Federal Judge Refuses To Halt Pollina Investigation

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(Host) A federal judge on Friday refused to halt a state investigation into whether Progressive Party candidate Anthony Pollina qualifies for public financing.

U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions says it’s too early for him to get involved in the fight between Democrats and Progressives over the state’s campaign funding law.

Both sides claimed victory after the court hearing.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The big issue in this case is whether Anthony Pollina, the Progressive party’s candidate for lieutenant governor, will be able to get public financing.

Pollina ran for governor in 2000 and got $265,000 in state funds to run his campaign.

The Democrats now say Pollina is ineligible for the public money in the 2002 campaign because he allegedly used a poll that the Progressive Party recently conducted.

The Democrats say that the poll represents more than $500 spent for goods and services on Pollina’s behalf.

And they say the law forbids a candidate who wants public funds from accepting more than $500 in contributions before February 15th.

At the Democrats’ request, Democratic Attorney General William Sorrell launched an investigation of the funding issue.

Pollina and the Progressives then filed a lawsuit to stop the investigation.

Judge Sessions did not agree to Pollina’s request. He said he was very reluctant to get involved while the investigation is underway.

Outside the courtroom, Assistant Attorney General Tim Tomasi said the state got what it wanted.

(Tomasi) We’re going to use all of our efforts to try to understand what happened in this case, and to say whether there’s any kind of preclusion that would affect plaintiff Pollina’s ability to seek public financing.

(Dillon) Judge Sessions said the state should wrap up its investigation in two weeks. The judge said he would review the case before that time only if there are “extraordinary issues” raised during the investigation.

John Franco, Pollina’s lawyer, said he was pleased the judge decided to retain oversight of the state’s case.

He said the investigation will show Pollina was opposed to the Progressive poll and was only briefed on its general conclusions, not the specific numbers.

But regardless of the outcome, Franco says the investigation that was triggered by an opposing political party smeared the opening days of Pollina’s campaign.

(Franco) I was really quite amazed that the attorney general’s office wasn’t more sensitive to the reaction that we might have to his letter that said: “Welcome to the campaign, you’re under investigation.” And my immediate reaction is we’re not going to let that happen, no way.

(Dillon) Pollina’s lawsuit also seeks to declare portions of the campaign reform law unconstitutional. Pollina helped draft the law. And he says now he’s ready to work with the Legislature to rewrite it.

(Pollina) There are a lot of people in the Legislature who say, “Oh, it’s interesting to see Anthony Pollina who helped write the law trying to dismantle it.” That’s not true. The fact is those people are not using the law¿they are all choosing to take money from out-of-state and money from corporations, and money from special interests.

(Dillon) The next step in this case will come when the attorney general’s office decides whether or not it believes Pollina qualifies for public funds.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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