Vermont Democrats ask court to block GOP ad campaign

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(Host) The Vermont Democratic Party has gone to court to block an ad campaign that supports Governor Jim Douglas. The Democrats say the Republican Governors’ Association has violated Vermont’s campaign finance law by accepting contributions above the state’s $2,000 limit.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Washington-based Republican Governors’ Association has unleashed a barrage of TV and radio ads in the waning days of the campaign. The ads support Governor Jim Douglas. The Republican Governors reported this week that they’re spending $304,000 on the TV and radio commercials.

Vermont Democrats contend that the campaign is illegal. Vermont law limits contributions to a political committee to $2,000 from a single source. The Democrats say the Republican Governors – or RGA – has raised far more than that from corporations and special interests groups. Mark Michaud is a spokesman for the Democrats.

(Michaud) “We believe that the RGA – because it is airing television ads supporting Jim Douglas in Vermont – that it has to comply with Vermont’s campaign finance law, that it is a political committee as defined by Vermont law. And therefore it has to limit its contributions to $2,000. And we don’t believe that the RGA is capable of that and the moneys that are being used to pay for these commercials are being in raised in amounts in excess of what is allowed under Vermont’s campaign finance laws.”

(Dillon) The Democrats filed suit late Friday afternoon and asked the Chittenden County Superior Court to halt the ads. They hope to get a hearing on Monday on their request for an immediate injunction.

An RGA spokesman could not be reached immediately for comment. But when the Democrats sent similar complaints to the attorney general earlier this week, the RGA said the allegations were groundless.

Jim Barnett is chairman of the state Republican Party. He says the Democrats are being hypocritical, since they’ve taken in large amounts from out-of-state donors.

(Barnett) “The Democratic state committee in Vermont has accepted $400,000 in out of state money, including about $140,000 from a small handful of 19 out-of-state individuals who have no connection to Vermont whatsoever. These mysterious people cutting checks in sums of $10,000 each, I think, should be regarded skeptically by the media.”

(Dillon) The Republican Governors’ Association is a new kind of political committee called a 527 organization, after a section of the federal tax code. It’s faced legal action in other states recently, including New Hampshire. A judge there temporarily halted its TV advertising until it registered as a political action committee.

In Vermont, the Democrats have also complained to the attorney general’s office about the pro-Douglas ad campaign. A spokesman for the office said the complaint is still under review.

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

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