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Brattleboro Dem Seeks Internal Communications From Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

Angela Evancie
VPR File
A Brattleboro lawyer accused Lt. Gov. Phil Scott of campaign finance violations and filed a records request for internal communications within Scott's office.

A Brattleboro lawyer with strong ties to the Vermont Democratic Party has asked the attorney general’s office to investigate alleged campaign-finance violations by Republican candidate for governor Phil Scott. And the same lawyer has filed an extensive public records request with the lieutenant governor’s official office that aims to determine whether Scott has used his Statehouse office to conduct political activity.

James Valente, a partner at Costello, Valente & Gentry and chairman of the Brattleboro Democratic Committee, says campaign videos posted to YouTube fail to include mention that the ad was paid for or authorized by the Scott campaign.

In his complaint to the attorney general, Valente cites statutory provisions that require such videos to include that information in both writing and in audio.

“When you’ve got a video that is pretty clearly professionally produced, with a message exhorting people to volunteer and join the campaign … it suggests that one, money was spent and, two, there’s a clear purpose for the ad. And they implicate the campaign finance law and the disclosure issue requirement,” Valente says.

Brittney Wilson, campaign manager for Scott, says failure to include that information in writing at the end of the ad was an unintentional oversight. She says the videos in question have since been amended online to include it.

“Well I think there’s a couple valid arguments that (Valente) has made,” Wilson says. “And we’ve gone ahead and added the print disclaimer on the videos, which includes … ‘paid for by Phil Scott for Vermont’ and our address. We’re certainly not trying to pull anything over on anybody.”

Wilson says she agrees the video needs an audio disclaimer. She says she's unclear on exactly what information needs to be expressed in it, and has reached out to Condos' office for clarification.

Scott, however, isn't the only candidate running afoul of the statute, and videos from other gubernatorial campaigns also fail to include information about who paid for the video, either in writing or audio. An online video for GOP Republican candidate Bruce Lisman, for instance, fails to include audio or written disclaimers conveying that information; videos from Democratic candidates for governor Sue Minter and Matt Dunne don’t feature audio disclaimers.

Valente’s complaint additionally alleges that Scott’s campaign video is in violation of state personnel policy 5.7, which prohibits political activity from being conducted “in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties.”

A four-minute campaign video features numerous shots of Scott in his official Statehouse office.

Wilson says these charges are without merit, and that the personnel policy applies to employees of the state of Vermont, not to statewide officeholders. She notes that a television ad from the Shumlin campaign during the last election cycle featured the governor delivering his State of the State address in the House chamber.

Wilson says Valente’s complaint is rooted more in “negative political tactics that are trying to steer from the real issues” than it is in concern about compliance with campaign-finance statutes.

Valente says his concerns are sincere.

“And if anybody should be following law assiduously, it should be our lieutenant governor, setting a good example,” Valente says. “And … if I see an ad that is violating the campaign finance law by our sitting lieutenant governor, I thought it had to do something.”

The attorney general has referred the complaint to the Washington County state’s attorney, because lawyers from his office are assisting Scott in a separate legal matter related to his campaign.

Earlier this week, Valente filed a records request with Scott’s official office requesting emails, letters, text messages and other documents related to various communications involving Scott or his chief of staff, Rachel Feldman.

The request includes communication relating to conflicts of interest in the state bidding process involving Scott’s business, Dubois Construction; the planning of Scott’s gubernatorial campaign prior to its official launch; and proposals to bring Syrian refugees to Vermont.

The request also seeks communication between Scott or Feldman and a laundry list of current and former GOP operatives and administration officials, including GOP Chairman David Sunderland, GOP vice-chairman Brady Toensing, and GOP Executive Director Jeff Bartley. The request also includes communication between Scott’s office and Neale Lunderville, Jason Gibbs and Mike Smith – three prominent members of the administration of former Republican Gov. James Douglas.

The attorney general’s office and the secretary of state both declined to comment on the Valente’s complaint.

In a response to Valente, Feldman says her office will respond to his request by Feb. 8. She says she’s meeting with the lawyers from the attorney general’s office Friday to discuss Valente’s request.

Clarification Jan. 29, 12:51 p.m. An earlier version of this story misstated Wilson's understanding of requirements for audio in campaign advertising. The above text has been updated.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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