The Vermont Democratic Party has filed a complaint with the attorney general's office accusing the right-leaning adovcacy group Campaign For Vermont of violating campaign finance laws by running radio ads attacking Gov. Peter Shumlin.
In a letter dated February 21, Democratic Party executive director Jesse Bragg asks Attorney General William Sorrell, a Democrat, to investigate the group and its founder, retired Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman (pictured), for failing to register as a political committee while running ads meant to influence the 2012 governor's race.
Campaign For Vermont, which calls itself a nonpartisan coalition advocating for a more prosperous Vermont, has been saturating local talk radio stations with ads narrated by Lisman that call for lower taxes and criticize Shumlin's plans for establishing a statewide universal health care program.
The Dems have scheduled a Statehouse press conference for 10:15 a.m. tomorrow to discuss the complaint. Download the complaint letter.
Ironically, the Democrats are using a relatively recent court ruling that went against them to make the case that Lisman's group has run afoul of the law. Bragg writes that Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford's decision in Vermont v. Green Mountain Future "essentially held that an advertisement, costing more than $500 and ran within a year of the election, that reasonably refers to a candidate triggers political committee status. Clearly, the hypercritical and inaccurate declarations contained in the Campaign for Vermont radio advertisement are directed at candidate Shumlin as opposed to merely Governor Shumlin's legislative agenda."
What did the ads say that was so "hypercritical" and "inaccurate?"
According to the Democrats' complaint, Campaign For Vermont ran an ad on February 6 that was a "focused critique of Governor Shumlin's position on education funding." The ad stated:
Governor Shumlin has cut state support for education funding, leaving Vermont property taxpayers to make up the difference — 27 million dollars this year alone. I'm Oliver Olsen, state representative from Jamaica. Unless the Governor restores funding, local property taxes will go up this year.
The Dems argue the ad is clearly meant to influence the upcoming election because Shumlin has a registered campaign committee and is facing an announced opponent in Republican Sen. Randy Brock.
The complaint letter goes on:
Moreover, such critical and inaccurate hyperbole about the Governor can only be viewed as furthering the purpose of opposing his candidacy and/or influencing the outcome of the governor's election. It is elementary civics to know that the Governor cannot cut or restore state support for education funding. Such action rests with the purview of the legislature. If this was a genuine issue advertisement, there would be a request for Governor Shumlin to use his bully pulpit to effecuate changes to pending legislation.
Campaign For Vermont did not respond Wednesday evening to a request for comment. A message left at Lisman's Shelburne home was not immediately returned. A receptionist who answered the phone at Campaign For Vermont's office in Montpelier referred questions to Shawn Shouldice, a lobbyist employed by the group, who could not be reached Wednesday.
Assistant Attorney General Megan Shifritz said the AG's office received the complaint this morning and has not yet had a chance to review it. "As with all complaints we receive, we'll take it under review and determine whether any further action is warranted," she said.
Called a "business icon" by Vermont Business Magazine, Lisman retired as chairman of JP Morgan's global equity division in February 2009, after a 24-year career on Wall Street; he was senior managing director of Bear Stearns from 1984 to 2008. Lisman also chaired the University of Vermont board of trustees.
Lisman's bio on the Campaign For Vermont website states that he was raised in Burlington's Old North End and graduated from its public schools, and later from the University of Vermont. According to his Campaign For Vermont bio, he started the group "because he is optimistic about a vibrant and prosperous Vermont economy."
Photo by Josh Larkin/VTDigger.org