Democrats file suit against RGA political ads

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(Host) The Attorney General’s office says recent television ads in support of Governor Jim Douglas appear to violate Vermont’s campaign reform law. But the office says it won’t stop the ads from being aired, so the state Democratic Party has gone to court to block them.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Republican Governors’ Association has spent $304,000 to blanket the airwaves with commercials supporting Governor Jim Douglas. According to the Attorney General’s office, the group should have first registered with the state as a political action committee. But the RGA claims that someone from the Secretary of State’s office told them they didn’t have to register with the state.

For that reason, the Attorney General’s office decided not to try and halt the ad campaign. Wallace Malley is deputy attorney general.

(Malley) “Not an easy call here. But, you know, for the state there is an underlying question of fairness in the circumstances where they did make a call ahead of time.”

(Dillon) The state Democratic Party now wants a judge to halt the ads. At a news conference outside Chittenden County Superior Court in Burlington, Executive Director Jon Copans said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Clavelle has already been harmed by the ad campaign.

(Copans) “Unfortunately the damage to some degree has been done by these ads. We’re trying to minimize the damage by getting them off the air as soon as possible.”

(Dillon) There are several legal issues involved in the Republican Governors’ ad campaign. First, there’s the question of whether the group should register as a PAC. Second, under Vermont law, the group needs to disclose how much it’s spending on the campaign. It did so last week when it revealed that it bought $304,000 in broadcast advertising. Third, Vermont limits donations to PACs to $2,000 from any single source. The RGA collects tens of thousand of dollars in individual contributions from corporations and interest groups, according to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

Scudder Parker is the Democratic Party chairman.

(Parker) “So that’s the issue. The issue is, is it allowed under current law for a kind of amorphous group at the federal level funded by large corporate donors to come into Vermont and tilt the floor in this campaign?”

(Dillon) Parker said the governor’s race might be tighter than recent polls suggest. Why else, he asked, would the Republican Governors’ Association spend more money on TV ads than the two candidates themselves?

Parker called on Governor Douglas to denounce the RGA campaign. But Neale Lunderville, the governor’s campaign chairman, said the issue should be resolved between the RGA and the Attorney General’s office.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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