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October 31, 2008

VT GOP: Symington Violating Campaign Finance Law

Not to be outdone with last-minute charges of campaign finance violations, the Vermont Republican Party has filed a complaint with the attorney general's office claiming Democrat Gaye Symington's campaign has been illegally coordinating activities with Democracy for America.

Assistant Attorney General Mike McShane told Seven Days that letters asking both Symington's campaign and the DFA to respond to the complaint were sent out in today's mail. They would then have five days to respond.

That means nothing would be settled before Tuesday's election, McShane said. "We'll take look at what their responses are, take a look at the law and decide if there is any form of violation."

Under state law, candidates and independent organizations are not allowed to coordinate activities unless they account for them as in-kind contributions. In their complaint, the GOP says the Symington campaign and DFA appear to be coordinating enough activities that warrant investigation as these activities have not shown up as contributions.

The South Burlington-based progressive-minded DFA was founded by former Gov. Howard Dean. The group has endorsed Symington for governor and is encouraging members — much like a union — to volunteer and help "get out the vote" for Symington. DFA has also run two sets of ads criticizing Republican Gov. Jim Douglas. The first focused on Douglas' support for Vermont Yankee; the second decried his lack of leadership. In total, DFA has spent nearly $50,000 on advertising.

The GOP alleges that Symington and DFA are running ads similar in tone, look and nature and is asking the attorney general to determine if those expenses should be counted as contributions. State law limits donations and in-kind contributions from independent organizations to $3,000. 

“Speaker Symington’s campaign appears to have been hijacked by special interest groups that clearly do not reflect the values of a majority of Vermonters,” said Rob Roper, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party. “Symington has failed to connect with Vermonters on the most important issue — the economy — and her campaign is now so desperate for support with just days to go that they appear to be inappropriately coordinating with Democracy for America. Governor Douglas is the only candidate with a comprehensive economic growth plan to help our economy.”

The VT GOP alleges in its complaint that campaign staff were openly claiming to be "working with" DFA in at least one online campaign video touting a get-out-the-vote effort.

Both Symington's campaign and DFA deny any illegal coordination of activities.

"Jim Douglas and the Vermont Republican Party should be ashamed for this last minute, desperate attempt to distract voters from the issues that matter to Vermonters: the economy, energy, and health care.  There is absolutely no merit to this frivolous complaint and Douglas and the Vermont GOP know this,” said Arshad Hasan, executive director of Democracy for America.  “The coordination that troubles Vermonters is between Jim Douglas and the failed policies of George Bush."

Symington's campaign said Douglas and the GOP are just desperate to change the subject away from questions about the governor's failure to reimburse the state for campaign expenses incurred on state time.

"This is totally without merit and obviously a weak attempt to distract Vermonters from the scandal about the Governor's use of taxpayer funds to support his campaign.  This political stunt comes as the news broke that Jim Douglas has suddenly changed his story about using public money, and that story is at odds with what his campaign has been saying," said Michael Carrese, Symington's campaign spokesman.

Symington's campaign is running a new ad on the Douglas campaign expenditure flap. You can view it here.

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