GOP group subpoenas Shumlin aide, allies
By Thatcher Moats
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | July 12,2012
MONTPELIER — Lawyers for the Republican Governors Association are trying to force Gov. Peter Shumlin’s former campaign manager to testify as the group tries to unearth evidence of collusion among the Shumlin for Governor campaign, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Vermont Democratic Party during the 2010 election.
But lawyers for Alexandra MacLean — who now serves as a top Shumlin aide and is expected to take over his re-election campaign later this summer — say the latest move by the RGA is a baseless and nakedly political attack. MacLean last month asked a judge to quash the subpoena that would compel her to testify.
“The subpoena ... constitutes a fishing expedition designed to disrupt and burden Governor Shumlin’s gubernatorial campaign and advance the RGA’s stated goal of defeating the Governor’s bid for re-election,” wrote MacLean’s lawyer, Eric Miller, of the firm Sheehey Furlong & Beem.
The governors association also subpoenaed VPIRG and the Vermont Democratic Party, and the two groups are fighting back in motions filed this month that ask a judge to reject the subpoenas.
Jake Perkinson, the chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party, said there was no collusion among the three groups during the hotly contested 2010 governor’s race, in which Shumlin narrowly defeated former Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie.
Perkinson said the RGA is “grasping at straws.” He also used the fishing metaphor.
“It’s a fishing expedition designed to try to see if they can dig up any dirt, which they’re not going to be able to do,” said Perkinson. “Even if the subpoenas are successful, there’s nothing to their allegations, which seem to be collusion between the governor’s campaign, the Democratic Party and VPIRG. No one seems to know what the RGA is talking about, and it seems like a blatant political action, but it’s not surprising coming from the RGA. They’re the master of dirty tricks.”
MacLean called the subpoena “unjustified and politically motivated” and referred further questions to the motion to quash.
The subpoenas are the latest battle in a broader court case the state attorney general’s office filed in 2010 against the RGA, which spent more than $900,000 during the 2010 race to try to help Dubie.
The case is one of two lawsuits against the RGA resulting from the 2010 gubernatorial race. The other was filed last year against Dubie and the RGA, alleging they colluded by sharing poll results.
The Vermont Attorney General’s office also sued Green Mountain Future, a political action committee funded by the Democratic Governors Association, for violations during the Shumlin-Dubie race.
In the case in which the RGA has issued subpoenas to MacLean, the Vermont Democratic Party and VPIRG, a judge has already ruled that the RGA broke campaign finance laws by airing electioneering ads but failing to register as a Vermont political action committee and by failing to file campaign finance reports. The court found the RGA also accepted contributions greater than the Vermont limit of $2,000.
The only remaining issue in the case is the RGA’s argument that the office of Democratic Attorney General William Sorrell is engaged in politically motivated selective enforcement.
In its selective enforcement claim, the RGA points out that Sorrell’s office pursued campaign contribution limits violations against the RGA but declined to pursue that specific angle in the case against the DGA-funded Green Mountain Future.
If the RGA can prove selective enforcement, it could scuttle the judge’s ruling from last year against it.
But Judge Geoffrey Crawford has already rejected the group’s attempt to delve into the attorney general’s office records in its attempt to prove selective enforcement.
In doing so, he said there was no evidence suggesting unfair treatment of the RGA.
“The only difference between the actions is that RGA was sued for violation of the $2,000 contribution limits as well,” Crawford wrote. “Is this difference a credible showing of discriminatory effect? The court concludes that it is not.”
The subpoenas are the RGA’s latest attempt to find evidence to make its case.
The group has not filed a response to the motions to quash, and Christopher Roy, an attorney from Downs Rachlin Martin who represents the RGA, declined to comment.
An RGA spokesman, Mike Schrimpf, said the organization doesn’t typically comment on pending cases. But in an email, he pointed out a judge has said the RGA may pursue evidence as it tries to prove unfair treatment.
“The court specifically ruled that the RGA may conduct this discovery, and we intend to do so,” he wrote.
The subpoenas ask for a variety of documents, including records related to VPIRG poll results. VPIRG shared poll results about the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant with Shumlin and others in early 2010, according to news reports from the time, and the polling included a question about Shumlin.
But VPIRG said at the time it didn’t share the results of the Shumlin question with Shumlin — who was Senate president pro tem — and said sharing the rest of the information with him was justified. VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns did not respond to a request for comment.
The RGA has not directly accused the Shumlin campaign of violating campaign finance laws, and MacLean’s attorney wrote that if the RGA believes the campaign broke the rules, the organization should file a complaint.
“Neither the RGA nor the Attorney General has ever accused the Shumlin Campaign of violating campaign finance laws,” MacLean’s motion says. “If the RGA has a good faith reason to believe that the Campaign has knowledge of campaign finance violations akin to those the RGA committed, it should do what any other citizen should do: ask the Attorney General to investigate those allegations. The fact that it has never done so speaks volumes.”
Sorrell said there was absolutely no selective enforcement, pointing to the fact his office filed cases against both Democratic and Republican organizations.
But Eve Jacobs-Carnahan, an assistant attorney general working on the RGA case, would not divulge the reason for the difference between the two cases on which the RGA has pinned its hopes.
“Really, the best I can tell you is we made a fair assessment of the two situations, the two fact patterns, the two sets of ads, and based on that we put together appropriate enforcement cases in the two of them,” she said.
Jacobs-Carnahan said the office doesn’t have to divulge its thinking in the two cases, thanks to Crawford’s ruling.
In his decision as to whether the RGA could probe attorney general records, Crawford suggested reasons for the differences in the two cases.
“These are organizations of different size and form,” he wrote. Green Mountain Future “is a Vermont PAC which served primarily as a conduit for money from the Democratic Governors Association. RGA chose to spend money directly. The lawsuits against them reflect these differences.
“GMF also received contributions which exceeded $2,000, principally from the Democratic Governors Association,” Crawford continued. “The size of GMF’s organization, however, is dwarfed by RGA which spends in excess of one hundred million dollars in an election year. The Attorney General brought the additional claim of violation of the contribution limits against the more serious violator.”
Crawford also said the RGA was unable to prove political motivation on the part of Sorrell.
“The failure to make a credible showing of discriminatory intent is even clearer,” Crawford wrote. “RGA attributes its treatment to raw political partisanship. A Democratic Attorney General, it argues, has chosen to discriminate against an organization which is rooted in the other party. That is no more than an unsupported allegation.”