RGA continues political ads despite lawsuit

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(Host) A Republican group has defied the state attorney general and launched a new advertising on Thursday in support of Governor Jim Douglas. The Republican Governors’ Association also says it will not register as a political action committee under Vermont law.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Despite a legal challenge from the state Democratic Party, the Republican Governors’ Association says it will not halt its ad campaign for Governor Douglas.

(Harvey Valentine) “I believe our second ad should begin airing today.”

(Dillon) Harvey Valentine is the RGA spokesman. He says the U.S. Constitution gives the group the free speech rights to run political ads.

The new commercials are the second wave in a $304,000 ad buy the group made in mid-October. The ads are at the center of a dispute involving the RGA, the state Democratic Party, the secretary of state and the Attorney General’s office.

Attorney General William Sorrell says the group should have registered as a political action committee in Vermont. Valentine disagrees.

(Valentine) “We will not be registering as a political action committee. We feel we are in compliance with Vermont state law – again, based on the conversations we had and based on the information we reviewed in the Vermont state elections guide.”

(Dillon) The RGA spokesman says someone from the Secretary of State’s office told their lawyer they did not have to file as a PAC.

Attorney General Sorrell says he doesn’t know if that conversation took place. But he says that claim effectively raised a legal barrier for the state to challenge the RGA in court.

(Sorell) “So we said, okay we’ll give you a pass for your violations thus far but please don’t run any more ads up here. And they said, oh no, we’re going to run more ads. So we said, well don’t run any different ads and they said, we’re going to run the ads we want. So, so much for wanting to play by the rules in Vermont.”

(Dillon) Vermont law limits donations to PACs to $2,000 from any single source. But the RGA has already collected tens of thousand of dollars in individual donations from corporations and special interest groups. Sorrell says it’s this kind of influence that the Legislature tried to control when it passed Vermont’s campaign finance reform law in 1997.

(Sorrell) “This is an unfortunate situation, spending this much money, this late in the game potentially affecting the outcome of an election, and we think clearly in violation of our campaign finance law.”

(Dillon) Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has filed a lawsuit to stop the ads from airing. The Chittenden County Superior Court has scheduled an emergency hearing in the case for Wednesday afternoon.

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

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