By Rob Roper
VTGOP chair Pat McDonald wrote a formal letter to Attorney General William Sorrell, requesting an investigation into whether or not Governor Peter Shumlin violated Vermont’s campaign finance laws by soliciting registered lobbyists for contributions during the legislative session. Two letters requesting money from the Shumlin campaign are under scrutiny. One is signed by Shumlin himself, the other by Professional Firefighters of Vermont president, Matt Vinci.
Writes McDonald, “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 or to create the perception of undue influence.”
Despite being a rhetorical advocate of campaign finance reform, Shumlin has a history of playing fast and loose with campaign finance laws. In the last election, Shumlin was involved in an incident during the Burlington Mardi Gras parade with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. Afterwards, that organization’s Executive Director admitted Shumlin’s actions were “a significant breach of protocol.” VPIRG also ran a poll during the democratic primary featuring Shumlin as the only named candidate, an act which should have been reported as a campaign contribution, but wasn’t because that would be illegal for a 501c3/4 organization like VIPRIG to make any such contribution.
Our newly elected Secretary of State, Jim Condos, appears to be shrugging off this latest violation. McDonald quotes Condos in her letter as saying, “similar charges are leveled by lobbyists, media, and political parties on all sides almost every year. In almost every circumstance, the charge was an inadvertent mistake, generally done by a staffer or volunteer who, when reviewing email and mail lists, missed removing a lobbyist.”
(Ironically, this blasé attitude is coming from a guy who, in his victory email proclaimed, “I remain firmly committed to the issues on which I based my campaign:…Working to ensure open and transparent actions in government… Campaign finance reform that reflects Vermonters’ core values. Improving Internet filings and data retrieval to monitor candidates and lobbyists…Ensuring that the Office of Secretary of State works for the best interests of all Vermonters.”)
While, yes, one might understand the failure of a low level staffer to recognize and remove the personal email address of a professional lobbyist within a large email list, Condos’ proffered excuse fails to recognize the elephant (or in this case donkey) in the room. That is, the fact that one of the letters Shumlin’s campaign sent out was written and signed by a registered lobbyist. Matt Vinci, president of the powerful Professional Firefighters of Vermont, is himself a registered lobbyist.
It was not mere clerical oversight that Vinci was asked by the Shumlin campaign to write, or at least sign, the message, “As the President of the Professional Fire Fighters of Vermont I have seen firsthand how Governor Shumlin works tirelessly for Vermont’s middle class. He understands that maple syrup works better than vinegar and that working together is the Vermont way. Let’s stand together and support Governor Shumlin!” It had to be a calculated and coordinated effort.
Shumlin and his staff have reacted by referring all questions to the Vermont Democrat Party. That organization’s Executive Director, Jesse Bragg reacted by filing a complaint about former governor Jim Douglas’ campaign from 2009 along the same lines, an act which, oddly chosen, seems to admit the guilt of Shumlin by his own party.