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.
This 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.