The Vermont Democratic Party cried foul on Wednesday, declaring that two Vermonters First online ads were illegal, since they bore the state’s coat of arms on a political advertisement.
Green Mountain Daily reported that the images were featured on ads for state auditor and treasurer candidates Vince Illuzzi and Wendy Wilton.
In a statement, Vermont Democratic Party Chair Jake Perkinson called on Vermonters First to take down the ads, describing them as “misusing the Vermont state flag and coat of arms for partisan purposes.”
“In a race where a Super PAC funded by millionaire Lenore Broughton is already spending its money to lie to Vermonters, every detail counts,” Perkinson said.
Vermonters First founder Tayt Brooks said in an email he removed his online ads that included the state seal and he was not aware that there is a restriction on the use of the image.
VDP communications director Ariel Wengroff said the party stopped short of arguing that the use of the symbols misled the public in any obvious way.
“If it were a legal action, we wouldn’t have a problem with it,” said Wengroff. “The core issue here is that Vermonters First violated state law: There’s no getting around that.”
In a similar incident a few weeks ago, Condos requested Essex Junction Republican House candidate Paul Dame to modify lawn signs which bore state symbols. Dame complied by covering up the coat of arms.
Condos also emailed Brooks earlier this morning to advise him to remove the coat of arms from his ad.
“Most of the time it’s accidental,” said Condos of these violations. “They don’t realize there’s a law for the use of it [state symbols].”
Condos said the ads are now part of the public domain because they were published on Green Mountain Daily.
There are criminal penalties associated with misuses of the symbol, including imprisonment up to one year or a fine of up to $1,000, the attorney general’s office generally advises that Condos notify offenders and request the ad’s modification first.
The intention behind the law, explained Condos, is “to make sure that people don’t think that the state is providing an endorsement of a candidate or a product. Originally, the law wasn’t there for candidates, but more for products, for people not to use it to try to sell a product.”
Here, he said, “the product happens to be a candidate.”
State laws about the use of the state’s seal and coat of arms are here, under Vermont statute Title 13, Chapter 45. They say the state seal and coat of arms may be used … for public displays not connected with any advertising.”