During their eight years serving together in Vermont’s top elected offices, former governor Jim Douglas often referred to his lieutenant governor, Brian Dubie — a commercial airline captain — as his copilot.
Last night, during the latest of his regular Vermont Public Radio commentaries, Douglas flew to Dubie’s rescue, arguing that his copilot should not be held personally liable for misdeeds allegedly committed by his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
“The cost to Brian and his family of defending himself has become steep,” Douglas told VPR listerners. “And I can only assume that a protracted lawsuit such as this one — years after the campaign is over — will only discourage other decent and hardworking people from running.”
In December, the Vermont attorney general’s office sued Dubie and the Republican Governors Association for allegedly violating campaign finance laws by illegally coordinating campaign activities with one another. According to the complaint, Dubie’s campaign shared $93,000 worth of polling information with the RGA, which then used the data to produce $242,000 worth of television commercials on Dubie’s behalf. Those figures, if counted as in-kind contributions between the two entities, exceed legal limits.
Reached at his Middlebury office Wednesday, where he is serving as an "executive in residence," Douglas elaborated on his commentary, arguing that it’s fine for the attorney general to sue a political committee, but it shouldn’t sue a former candidate unless he or she personally broke the law.
“There’s lots of criminal and civil actions against candidates and parties and political entities, but targeting someone personally is what’s different here,” Douglas said. “Targeting an individual and putting them through a very emotionally and financially draining experience isn’t fair. The state has unlimited resources. It’s out of your pockets and mine.”
But according to Assistant Attorney General Megan Shafritz, whose civil division filed the suit against Dubie and the RGA, candidates are, in fact, legally responsible for the actions of their campaigns. Shafritz’s office made the same case on Wednesday when it filed its response to Dubie’s motion to dismiss the suit.
“The plain language and structure of the statutes make clear that it is the candidate who bears responsibility for compliance with campaign finance laws,” the A.G.’s office says in its memo. “The statutes themselves provide that a ‘contribution’ and a ‘related expenditure’ may be based on actions of either the candidate or the candidate’s committee. Therefore, it is not necessary to allege that Dubie himself shared polling or filed the faulty campaign reports.”
Shafritz elaborated that, “Really, the campaign committee is not a legal entity. It doesn’t exist beyond the campaign and so it’s the candidate that ultimately bears the responsibility for the actions and for ensuring that his campaign is in compliance with the campaign finance laws.”
Neither Dubie nor his lawyer, Brady Toensing, immediately responded for comment, but Toensing told the Vermont Press Bureau’s Thatcher Moats in February that, “there must be proof of a candidate’s knowledge and personal involvement in the misconduct to charge him with a violation.”
Vermont Democratic Party executive director Jesse Bragg, whose organization filed the initial complaint that prompted the attorney general’s action, said that to let Dubie off the hook would encourage candidates to break the law.
“That would put us in a situation where someone can create a campaign, violate the law, dissolve the campaign and then absolve themselves of wrongdoing,” Bragg said. “I don’t think anyone would disagree that that’s not a direction we want to be going in.”
Douglas’ commentary was not the first time the former guv came to Dubie’s rescue. Douglas says he has twice leant his name to fundraising letters sent to potential contributors by the “Friends of Brian Dubie Legal Defense Fund,” which was established to help defray the former lite guv’s legal fees. According to VTDigger’s Anne Galloway, those fees had already reached $75,000 as of last July.
Douglas would not estimate how much money Dubie owes in legal fees, but he did offer a means of sending in additional air support for his copilot.
“I don’t want to estimate how far he’s in the hole or what the current status is, but he’s still in the hole,” Douglas said. “Tell your readers to send a check. Box 1075, St. Albans, 05478.”
Illustration by Marc Nadel.