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September 23, 2008

Douglas On the Attack

Forget the financial meltdown on Wall Street, crumbling cooling towers at Vermont Yankee and the high price of gas and fuel oil.

What Vermonters really care about — if we are to believe Gov. Jim Douglas’ new TV spot — is whether House Speaker Gaye Symington should release the personal finances of her husband!

Here’s a link to the ad, which hits the airwaves tonight. No word on how long it will run.

So why is this is an issue? Symington’s financial disclosure faux pas is more than a month old and has essentially fallen off the radar.

One word, says Douglas campaign spokeswoman Dennise Casey: “Trust.”

“Trust is an ongoing issue, trust never goes away," Casey said. "I think the public’s trust for elected officials is a huge issue, and the fact that not only did she not release the other half of her finances that we know she has a stake in, but she tried to pass off fake documents. Vermonters need to know during difficult economic times that she is able to put her own interests aside and put their interests first.”


If you recall, Symington released her personal financial information and her share of the couple’s joint assets. She also released “pro forma” tax returns. In other words, returns that were made to look as if she filed her taxes separate from her husband, Chuck Lacy. In fact, she files jointly.

Douglas’ 30-second ad has Symington up front and center with tax documents ghosted behind her. Quotes from various media — mostly The Burlington Free Press — pepper the ad with critical comments about her decision not to release the complete tax returns, which would include details about Lacy’s investments and earnings.

Lacy is a former Ben & Jerry’s executive and currently acts as a venture capitalist largely backing food-related and food-based startup companies.

Douglas released his complete tax returns (filed jointly with his wife Dorothy) along with an asset profile. Independent Anthony Pollin, who jointly with his spouse Deborah Wolf, did the same.

If the dual issues of trust and tax returns sounds familiar, that's because Douglas has used it repeatedly in the past: In 2002, against Democrat Doug Racine; in 2004, against Peter Clavelle; and in 2006, against Scudder Parker. Racine and Clavelle balked at first, challenging Douglas on the relevance of the returns,but eventually released them. Only Parker swiftly produced them. 

And, what’s Douglas got to lose? I mean, the guy’s never held a job outside of elective public office for 30 years. His finances are a matter of public record. An opponent not willing to bare his or her bank accounts to the world is seen as untrustworthy and trying to hide something.

But, maybe Douglas is worried?

His ads come on the heels of a WCAX-TV poll that shows Douglas with less than 50 percent support, and high negatives — 43 percent. Symington trailed by 15 points, and Pollina garnered 7 percent.

Face it, Symington made a mistake by not releasing more complete, or factual, information.

But, said Liz Saxe, spokeswoman for the Vermont Democratic Party, the governor should be focusing on more substantive issues.

“When given the choice of promoting his own record or issuing an attack ad, he takes a page form the Karl Rove playbook and issues an attack ad,” said Saxe. “If I had Jim Douglas’ record I would go on the personal attack, too.”

It is odd that Douglas would characterize Symington as dishonest when, as Saxe points out, in 2006, Douglas said of Symington, “I have always found her straightforward and completely honest.”

Symington has steadfastly argued that she is the candidate, not her husband, and Vermonters know the difference. They also understand her effort to balance transparency with privacy, Saxe said. And, it’s not unprecedented. Gov. Howard Dean drew distinct lines between his personal and public life, she said.

As I noted in “Fair Game” on August 13, the Douglas camp and the GOP should be wary of embracing this line of attack.

In 2006, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie flatly refused to divulge his finances. Democratic challenger Matt Dunne urged Dubie to follow the Douglas standard, and he would do the same. No dice.

Still no word yet from Dubie, or his campaign manager Susan Hudson, whether Dubie will follow the Douglas approach and fess up to his finances.

Symington has steadfastly argued that she is the candidate, not her husband, and Vermonters know the difference.

Uh, not really. You can't parse the assets of a married couple. What's his is theirs. She should either disclose it all or refuse entirely.

Should I stop making fun of all John McCain's houses and cars just becuase Cindy McCain isn't the candidate? I don't think so.

The Symington Campaign should be thankful for the attack because half of the public doesn't even know who she is. It's pretty amazing that 5 weeks before the election she's still unknown. She really out to hang it up.

The Symington Campaign should be thankful for the attack because half of the public doesn't even know who she is.

There might be something to that. I knew who she was, but I didn't know she was married before this issue came up.

Independent Anthony Pollin...

You should check your spelling.

Independent Anthony Pollin...

You should check your spelling.

Governor Douglas ensured appropriate state resources were in place for a homeless child after he learned that VT State employees had NOT and COTS had NOT.

Yesterday when Democratic candidate for Governor Gaye Symington was on Vermont Edition a caller named Drew called in with what appeared to be a planted question about funding college education and then she was able to go right into her pitch about her Bridge to Nowhere. It so happens that there is a Drew Hudson who works on her campaign. If the two Drew's are the same person, then it would seem they should know better than to use something out of the Hillary Clinton campaign playbook that is so patently obvious and phony, unless they are planning on repeating the failure of that campaign too. Do not take my word for it though, take a listen for yourself to the archived recording of the show available at VPR.

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