Tag Archives: Dean Corren

Time to get serious about public campaign financing

So a federal judge has upheld the constitutionality of Vermont’s public financing law. Too bad he couldn’t rule on the ridiculousness of the law, because that decision would have gone very differently.

In the wake of his ruling, two things have to be addressed ASAP. First, the absurdly punitive $72,000 fine imposed on Dean Corren for a piddly-ass technical violation of the law. Imposed by that self-righteous hypocrite, Our Eternal General Bill Sorrell.

There is no way in Hell that Corren should have to imperil his personal finances because the Democratic Party included him in an e-mail message. The value of that “impermissible contribution”? $255, if I remember correctly.

Fining a guy $72,000 for what was, at most, a petty violation is like sending a guy to jail for not feeding the parking meter. It mocks the very concept of justice.

Okay, that’s number one, and I don’t care how we do it. If it involves a sock full of quarters applied to Sorrell’s noggin and a bit of backroom “persuasion,” so be it. Well, maybe the Darn Tough Convincer is a bit much; let’s just tase him. (He shouldn’t mind; given his record on police brutality cases, he must think getting tased is no big deal.)

The second issue is the public financing law itself. It’s a joke. It’s so restrictive that it seems designed to prevent candidates from using it.

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Further thoughts on the Lite-Gov race

My recent post on Sen. David Zuckerman’s candidacy for lieutenant governor drew a couple of intelligent comments, which prompted this return to the subject. But I’ll begin with another reminder from the archives, which creates some doubt about Rep. Kesha Ram’s appeal to Dem officeholders and party regulars.

Almost exactly one year ago, when the House Democratic caucus met to elect officers. Willem Jewett was stepping down as Majority Leader, and two women — Sarah Copeland-Hanzas and Kesha Ram — competed to replace him.

Those familiar with the House org chart know that Copeland-Hanzas came out on top. In fact, Ram withdrew before the vote. Which is what people do when they know they’re going to lose. She claimed it was “a very close race,” and cited concerns about the Chittenden-centric nature of House leadership. (Copeland-Hanzas is from Bradford.)

Okay, whatevs. But political bloggers and other tinfoil-hat wearers can’t help but wonder why her colleagues turned elsewhere for leadership. There is some sentiment that Ram is a bit of a climber, aching for the spotlight before being truly ready. That’s one way to read things. Maybe it was a simple matter of geography. But maybe there are doubts among key Democrats about Ram.

And now: letters, we get letters…

Veteran blogger nanuqFC posed a couple of good points.

— First, on whether Zuckerman’s push for public financing could even the playing field. I didn’t mention this because I don’t see it as a factor. Under current law, Zuckerman is disqualified from public financing due to his early entry into the race. He and Dean Corren are challenging the law in court, and he’s also pushing for the Legislature to reform the process. But even if he prevails on either track, it’s unlikely to come soon enough to help him in 2016. So he’s on his own, as far as I’m concerned.

— Also, nanuq noted that Dem/Prog fractiousness is not only a Chittenden County phenomenon. Which is true; it’s at its height in Chittenden, but it exists elsewhere. That’s a negative for Zuckerman’s chances. On the other hand, it’s an open primary, so nothing would stop non-Dems from supporting Zuckerman. Overall, a slight negative. (See also: the impact of the gubernatorial primary, below.)

And now meet our second correspondent, David Grant.

— He gives Zuckerman a slight edge in Chittenden County due to name recognition; so what about the rest of the state? Well, Zuckerman’s name recognition advantage is bigger elsewhere. It’s up to Ram to raise her profile. She should have the resources and the contacts to do so; whether she truly connects, remains to be seen.

Her presence in the House Dem Caucus ought to be a big help; state representatives can be the backbone of a statewide campaign. She had a strong turnout of officeholders at her campaign launch, which is a positive sign. There is, however, that failed run for Majority Leader, which makes you wonder if her colleagues will back her with enthusiasm. We shall see.

— Grant also points out the importance of building a quality campaign staff, and wonders who has the advantage there. I don’t know who’s signed on with whom. But I can say this: the Democrats have an undeniable edge in experienced, effective campaign operatives. Ram’s ability to draw on that talent pool is a significant advantage for her.

— He also asks how the gubernatorial primary will impact the Lite-Gov race. I gave a bit of an answer last time — Sue Minter might give Ram some coattails among voters who feel that men have been far too dominant in Vermont politics, which they have. But I ignored the elephant in the room: The gubernatorial primary will drive turnout higher, and will put the Lite-Gov race on the back burner.

The Democratic primary is certain to draw the largest turnout since 2010 at least. Many of those voters will have followed the Minter/Dunne contest and given little thought to Ram/Zuckerman. They’ll be making quick, uninformed decisions. Do they remember Zuckerman’s name from past Senate debates? Do they opt for the female candidate for both offices?

And there’s the surprise twist ending. I’ve sifted through this factor and that, and finally realized that they all pale in comparison to a primary that will be heavily focused on the race for governor. For every voter who carefully weighs the pros and cons of Kesha Ram and David Zuckerman, there’ll be another (or two or three) who’s flipping a coin in the booth.

So yeah, all my sound and fury signifies not much.

Vermont’s public financing system is worse than useless

Before this year, our mechanism for public campaign financing was woefully limited and seemingly designed to discourage potential candidates. The excessive and punitive rules resulted in the only person ever to gain public financing, Dean Corren, facing an overzealous prosecution by Attorney General Bill Sorrell, our deeply tainted Guardian of Electoral Purity.

But that’s the good news.

The bad news is, the whole system has suddenly become a cruel joke. It’s so bad that unless the Legislature can bring itself to enact a simpler, more generous process, I’d just as soon they kill the thing. In its current state, it’s an insult to the very ideals it purports to uphold.

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Sorrell vs. the record, part 2: Campaign reimbursements

Sorry for the delay in this continuing series; it’s tough work, slogging through a solid hour of Bill Sorrell. He is remarkably inarticulate for such a prominent figure.

SorrellDoggAnyway, I’m taking a closer look at Our Eternal General’s comments in an interview
with VTDigger’s Mark Johnson. I think it’s worthwhile because this was the first time Sorrell has been quizzed at length about allegations of campaign finance funny business and excessive coziness with high-powered lawyers soliciting state contracts.

Part 1 compared Sorrell’s remarks with the public record about the MTBE lawsuit. Today, we turn to Sorrell’s fuzzy reporting of expense reimbursements by his campaign fund to himself.

The matter was raised last spring by Seven Days’ Paul Heintz:

Several times a year, candidates must publicly disclose each campaign expenditure they make, “listed by amount, date, to whom paid, for what purpose,” according to state law.

A review of Sorrell’s recent filings shows that he has routinely ignored the rules. Sixteen times over the past four years, Sorrell’s campaign has reimbursed him for hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars’ worth of expenses paid out of his own pocket. In each instance, the campaign provided only a vague explanation of what Sorrell bought with the campaign cash — and never once did it disclose who it paid.

Sorrell’s response: Hey, a lot of people do it that way.

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The Eternal General bows to the inevitable

It only took him about five months to figure it out, but Bill Sorrell finally announced today that he will not seek an eleventy-billionth term as Vermont’s Attorney General.

The end has been obvious to all since the early May appointment of former State Rep. Tom Little to head an independent investigation of Sorrell’s illegal (or at least thoroughly squicky) campaign finance activities.

SorrellZevonReally, the end has been all but obvious since Sorrell’s disastrous decision last March to throw the book at Dean Corren for an insignificant-at-best violation of the public financing law. Sorrell had alienated a lot of people over the years with his overzealous prosecution of campaign finance law and his underzealous pursuit of just about everything else in his purview. L’affaire Corren left him friendless in Montpelier and in Democratic and Progressive circles (he long ago lost the Republicans), with the possible exception of Sorrell’s political godfather, Howard Dean.

Today, the end came not with a bang, but an emailed whimper. Paul Heintz:

For a man who has spent much of his adult life in public service, Sorrell made his announcement in a remarkably low-key fashion. Rather than holding a press conference, he delivered the news in a terse, five-sentence statement emailed to reporters Monday afternoon.

Unsurprisingly, he couldn’t see any advantage to be gained from taking questions at his own political funeral.

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It’s time for an outside probe of our Eternal General

Brady Toensing, D.C. attorney and vice chair of the VTGOP, has sometimes operated as the political equivalent of an ambulance chaser — taking legal actions with an obvious partisan motive. He comes by it honestly; his mother and stepdad are notorious conservative attack dogs.

But this time, I’m with him 100%. Toensing has sent a letter to Eternal General Bill Sorrell, asking him to appoint an independent counsel to investigate Sorrell’s campaign activities.

SorrellRehabThis is the second time Toensing has made this request. The first was in October 2012, in the midst of the election campaign — which was reason enough to dismiss it as a partisan stunt. But now, the time has come. There’s enough smoke around Sorrell’s campaign activities to warrant an objective fireman. Especially since Vermont’s campaign finance law makes Bill Sorrell the sole judge and arbiter of whether Bill Sorrell has violated the law. Which Bill Sorrell assures us is not the case. Indeed, he has already rejected Toensing’s request, insisting again that he’s done nothing wrong. We just have to take his word for it, I guess.

This stinks, and if any situation required an outside probe, it’s this one.

Toensing cites four allegations:

— “Coordinated expenditures” in the hotly-contested 2012 primary. Sorrell received a late blast of money (200 G’s) from the Democratic Attorneys General Association (by way of a third party superPAC). As Toensing’s letter says: “This record-setting expenditure was controlled and directed by former Governor Howard Dean, who, at the same time, was an active, high-level agent of your campaign.”

That money was almost certainly the deciding factor in Sorrell’s whisker-thin victory over TJ Donovan. And as Toensing notes in his complaint, one month before the primary, Sorrell “revers[ed] his office policy to allow PACS to accept contributions in excess of the state limit of $2000 and still make unlimited campaign expenditures in Vermont. This action cleared the way for the unprecedented expenditures made on General Sorrell’s behalf during the primary.”

— Failure to comply with campaign finance disclosure laws mandating that a candidate report “each expenditure listed by amount, date, to whom paid, for what purpose.” As Paul Heintz has reported, Sorrell’s reports for personal-expense reimbursement have included numerous vague and incomplete entries.

— A joint appearance with Dean Corren, candidate for Lieutenant Governor, on September 15, 2014. While Sorrell has aggressively pursued Corren for accepting an email blast from the Vermont Democratic Party, he has denied any wrongdoing in his appearance with Corren. He has, in fact, claimed that the appearance was not a campaign event — which is laughable to the point of bitter tears.

— Sorrell has routinely given state business to outside law firms that have contributed heavily to his re-election campaigns. Sorrell denies any quid pro quo, but Toensing cites legal precedent that indicates “In cases involving government officials, a jury can infer guilt from evidence of benefits received and subsequent favorable treatment.”

By that standard, Sorrell’s own denials are clearly inadequate. Given his refusal to investigate himself, as Toensing says, “the appointment of an independent counsel is necessary to restore and maintain the integrity of your office.”

I fully expect Bill Sorrell to refuse this very reasonable request for an objective probe of Bill Sorrell. At that point, we will turn to other Democratic officeholders for leadership. Governor Shumlin has repeatedly ducked questions about Sorrell’s activities, while Secretary of State Jim Condos has said his office lacks the standing to investigate.

Well, standing or no, Shumlin and Condos have their bully pulpits. It’s time to put them to use. They don’t have to throw Sorrell under the bus; all they have to do is say “There are questions that deserve answers, and the only way to restore public trust is through an independent counsel.”

Heck, if they want to, they can even throw in a gratuitous “I’m sure the investigation will show that General Sorrell acted properly.” The important thing is, it’s time to put the heat to Sorrell’s backside and get answers to all of these questions.

Governor? Mr. Secretary? Mr. Speaker? Mr. Pro Tem? We’re waiting.

The punishment fit the crime

Here’s something that’s by-the-books, letter of the law… but makes absolutely not a bit of sense.

Our dogged hero of law enforcement, Eternal General BIll Sorrell, is in hot pursuit of the scoundrel Dean Corren for a campaign violation. Seems the Democratic Party sent an email blast supporting Corren’s candidacy for Lieutenant Governor, and Sorrell deems this a violation of the public financing law.

Estimated value of the blast: $255.

The penalty Sorrell seeks: $72,000.

Sorrell says, and I understand, that he is simply following the law. which requires repayment of public funds still in Corren’s kitty at the time of the violation, plus a $10,000 fine for each of two violations (accepting the email, and failing to report it).

But holy Hell, I don’t care what the law says. $72,000 for a $255 violation is like a ten-year sentence for a speeding ticket. Does Sorrell have no flexibility whatsoever, or is he choosing to be a right bastard about this?

Also, this: I know for a fact that there was an ongoing, vigorous discussion within Democratic Party circles and the Corren campaign over what the party could do and couldn’t do on his behalf. The Democrats were very careful about it — so much so, that some liberals (including yours truly) wondered if they really wanted him to succeed. It’s hard for me to imagine that the Dems suddenly abandoned their caution in a spasm of Corren-love and sent out that email in a moment of blind passion, followed by headaches and regret the next morning.

Maybe so, because the Dems have responded to Sorrell’s onslaught like an abashed libertine trying to reform:

“To avoid the cost of litigation and move forward, both for the benefit of the Party and the State, the VDP decided to settle with the Attorney General’s Office,” the statement said.

As part of the settlement, VDP will agree to cooperate with Sorrell’s office in its investigation and litigation against Corren.

That’s nice. I’m sure it only appears that the Dems are throwing Corren under the bus.

Given the party’s SOP in dealing with Corren, I’m sure the email blast had to have been vetted by its legal staff. But that won’t do Corren any good now; he’s facing Mr. Prosecutor all by his lonesome.