The Vermont Progressive Party has joined a growing group of political insiders taking on Attorney General Bill Sorrell.
The party joined a lawsuit filed by one of their own – 2014 lieutenant governor candidate Dean Corren sued Sorrell for coming after Corren’s campaign over alleged campaign finance violations. Sorrell, who campaigned alongside Corren on at least one occasion last year, said an email sent by the Vermont Democratic Party that mentioned Corren should be claimed by the candidate as a campaign contribution even though no money changed hands.
“The Attorney General is claiming a violation that clearly doesn’t exist: counting as contributions activities that the Legislature specifically excluded” from reporting requirements, said Progressive Party Vice Chair Morgan Daybell in a release.
“If a mention in an email is a ‘contribution’ that must be reported, then virtually every elected official today – from the governor down through the Legislature – is in violation of the law,” Daybell added.
The case has become a flashpoint for a larger debate about the use of public campaign financing. Sorrell’s case says that because Corren used $200,000 of state funding for his campaign instead of soliciting private contributions, the email mention was in violation of rules governing the public money and Corren should return funds to the state.
The Progressive Party, a supporter of public campaign financing, is also joining the suit to make sure it doesn’t hurt that system.
“VPP is joining the Corren lawsuit not only to stand up to an overreach by the Attorney General, but more importantly, to protect public financing in Vermont,” said party chair Emma Mulvaney-Stanak in the release.
Assistant Attorney General Megan Schafritz is defending the AG’s office in the case. She said Friday that the Progressive Party’s claims that Sorrell’s enforcement could affect the public financing system aren’t specific enough to be valid in court.
“These plaintiffs haven’t said why they’re experiencing any injury as a result of the existence of the campaign finance laws that were being challenged,” Schafritz said. “The courts are not in the business of deciding hypothetical cases. They need a specific and concrete injury and we don’t feel that that’s present in the case as the plaintiffs have described it.”
Sorrell himself also faces challenges from the other end of the political spectrum. Vermont Republican Party Vice Chair Brady Toensing called for an investigation of Sorrell’s campaign finance practices after Seven Days published a series of stories suggesting Sorrell was using his official role to join lawsuits that would benefit campaign contributors.
Correction June 8 11:16 a.m. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Sorrell's enforcement action said Sorrell should return funds. The enforcement action was against Corren, not Sorrell.