‘Friends of Dubie’ seek funds to help fight campaign financing case

Brian Dubie. VTD/Josh Larkin

Brian Dubie. VTD/Josh Larkin

It has been eight months since former Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie and Peter Shumlin went head to head in a historic battle for the governor’s office. Though the outcome has been long decided, and we are well into Gov. Peter Shumlin’s first term, the legacy of the campaign lingers on – in the form of legal bills.

Last September, the Vermont Democratic Party petitioned the attorney general’s office to investigate whether Dubie and the Republican Governors Association broke campaign finance laws.

Paul Tencher, former manager of the Vermont Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign, alleged that Dubie and the RGA coordinated efforts to create “Vision for Vermont,” an ad that began airing on local television stations on Aug. 19, 2010. Gov. Jim Douglas narrated the ad, which featured clips of Dubie talking with Vermont constituents and business owners.

Under state law, groups that support a candidate through advertising cannot coordinate efforts with that candidate, if the group wants to count those advertising dollars as independent expenditures. Otherwise, the advertising can be viewed as direct support for the candidate, and the candidate must report the expenditures as donations.

The Dubie campaign flatly denied that it coordinated efforts with the RGA to produce the ad.

The allegations are still under investigation, and since last fall Dubie has been obliged to answer queries from the Attorney General’s office. In the interim, he has chalked up tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees.

Though the Republican Governors Association has paid for some of the costs associated with the legal investigation, sources say, Dubie is personally liable for $75,000 worth of the legal costs – so far.

Earlier this month, a group of Republican stalwarts stepped up to help Dubie cover his legal costs. Gov. Jim Douglas, Skip Vallee and Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon formed the Friends of Brian Dubie Legal Defense Fund, and a few weeks ago, they sent a letter to GOP supporters asking for contributions to the cause.

The letter asks donors to help cover legal expenses in “this battle for freedom.”

“He will incur more before the battle is over,” the authors wrote. “Brian continues to fight against an investigation that was based on a false complaint brought against him by the Democrats during the campaign.”

“Brian, in his decent, honest way, is standing up against these meritless attacks,” the letter continues. “Now it’s time for you – for us – to stand with Brian.”

Douglas said Dubie spent all the money he raised for the campaign, “which was the right thing to do.”  He said: “It’s a real disappointment that Brian, having lost the election has this hanging over his head.  You always expect some bills after a campaign, but you don’t expect a protracted legal battle. It’s just a real shame.”

Lauzon said the letter is about “helping a friend.”

The Dubie campaign flatly denied that it coordinated efforts with the RGA to produce the ad.

“Brian ran a great campaign,” Lauzon said. “I still admire Brian’s past and future service to Vermont;  I was only happy to help out.”

Douglas, who stepped down last January after eight years in the governor’s office, said he hopes the attorney general will resolve the issue expeditiously. “The meter runs every time the attorney general asks for more information or asks another question, and it seems to me the matter ought to be put to bed,” Douglas said.

“The attorney general has unlimited resources from the taxpayers, and Brian doesn’t,” Douglas said. I think he feels some of the inquiries he’s getting are redundant … and costing him more.”

Mayor Lauzon said the attorney general’s office, which has had “other cases that are perhaps more important,” is trying to be fair and thorough.

Megan Shafritz, the chief of the Civil Division, said, “The office is diligently pursuing the investigation, and sometimes the investigations take time.”

The civil division recently brought a separate campaign finance complaint to Washington Superior Court involving Green Mountain Future, a political action committee, largely funded by the Democratic Governors Association. The Attorney General’s office alleged that Green Mountain Future was acting as a political committee in Vermont, but “failed to file proper disclosure reports and failed to put proper identification on ads.” The organization spent $429,186 on negative ads associating Dubie with the tritium leak issues at Vermont Yankee.

Last month, Judge Geoffrey Crawford ruled in the state’s favor. The case is now in the remedy phase, Shafritz said, and the court will decide what the appropriate penalty is. The statute provides for fines of up to $10,000 for each violation.

Read the Green Mountain Future Decision on Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment

The letter from Douglas, Lauzon and Vallee cites the the judge’s decision as a major victory.

Dubie, who is weighing a second run for the governor’s office, did not respond to a call for comment. He referred the matter to Brady Toensing, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who owns a home in Charlotte. Toensing declined to say how much Dubie had racked up in legal bills.

Toensing wrote in a statement: “The Vermont Democratic Party filed two complaints during the campaign, one of which has been dismissed. The complaints involve complex First Amendment issues.  And the funds being raised are to help deal with the legal expenses tied to those important Freedom of Speech issues.”

Under Vermont law, an organization can spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of a candidate as long as the activities are independent of a candidate’s campaign. In order for an expenditure to be independent, it “must not have been intentionally facilitated, solicited or approved by the candidate” or by an “agent” of the candidate (a staffer or volunteer.) Candidates and agents of their campaigns cannot communicate with outside organizations about expenditures that exceed $3,000.

The complaint alleges that the Dubie campaign directly aided in the production of an advertisement sponsored by the RGA. Tencher claimed the two organizations made arrangements for filming several campaign events, and the expenditure cannot be considered independent. Instead, he argues, the ad, which he estimates cost more than $30,000, is an in-kind donation, subject to the $3,000 campaign finance law limit.

Tencher also names Gov. Jim Douglas in the complaint, who he said, “acted as an agent of both the Republican Governors Association and ‘Friends of Brian Dubie.’”

Here is a breakdown of the Vermont Democratic Party’s complaint:

1. Some of the footage in the film comes from private campaign events, according to the two-page complaint. Because the lieutenant governor does not publish a public schedule, Tencher claims the only way RGA could have known about the events was through communication with the Dubie campaign. Scheduling a film crew to meet Dubie at a campaign stop constitutes collusion, Tencher writes.

2. Witnesses say Dubie was transported by “agents” of the RGA to an event used in a filming sequence for the ad, according to Tencher.

3. The video footage includes “fully staged interactions” between Dubie and private citizens.

4. The RGA has spent more than $30,000 on the ad, not including production costs.

5. Tencher cites the voiceover and fund-raising events sponsored by Douglas as examples of his role as a double “agent” – for the Dubie campaign and the RGA, of which he is a member.

Anne Galloway

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  • $75,000 in legal bills that Brian Dubie is personally responsible for – at least that’s the claim. That also means the legal bills are way beyond that amount.

    I’ve been involved in protracted civil litigation – I can state as fact and by any standards $75,000 plus in legal bills is about much more than Q&A’ … something serious is going on.

    I’d like to know what is going on.

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