Question over Pollina campaign contributions may end up in court

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(Host) Independent gubernatorial candidate Anthony Pollina wants to keep $27,000 in contributions that some state officials say violate Vermont’s campaign finance law.

But a citizen has challenged Pollina’s right to keep the money. And the case could end up in court.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Pollina’s problems started when he decided to drop his Progressive Party label to run as an independent candidate. He says he made the change to attract more voters to his campaign.

Vermont law allows major party candidates to collect a total of $2,000 in a campaign from any single individual – $1,000 before the primary election and another $1,000 for the general election. And Pollina received the maximum amount from 27 individuals.

But the law limits independent candidates to just $1,000 for the whole campaign because these candidates don’t run in a primary.

Pollina says he’s keeping the money in question because he got it when he was a Progressive candidate, and because there’s a lot of doubt if the state even has a campaign finance law. That’s because in 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down some key provisions of Vermont’s reform law that was passed in 1997.

(Pollina) “The fact is that there’s just a lot of gray area, that’s a lot of dispute over what the rules really are. And there’s a serious concern that the current interpretation discriminates against independent candidates by requiring them to stick to lower contribution limits, which is not the way it was considered in the past."

(Kinzel) Secretary of State Deb Markowitz maintains that Vermont’s pre-1997 law is still valid and should be enforced.

(Markowitz) “Now I can understand why this is hard for Mr. Pollina. He has raised $27,000 he’s got to return and that can’t be easy for a campaign. But that being said, you know the law applies to everybody."

(Kinzel) Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis thinks Pollina has a legitimate argument that Vermont no longer has a campaign finance law in place. But Davis says this issue is a major distraction for Pollina.

(Davis) “In some ways this is similar to the controversy over the Gaye Symington tax returns in that Pollina wants to make the argument that Vermont needs a new governor. He wants to talk about policy issues. The more the story on his campaign focuses on campaign finance, the less opportunity he has to get out his message on policy issues. So in that way it’s very much a distraction."

(Kinzel) UVM political science professor Garrison Nelson doesn’t think most voters care about this issue and he thinks Pollina needs the money.

(Nelson) “So basically I’m not sure what the issue is really going to be about in terms of the money. I think you take as much money from as many sources as you can because you’re really in third place in this campaign and you’re basically going to need whatever kind of support you can engender."

(Kinzel) Pollina is allowed to keep the money unless someone files a formal complaint with the attorney general. And that happened Wednesday afternoon when longtime Liberty Union Party member Boots Wardinski formally asked the attorney general to review this case.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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