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Democrats and Republicans Swap Complaints Over Session Solicitations 

Published April 27, 2011 at 4:01 p.m.

* updated below with comments by Gov. Peter Shumlin *

Vermont Republicans are asking the state's attorney general to investigate Gov. Peter Shumlin's alleged violation of campaign election laws by sending out fund-raising solicitations to lobbyists.

In response, the Vermont Democrats have now filed a similar complaint to Sorrell's office against the former campaign of Republican Gov. Jim Douglas for sending a solicitation to a Vermont lobbyist during the 2009-2010 session.

Zoinks! Is it 2012 already?

As noted in this week's "Fair Game," lawmakers and the governor, along with administration officials, are forbidden from soliciting donations, or accepting solicited donations, from registered lobbyists or their employers during a legislative session. And by session the law means from the start of the biennium to the end of the biennium — in this case, when the legislature adjourns in 2012. 

The Vermont GOP is asking the state's top cop to investigate whether Shumlin's two emails — one dated April 6 and the other April 18 — violated the law. Both asked recipients to give money — one was signed by Shumlin and the other was signed by Matt Vinci, president of the Professional Firefighters of Vermont. Vinci had just returned from Washington, D.C. where Shumlin had testified before a House committee in support of public employee unions and about state budget concerns. Shumlin testified alongside Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Vinci had a front-row seat for the tete-a-tete. Oddly enough, the firefighters backed Republican Brian Dubie in the 2010 election against Shumlin, but nearly pulled their support for Dubie because of Dubie's aggressive questioning of Shumlin's ethics — remember — and dragging a state trooper's name into the political arena.

The Vermont GOP seems on a similar trajectory by digging in on this email kerfuffle, but maybe Sorrell will make an example of his fellow Democrat, Shumlin. Or, maybe the Democratic Secretary of State Jim Condos will. Or the Democratic legislature. Or ... Oh, never mind.

Shumlin isn't the first governor to send a solicitious fundraising letter during a legislative session that ended up in the mailbox of a registered lobbyist. In the case of Douglas's letter it was Clare Buckley, who is part of the lobbying firm Buckley, Storrow and Hughes, which is affiliated with KSE Partners. (Letter is pasted below).

In their complaint about the Douglas letter, Vermont Democratic Party's executive director Jesse Bragg notes a difference between Shumlin's emails and what Douglas did. Email lists are 'opt-in' by nature, Bragg said, meaning anyone can sign up to be on one. That's not the case with a piece of direct mail — which is what the Douglas letter was, Bragg contends.

"The list of recipients was intentionally created by the Douglas campaign in order to solicit contributions," Bragg wrote. "This is a clear violation of the law."

Vermont GOP Chairwoman Pat McDonald alleges that Shumlin's campaign emails, too, landed in the inboxes of more than one lobbyist, who forwarded the emails to her and voiced concern about their propriety. McDonald has not named those lobbyists.

As to Douglas' letter, McDonald was blunt, "It’s the law and should be followed by legislators and administrative officials as indicated in statute."

For its part, the Shumlin campaign has admitted that it didn't scrub its email list of lobbyists before hitting the "send" button and promises to do a better job at vetting its email solicitation list in the future.

Given Shumlin's penchant for pushing the envelope, time will tell.

In her letter to Sorrell, Chairwoman McDonald suggests that if Shumlin isn't the first to violate this law — as Secretary of State Condos has intimated — then perhaps there needs to be more education, and enforcement, on the topic.


"If this is in fact a law that is easily misunderstood, where mistakes are made, or no one really cares to enforce it, perhaps it is time to take a look at how we improve the oversight of our campaign finance laws," notes McDonald. "These laws help keep the public trust of elected officials. It's important that we have an open and transparent system in place."

Transparency? Where's the fun in that?

Download a copy of former Douglas' 2009 fund-raising letter: Douglas letter

* update: posted 4.28.11 *

At his weekly press conference today (Thursday) Gov. Peter Shumlin was blunt when asked about this campaign solicitation kerfuffle.

"We take full responsibility for the oversight and we apologize for the oversight," said Shumlin. The "we" in this case was Shumlin and his part-time campaign staffer.

Shumlin also said he agreed with GOP Chairwoman Pat McDonald that the law needed a close review.

Shumlin also, oddly enough, said despite two campaign fundraising emails, a campaign fundraiser in Rhode Island and having a part-time hire onboard as a campaign staffer he does not, I repeat not, have an active campaign.

Um, yeah. Right.

"I am not an announced candidate," said Shumlin.

So, those fundraising letters, a hired staffer and an out-of-state fundraiser is for, what? "Just in case," he quipped.

Shumlin said his campaign had not taken any money from lobbyists as a result of his fundraising letters — one which was signed by him and the other by Matt Vinci, president of the Professional Firefighters of Vermont. He also said he would not take any money.

Shumlin said he never talked to Vinci about writing the letter on his behalf.

The controversy, Shumlin said, reminded him of the flap over the president's birth certificate: "It's a lot to do about very little."

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Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.

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