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Is Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin (D) Violating Campaign Finance Laws?

Promoted from diaries. – ML

A year ago Vt. State Senator, now Vt. Governor, Peter Shumlin (D) was advocating tougher Campaign Finance Reform on the heels of the, now legendary, Citizen United decision.  In fact, here is then Sen. Shumlin being quoted on the importance of new legislation to curb “outside expenditures” by corporations.

It’s very tough to get politicians to change campaign finance laws when it affects their own election but I think they will regret it this time because that Supreme Court decision is one of the worst out of that court and I think you are going to see outside expenditures by corporations that’s going to influence Vermont’s elections in ways that we are really going to regret

Imagine my surprise when I read this morning that this defender of free and fair elections for the citizens of Vermont, now their Governor, may have violated the Campaign Finance statutes already on the books.

Vt. GOP Chairwoman Pat McDonald shined a light on this potential violation in a letter sent to Gov. Shumlin and posted on the VTGOP website.

As our state’s top elected official, you are aware soliciting contributions from registered lobbyists during the legislative session is against the law.  As you know, this law is in place to prevent politicians from using the legislative session as a political fundraising tool and to prevent lobbyists from using contributions to influence public policy. We believe that on at least two occasions you have violated Title 2 section 266 of Vermont’s campaign finance law by soliciting contributions during the legislative session from registered lobbyists.

The text of two campaign solicitations, sans recipient, can be found here.  There are two points that I will highlight from the emails.

First, from the Governor’s email, we have a solicitation based upon a specific issue that is currently before the General Assembly:

These are critical first steps that create the foundation of a single payer system. But there will be more work ahead to ensure that by 2014 all Vermonters have access to affordable, quality health care. Please contribute $10, $50 or even $100 to turn this goal into a reality!

Second, from the President of the Professional Firefighters of Vermont via Gov Shumlin’s account, we have a solicitation based on supporting a specific candidate – in addition to a rank display of partisan fear mongering attacking another state and it’s governor, but that probably isn’t illegal, just low.

Countering Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Governor Shumlin let those in Congress know that our fire fighters, law enforcement officers and state employees are NOT to blame for our fiscal crisis.

Governor Shumlin is not just fighting for labor rights – he is standing up for all of Vermont’s hard working families. Please contribute $10, $50, or $100 today

Campaign Finance can be a tricky issue, and I am certainly not a lawyer.  That said, a clear reading of the statutes below indicate that the Governor is, indeed, in violation of the law.

Title 2: Legislature Chapter 11: REGISTRATION OF LOBBYISTS 2 V.S.A. § 266. Prohibited conduct

It shall be prohibited conduct:

(3) when the general assembly is in session, until adjournment sine die, for a legislator or administrative official to solicit a political campaign contribution as defined in 17 V.S.A. { 2801 from a registered lobbyist or a lobbying firm engaged by an employer or registered employer or for a registered lobbyist or registered employer or a lobbying firm engaged by an employer to make or promise a political campaign contribution to any member of the general assembly or any member’s campaign committee. (Added 1989, No. 160 (Adj. Sess.), { 2, eff. April 30, 1990; amended 1993, No. 101, { 3b; 2007, No. 5, { 6, eff. April 12, 2007.)

The definition of “contribution” is laid out here:

(2) “Contribution” means a payment, distribution, advance, deposit, loan or gift of money or anything of value, paid or promised to be paid to a person for the purpose of influencing an election, advocating a position on a public question, or supporting or opposing one or more candidates in any election, but shall not include services provided without compensation by individuals volunteering their time on behalf of a candidate, political committee or political party. For purposes of this chapter, “contribution” shall not include a personal loan from a lending institution.

I join with VTGOP Chairwoman Pat McDonald in calling for Governor Shumlin to explain why he has violated the law and jeopardized the trust the citizens of Vermont have put in him and his office.

When I emailed VTGOP Chairwoman Pat McDonald for this post, she provided the following quote:

Vermonters are always voicing their concerns regarding the undue influence of special interest groups and lobbyists.  It is important that elected officials follow the laws regarding solicitation to avoid any perception of impropriety.

At this point, the perception of impropriety seems to have a solid foundation in reality.  Governor Shumlin should feel free to clear that up.

If he can.

If he can’t, I have a feeling the AG might be asked to perform a formal inquiry.  What a shame that would be.

Aaron B. Gardner

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