Douglas: Campaign Lawsuit

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(Host) In the wake of a Presidential visit to Vermont, our attention is
increasingly focused on the upcoming campaign. Former Vermont governor
and commentator Jim Douglas explains, though, that there is at least one
matter still pending from the 2010 election season.

Senator George Aiken famously spent $17 on his final run for public
office. Campaigns have changed since 1968: running for office today is
far more expensive. In 2010 both of Vermont ‘s gubernatorial candidates
spent record amounts and already our senators and congressman have
amassed huge war chests of out-of-state money for their next campaigns.
SuperPACS threaten to dump unprecedented amounts into the presidential
race, supplementing billions from candidates and parties. I’ve always
supported reasonable limits on contributions, which are essential now
more than ever.

Unfortunately many good men and women choose not
to serve in public life. I’ve spoken with potential candidates who
would have been great leaders, but are discouraged by the costs – both
personally and of the campaign.

And apparently for good reason,
since there’s a case working its way through the Vermont courts right
now that illustrates the problem. Brian Dubie served as lieutenant
governor for the 8 years of my tenure and he brought a great deal of
valuable experience to the job, from homeland security to healthy aging
and education taxes. Brian ran to succeed me as governor in 2010. He
fought hard against the trends of history and demographics, and he came
up just a little short. After the campaign, he served out his term,
returned to his day job and prepared to move on with his life.

the state had other ideas. More than a year later, a lawsuit was filed
against Brian, claiming that, during the campaign, he had illegally
shared some polling data with the Republican Governors Association. The
RGA lawyers had assured Brian that furnishing the information was
perfectly legal; having been burned by Vermont’s campaign finance laws
in the past, the Association had every reason not to run afoul of them
and Brian had every reason to rely on their advice.

The cost to
Brian and his family of defending himself has become steep. While there
is certainly merit in debating the appropriate role of out-of-state
groups in Vermont elections, I can’t see the sense in doing so at the
expense of a man who has served the public well and acted in good faith.
In fact, I can’t ever recall another case of a candidate being
personally targeted like this. And I can only assume that a protracted
lawsuit such as this one – years after the campaign is over – will only
discourage other decent and hardworking people from running.

is an honorable calling. I spent nearly 4 decades in public service.
But today, too many talented Vermonters who could make a real
contribution to our state choose not to "throw their hats in the ring"
because the costs are too great. Surely, we must have reasonable
contribution limits and ensure accountability in our electoral system.
But that won’t be enough if candidates are exposed to never-ending legal
battles long after the voters have made their choice. Going after a
decent public servant is hardly the pathway to reform.

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