Vermonters First ads deemed illegal

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.”

Nat Rudarakanchana

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  • Steven Farnham

    “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].”

    Perhaps anyone writing paid political advertising should be required to bone up on the law. Since when has ignorance of the law been an excuse? Or perhaps a simple procedure in which all advertising was vetted by the Secretary of State’s office prior to publication or posting could prevent these “accidental” violations.

    All I know is that if I “accidentally” exceed the speed limit, an officer of the law will usually “accidentally” give me a ticket. I never can wrap my head around why ignorance of the law is no excuse for most of us, but for certain well-paid, high profile people, ignorance is a fine excuse. Maybe it’s just understood, that in order for one to participate in politics, he must first undergo an operation in which a large chunk of his brain is removed – hence all the forgetfulness. That certainly would explain a lot.

  • Donald Mac Donald

    This not “accidental”. Several years ago Rich Tarrant tried
    the same thing, but with the U.S.Flag. This is violation of law. No law is ‘little known’ or ‘insignificant’. This is a
    move by a right wing reactionary party facing defeat.

  • Peter Galbraith

    The Vermont law prohibiting the use of the flag in political speech (i.e.campaign advertisements) clearly violates the first amendment to the US Constitution. The US Supreme Court has repeatedly invalidated state and federal laws that purport to protect the flag, even protecting flag burning as legitimate political speech. It is the Republicans who have tried to amend the US constitution to restrict free speech. The Democratic Party voted against the Republican efforts and stands for free speech. This ought to include the rights of Republicans to free speech as well.

    • Jason Farrell

      That’s an interesting perspective, Mr. Galbraith.

      However, I believe “Title 13: Crimes and Criminal Procedure, Chapter 45: FLAGS AND ENSIGNS, 13 V.S.A. § 1904a; Use of state seal and coat of arms” and this discussion are centered on the use of the Vermont state seal and coat of arms. To my knowledge, the US Supreme Court would have jurisdiction to deal with the flag of the United States, and not a state flag or coat of arms. Do you believe that the U.S. Supreme Court would find that this Vermont state statute is in violation of a Federal law? If so, which federal law do you think this statute violates? If this is so, would the federal government have the right to force a state to change its flag or coat of arms if it deemed it had the right to do so?

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