related campaign expenditures. 17 V.S.A. § 2809(c) defines a related campaign expenditure as “…any expenditure intended to promote the election of a specific candidate…if intentionally facilitated by, solicited by, or approved by the candidate or the candidate’s political committee” (emphasis added).
The Vermont Secretary of State has issued an administrative rule that provides further meaning to these terms. Administrative Rule 2000-1 states that a related campaign expenditure occurs where the candidate or his campaign committee “…consciously and not accidently have done an action to make the activity or expenditure possible” or “…taken any prior action or inaction that indicates permission or approval” of the activity.
The information as set forth above supports the conclusion that the RGA and Brian Dubie’s campaign for governor have engaged in activity that amounts to related campaign expenditures. The numerous scenes of intimate, private, and staged shots contained in the campaign commercial reasonably infers that Lt. Governor Dubie must have consciously taken action to facilitate or approve the creation of the advertisement. Moreover, since a related campaign expenditure is considered a contribution to Lt. Governor Dubie’s campaign for governor and it far exceeds the $2,000 limit under Vermont law, there has been another serious violation of Vermont campaign finance laws. The RGA’s apparent violation of Vermont’s Campaign Finance Laws should not be viewed merely in isolation. It was merely six years ago that the RGA committed another flagrant violation when it failed to report campaign activity in support of Governor Douglas’ bid for Governor.
I respectfully ask for an official investigation into the actions of the Republican Governor's Association and “Friends of Brian Dubie” based on these allegations of coordination that would make the expenditure of the Republican Governor's Association an illegal, over-the-limit in-kind campaign contributions.
Paul J. Tencher
Director, Vermont Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign