Group ordered to stop political TV ads

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(Host) The Republican Governors’ Association must stop airing new ads that support Governor Jim Douglas. A superior court judge issued that ruling on Thursday after receiving a motion from Attorney General William Sorrell. The attorney general said the ads violate Vermont’s campaign finance law.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The ruling by Judge Richard Norton was the latest twist in legal saga involving allegations of illegal advertising in the waning days of the governor’s race. The Democratic Party and candidate Peter Clavelle had gone to court to try to stop the $304,000 ad campaign.

But Norton ruled on Wednesday that only prosecutors could enforce Vermont’s campaign finance reform law. So Attorney General William Sorrell on Thursday stepped in and asked the court to halt the ads. Judge Norton agreed, saying it was likely the Republican Governors’ Association had broken Vermont law.

Mark Michaud, a spokesman for the Democrats, says the party feels vindicated.

(Michaud) “This is what we have wanted from the very beginning, which is for these ads – which are obviously illegal – to be taken off the air.”

(Dillon) The legal questions centered around whether the Republican Governors’ Association is a “political action committee” under Vermont law. If so, it has to register with the state and limit the contributions it receives to $2,000. The RGA has collected tens of thousands of dollars in individual contributions from corporations and interest groups.

In his order, Judge Norton said the RGA should not spend any more money on advertising in Vermont. And the judge said the group should withdraw or cancel all future advertising, if it can do so without a financial penalty.

Michaud, the Democratic spokesman, said the group should be able to cancel the ads and get its money back. He expects the ads to come down immediately.

(Michaud) “The RGA ads have been on the air for 13 or so days now, so to a certain extent the damage has been done. But we’re certainly pleased that it appears that they’re prevented from airing ads going forward between now and the election.”

(Dillon) Earlier, Attorney General Sorrell decided not to prosecute. He said the RGA told him it had an exemption under Vermont law. Sorrell also said the RGA told his office it couldn’t pull the ads because it was locked into a deal with the television stations. But Sorrell says that new information came out in court.

(Sorrell) “Well, what we learned [on Wednesday] was contrary to what the Republican Governors’ had told us last week, was that they had discretion. That they hadn’t actually spent all the $304,000 and that they could back off some of their ad buys.”

(Dillon) The RGA said late on Thursday that they would try to comply with the judge’s order. However, RGA Executive Director Edward Tobin said in statement that he’s not sure he understands the order, so his lawyers have asked the court for clarification.

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

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