Donovan insists that the Vermont attorney general ask for removal of political action committee ad

 

Bill Sorrell got a boost today as a new campaign ad hit the airwaves praising the incumbent attorney general’s record. The ad, paid for by the Committee for Justice and Fairness PAC, is getting almost $100,000 worth of airtime, according to filings with the Secretary of State’s office.

TJ Donovan, the Chittenden County state’s attorney running against Sorrell in the Democratic primary for the state’s top law enforcement office, said there isn’t much that’s just and fair about it.

The ad features the voice of former Vermont governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean. The prominent Democrat talks about Sorrell’s consumer protection record as media headlines favorable to Sorrell appear over photos of the attorney general giving speeches.

“I’m proud to call Bill Sorrell my friend,” Dean concludes, “but more proud to call him Vermont’s attorney general.”

While it never says “vote for Bill Sorrell,” the text on the screen as the ad comes to a close says Sorrell’s name above “Democratic Primary, Tuesday, August 28th.”

According to WCAX records, the Committee for Justice and Fairness paid $46,835 to run the 30-second spot 212 times between Aug. 10 and Aug. 28, the day of the primary. Sources say the ad will be run on WPTZ as well. Dana Bykowski, treasurer of the Committee for Justice and Fairness PAC, was not able to elaborate on the specifics of the $99,000 expenditure.

Donovan says the ad is in line with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision as well as a recent decision by Judge William Sessions in Vermont’s federal district court.

Donovan said the $99,000 ad buy came just 16 days after Sorrell issued a statement that his office would not enforce the state’s limit on independent expenditures in light of new case law. The state’s campaign finance law treats independent expenditures and direct contributions the same.

“I think the issue here is the proximity of the attorney general’s decision on July 25 and now a television ad two to three weeks later,” Donovan said. “This is the closest race Attorney General Sorrell has been in. It seems in the interest of fairness that this ad should be taken down.”

The Committee for Justice and Fairness PAC has strong affiliations with the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA), a national group of Democratic state attorneys general of which Sorrell is a member. Bykowski called DAGA a “major contributor.”

While DAGA has maxed out the $6,000 limit on direct campaign contributions to Sorrell’s campaign, the group’s funding of the Committee for Justice and Fairness allowed them to back Sorrell independently as well.

“Currently, [the Democratic Attorneys General Association is] a major donor for the Committee for Justice & Fairness PAC, advocating on behalf of Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell,” Bykowski said in a statement to the media.

Despite Donovan’s call for the attorney general to ask the Committee for Justice and Fairness to withdraw the ad, Sorrell has no such plans.

“Truly independent expenditures are unlimited under state and federal law,” Sorrell said. “The last thing I would do is try to ask them to restrict the exercise of their First Amendment free speech rights.”

Sorrell said that while he is well aware and grateful that both DAGA and Dean fully support his campaign, he had no idea about the TV spot before today.

“I don’t know,” Sorrell said. “I haven’t seen the ad. I didn’t know there was an ad until I got a voicemail from Channel 3 this morning. I’m told the ad is a positive ad about my record.”

In an interview, Sorrell suggested that Donovan’s complaints come from a lack of familiarity with Vermont’s laws.

“Of course, maybe he’s not familiar with chapter and verse of our campaign finance laws, but if it was truly independent,” Sorrell said, the spending was legal.

“For a PAC that doesn’t do mixed expenditures but does solely independent expenditures, they may not be held to individual contributor maximum limits,” Sorrell said.

Donovan’s complaints weren’t over the legality of the issue, but rather the spirit of the race. He said large outside expenditures on behalf of a candidate in Vermont was not the way Vermont campaigns should be run. The attorney general campaign should be run, Donovan said, as a grassroots effort supported by Vermonters.

“Ninety nine thousand dollars from a Washington, D.C., organization is more money than Attorney General Sorrell has raised from Vermonters,” he said.

Taylor Dobbs

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30 Comments on "Donovan insists that the Vermont attorney general ask for removal of political action committee ad"

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Stan Hopson
3 years 9 months ago

Lighten up Francis.

Christian Noll
3 years 9 months ago

Of course Howard Dean is “proud.”

His mother used to play Bridge with Bill Sorrell’s mother.

Why do you think he’s always endorsed him. In fact, its Howard’s fault.

15 years is too long. Bill Sorrell turned our AG’s Civil “Rights” Unit into a sham, AND a shame.

Time to move on Bill.

No more police and correctional staff misconduct in Vermont.

You’re here to protect us, not our attackers.

Vote for TJ Donovan for Vermont’s next Attorney General.

Eric Davis
3 years 9 months ago
According to its Web site, the Democratic Attorney Generals Association is based in Denver, CO. From the Web site, it appears that the DAGA will support all incumbent Democratic AGs in both primary and general elections. It’s unclear from the Web site whether the DAGA is involved in any Democratic primaries other than in VT. Sorrell appears to be the only Democratic AG who is facing a primary challenge, although there have been contested Democratic primaries in several states where the AG office is open this year. The Web site opensecrets.org allows one to search the database of contributions to… Read more »
Eric Davis
3 years 9 months ago

If T.J. Donovan were elected Attorney General in 2012, and if he were in a competitive race for re-election sometime in the future, how would be respond if his challenger called a press conference asking him to disavow support from the DAGA and its affliates’ independent expenditure campaigns?

Eric Davis
3 years 9 months ago
Earlier this year, at least 19 Democratic attorneys general – members of the DAGA – submitted a brief to the US Supreme Court saying that the Court should hear a case from Montana involving that state’s laws attempting to limit corporate contributions and independent expenditure campaigns in state elections. At the end of June, the Supreme Court summarily overturned the Montana state law, relying on Citizens United as a precedent. It is most ironic that the organization representing the AGs who argued in the Supreme Court for restrictions on corporate-funded independent expenditure campaigns has set up “The Committee for Justice… Read more »
Liz Martin
3 years 9 months ago
I find it interesting that TJ is making this an issue. First of all, TJ is fighting to become an Attorney General – thus joining the ranks of all of the DAGA members (right?). Second, TJ spent $10,000 of his money to an outside source in D.C. to run a political poll. While there is no way to compare the $99,000 the $10,000 that he spent, I would like to point out that he chose to outsource that money to help his campaign. As Bill said, he had no knowledge of the television ad. The ad does not taint TJ’s… Read more »
Amelia Silver
3 years 9 months ago

That’s a lot of money for a very insipid ad! But I understand that’s not the point. Eric Davis makes the point when he refers to the irony of DAGA setting up a committee the nature of which they opposed. It’s beyond irony, it’s disingenuous, and hypocritical. But I guess the AG hopes and imagines the people of Vermont won’t notice. I hope he’s wrong.

Julie Hansen
3 years 9 months ago
If Mr. Donovan is elected he will be a member of DAGA and will benefit from their tradition of supporting Democratic AGs. This was a surprise to everyone, but I can’t imagine anyone running for office would turn down an ad that is not negative about their opponent, and in fact does not even mention the opponent. I am not sure irony is quite the right word choice in this circumstance. It is how the system works. Recall that President Obama switched his position on campaign finance half way through his campaign. I do not see hypocrisy here either. Mr.… Read more »
Michael Keane
3 years 9 months ago

Mr. Sorrell receives a boost from the very organization that Mr. Donovan is dying to join. What’s the problem? DAGA appears independently to be using the tools at its disposal as it sees fit to do. That’s neither disingenuous nor hypocritical nor unfair, if it’s within the law.

If we don’t like the law, that’s another matter.

Scott McCarty
3 years 9 months ago

What I have a problem is that in several debates — Bill has said that he believes Citizens United was a bad ruling by the Supreme Court. Now, he is embracing it with unlimited amounts of money coming into the race.

T.J. will just have to work harder than Bill in the race (which is already doing) and prove that he is a better candidate and a better choice for Attorney General (which is is already doing).

Bob Stannard
3 years 9 months ago
The candidate running against the incumbent Attorney General held a press conference condemning the use of a Super PAC in what most would perceive as a reasonably positive ad in support of the incumbent. In the comments section of this story Eric Davis seems to imply that ads such as this are now allowed, because of a recent court decision and says that it’s ironic that the organization that fought Super PACs is now using them. First, and perhaps most important is that they are both mistaken.  The DAGA does not have a Super PAC.  This ad was paid for… Read more »
Michael Keane
3 years 9 months ago

I keep wondering what my problem is with this primary, and I think I have discovered it: both candidates are running for the same job title, but… but… but….

I get the sense that one candidate appears to be running for a different job description—Chief Executive Officer or Chief Information Officer of something or other, but whatever it is, it doesn’t sound like what a state Attorney General’s job description is. Could someone please enlighten me?

Christian Noll
3 years 9 months ago
Michael sure, I’d be glad to help. There is a great deal of ambiguity in the job of AG itself. His job is to enforce the states laws and rests as our chief law enforcement officer. The AG may enforce the laws of the state in a variety of ways and his discretion is vast. HOW he or she enforces those laws will say what kind of person they are. For example the three preceeding AG’s prior to B. Sorrell exemplify a policy shift in that B. Sorrell initiated himself. This shift represents defending the state (even when unequivially in… Read more »
Liz Martin
3 years 9 months ago
Mr. Noll, do you also believe that Senator Leahy should be removed or unseated, too? He’s been in office twice as long as Mr. Sorrell. The longer you are in office, the more seniority you gain, and the more you can accomplish because of your breadth of experience and respect. If Mr. Donovan is trying to bring back integrity to the Office of the Attorney General, could you explain Mr. Donovan’s track record with plea bargains? He seems to be quite well-known for just letting people off the hook (think of the Burlington Telecom case), and he has said in… Read more »
Christian Noll
3 years 9 months ago
Liz thanks, No I vote for Senator Leahy. He’s got my support, (so far.)I wouldn’t compare Mr Sorrell with Mr Leahy though. I just wouldn’t do it. “The longer you are in office, the more seniority you gain…” The longer you exist, the more seniority you gain Liz. Politics doesn’t have anything to do with it. Mr Donovan has a stellar platform to be running for our next Attorney General. I’m not sure where you get you information from but TJ Donovan has the vision and foresight to prosecute offenders SMARTLY and not just being “Tough.” Being “tough” on crime… Read more »
Steve Merrill
3 years 9 months ago
So the ad says Sorrell “helped out Vt. Foreclosure Victims”? According to Pro-Publica, of the $2.5 Billion to 49 states in the national “settlement”, Vt. got $2.6 million and Bill said $200K was “dedicated” to a network of “counseling centers”, $300K went to “foreclosure assistance”, and the rest, some $2.1 million went to the state’s General Fund, YAY!! So nationally the “chump-change” $2.5 Billion “settlement” (remember WE bailed them out with $16 Trillion to the Fed) paid out $545.3 million to actual homeowners, $966.8 million to state’s General Funds, and $34.8 million for “investigations” for what we know not as… Read more »
Liz Martin
3 years 9 months ago
Normally, I think Propublica does a good job covering news. However, these numbers are… well, quite off, and I am wondering what their sources are? The national settlement was $25 billion, not $2.5. Vermont will be receiving $6.7 million, not $2.6 million. $3.1 million is to be used for financial relief for Vermonters, while $3.6 million is for the State to be used for housing-related purposes. The actual breakdown of those two numbers is on the website of the Attorney General, as well as a number of other news sources. These changes also can’t happen immediately, as unfortunate as that… Read more »
Bob Stannard
3 years 9 months ago

The last time I checked when any funds come into Vermont from anywhere they are distributed through the legislature. The House & Senate Appropriations Committees make these decisions. If there was money made available to the AG it was done so by the legislature.

Even the 10’s of millions that Bill Sorrell has brought into the state through successful litigation must be allocated by the General Assembly.

Liz Martin
3 years 9 months ago

Where is your evidence that the Sorrell campaign were aware of this ad? Regardless of how much you dislike Sorrell and/or his record, that’s a pretty bold statement with no factual basis that you’re making considering it would be illegal if Sorrell or any of his campaign staff knew about the ad.

Michael Keane
3 years 9 months ago
Responding to Christian Noll above, I need to say that anyone who uses the term “devil reincarnated” to describe someone running for office, as Mr. Noll does, needs to be taken NOT with a grain of salt, but with a salt mine. That makes any statement suspect. Police officer misconduct is primarily the problem of chiefs of police. It would probably be the task of a local DA to prosecute those offenses. Police rank and file take their cue from their superior officers as to appropriate or allowed behavior, not from an AG. At least that’s what all the cops… Read more »
Christian Noll
3 years 9 months ago
Michael thanks. Adolf Hitler ran for office. Did you think individuals calling him “the devil reincarnated” were to not be taken serously also? Your remarks about police misconduct as being “primarily the problem of the chiefs of police” tells me you don’t know very much about police misconduct in Vermont. The Vergennes police cheif was caught stealing confiscated drugs out of the evidence locker and became dependent on them. Then he sold a gun which he also stole from the evidence locker to try and make some money to feed his illicit habit. The Burlington Police Chief engaged in flagrant… Read more »
Dennis Shanley
3 years 9 months ago

“The Committee for Justice and Fairness PAC”, Legally Correct – Morally Repugnant!!!

Julie Hansen
3 years 9 months ago
Mr. Noll consistently alludes to police misconduct within the police force — not necessarily against alleged perpetrators of crime. Please correct me if that is not true, because the two seem to be different issues. If it is internal, what would be the mechanism to trigger the involvement of the AG. I am truly not arguing this point. I want to understand it. I have family members who are police in a different state and their issues are important to me. I was under the impression that Vermont recently created a whistleblower law. Mr. Noll, do you feel it is… Read more »
Christian Noll
3 years 9 months ago
Julie Sure and thanks for asking. First, I study the police. That’s what I do. Many police hate this. They feel that I shouldn’t be doing it for some reason. I’ve been doing it for fourteen years and have traveled the world doing so. I have both my undergrad and masters in criminal justice and completed my post doc dissertations at the International Organization of Criminal Police, INTERPOL World Headquarters located in Lyon, France. I compare various legislations throughout the world and disscuss within their context, what seems to work and what doesn’t. The BGA Alper Integrity Index is reputable.… Read more »
Julie Hansen
3 years 9 months ago
Thanks, Mr. Noll, I wasn’t really using my family for the sake of argument but to suggest that I am sympathetic to the police culture, both as it plays out in our neighborhoods and in the police station. My other issue was to ascertain the point at which the AG becomes involved. Yes, a tone is set by the top person, absolutely, but the case must to go through a chain of people before it reaches the office of the AG. It is really challenging to believe that a news organization would back away from a story because of their… Read more »
Christian Noll
3 years 9 months ago
You’re welcome Julie. Just real quick in closing; I too am “sympathetic” to the police culture however, not so much that I’d support them in the types of cases we’re starting to see a lot of here in Vermont. I am not “anti-police” by any standard, and on the contrary, it is for better police that I advocate. “…but a case must go through a chain of people before it reaches the office of the AG.” Actually, this is not true. If you have a consumer complaint, with lets say a utility company (yes I had one) you simply dial… Read more »
Ronald Taber
3 years 9 months ago
Last year I watched as the Newport City Police Department illegally evicted a family from the portion of their property where they parked their cars. They had parked their cars here ever since they owned their property, eighteen years. I went to the Newport City Council and the Orleans County States Attorney, trying to get help for these people. When it was clear that I was getting nowhere, I wrote a four page letter to Attorney General Sorrell. He would not lift a finger to help these people. When a man in Hartford can be sitting on his toilet and… Read more »
Benny Blanco
3 years 9 months ago

Typical politics, Mr Donovan should look at this and laugh. He has all the support he needs and more

Galen Crandall
3 years 9 months ago

I’m still trying to find out where B. Sorrell stands regarding Governor Shumlins drive to make Vermont a sanctuary state for illegal aliens. I don’t recall Sorrell making a statement when the governor chastised the Vermont State Troopers for their proper handling of illegal aliens during a traffic stop.

Charles Samsonow
3 years 4 months ago
I understand and believe Noll completely about his experiences with law enforcement – because I myself have experience it also first hand – and in court the Hartford police department lied thru there teeth to save face. I could understand this behavior from a teenager but these are grown ups and most have many years experience – when do they ever – if ever – mentally grow up ? Mr. Wayne Burwell suffered as I did also very dearly – and these are cases that have come to light – how many more are pushed under the rug because they… Read more »
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