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Court Imposes Penalty For Campaign Finance Law Violation

CONTACT: William H. Sorrell, Attorney General, (802) 828-3173

December 2, 2011

The Vermont Superior Court, Washington Unit, issued a decision on Wednesday ordering that Green Mountain Future (“GMF”), an advocacy organization primarily funded by the Democratic Governors Association, pay a civil penalty of $10,000 in the State’s campaign finance law enforcement action against it. The Court had previously found that GMF spent over half-a-million dollars in September and October 2010 on political advertisements attacking candidate Brian Dubie in the gubernatorial race, but failed to register with the Secretary of State’s Office, did not file required disclosure reports, and omitted proper identification information from its advertisements. The law authorizes penalties of up to $10,000 for violations of Vermont’s campaign finance laws.

The Court imposed the penalty for GMF’s “most critical violation” of failing to register because GMF had “received fair warning from the Secretary of State” as to the scope of the law, but it “chose not to hear the warning.” In addition, the Court found that the penalty would achieve the statutory purpose of deterring future violations by other political committees: “To the extent other campaigns look to this case for guidance, a $10,000 penalty is a sufficient deterrent to achieve compliance.” The Court further ordered GMF to bring itself into compliance with Vermont’s campaign finance laws by registering and filing the required reports.

Although it imposed the maximum fine for the failure to register, the Court declined to impose any penalty for the reporting and identification violations. Judge Crawford noted that “virtually the same information was filed by GMF with the Internal Revenue Service and posted on the federal website.”

“Judge Crawford’s decision reflects the seriousness of GMF’s failure to register as a political committee in Vermont,” said Attorney General William Sorrell. At the same time, Sorrell expressed concern over the lack of a penalty for the failure to file disclosure reports. “The Legislature obviously thought all campaign finance law violations were significant when it specified penalties. The Court’s decision does not seem to send this message and appears to shift the burden to the voters to find campaign finance information elsewhere.”

In October 2010, the State filed two campaign finance law enforcement actions. In the second action, filed against the Republican Governors’ Association (“RGA”), the Court also found that the RGA violated Vermont’s campaign finance laws. The Court has yet to impose a penalty against the RGA in that case.

  Website consulting provided by The National Association of Attorneys General.