Symington says Douglas violates ethics rules by charging state for campaign expenses

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(Host) House Speaker Gaye Symington says her Republican opponent has committed ethical violations by charging the state for campaign expenses.

But Governor Douglas’ campaign brushes off the charge as a desperation tactic.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Democrat Gaye Symington says Governor Jim Douglas is getting a free ride – literally – at taxpayer’s expense.

She says Douglas has failed to reimburse the state for campaign-related expenses, such as travel and phone calls.

(Symington) "This is simply wrong, and it breaks with the Executive Office Code of Ethics and state personnel policy. It also breaks with the practice of Governor Dean who was meticulous about reimbursing Vermonters for any state resources used for political purposes."

(Dillon) According to Symington, a review of the governor’s campaign finance reports going back to 2004 show that he has not paid back any costs incurred while campaigning.

She says it may not be much money, perhaps $15-thousand dollars. But she says it’s the principle that matters. She says there are some expenses that probably should be covered by the state during political campaigns, such as the governor’s state police protection.

(Symington) "There are clearly going to be some expenses where you could go either way and it wouldn’t be black or white or somebody might forget one thing. What we’re talking about here is blatant disregard that there are any expenses that the taxpayer is being asked to foot the bill for that really amount to campaign expenses."

(Dillon) Douglas Campaign Manager Dennise Casey said the Symington charge was prompted by the latest political polls.

(Casey) "The important thing here is that we’re six days before the election. Speaker Symington is plummeting in the polls. Her campaign is not gaining traction, and she is really desperate to change the subject."

(Dillon) She says Douglas still works on his official duties, even while campaigning.

(Casey) "When it comes to mileage and travel, Governor Douglas is always governor no matter where he is traveling to and often conducts state business on his way to events since he is always in the car."

(Dillon) As governor, Douglas does enjoy the powers of incumbency. He travels frequently around the state to cut ribbons or attend ceremonial events. The trips take him all over Vermont and also allow him to meet many voters.

His non-campaign schedule for Thursday took him to Hartford, where he handed out a $40-thousand dollar check to local officials.

The press release announcing the event came from a state employee and was billed as a -quote — "photo opportunity."

Symington says she works hard to separate her official travels as speaker and her political work.

(Symington) "As speaker, I’ve faced those decisions. I’ve done events for the House campaign and if I was headed to Brattleboro or if I was headed to Hartland for an event related to the House campaign my mileage was reimbursed through the House campaign. I think that’s the kind of choice all public officials who have both public responsibilities and campaign related responsibilities need to come to terms with."

(Dillon) Symington is calling on Douglas to reimburse the public for the state dollars spent on his campaign.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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