The vice-chairman of the Vermont Republican Party is calling for an independent investigation of the state’s Democratic attorney general.
It isn’t the first time Brady Toensing has alleged campaign finance violations on the part of Attorney General Bill Sorrell. But Toensing says new evidence merits new legal scrutiny of the nine-term attorney general.
“There’s even stronger evidence and there’s a pattern and practice by this attorney general and it needs to be looked at and examined, just like he does for other candidates in this state,” Toensing says.
In a letter sent Sunday to Sorrell’s office, Toensing levels a number of allegations, including “improper solicitation” of campaign contributions by the attorney general “in exchange for official action.”
Tonesing’s allegations come on the heels of recent reports from Seven Days columnist Paul Heintz that detail campaign contributions to Sorrell from a Texas law firm called Baron & Budd. Sorrell subsequently hired the firm to serve as outside counsel in a pollution case brought by the state of Vermont against more than two dozen fuel companies.
“The timing of those donations, the amount of those donations, and when General Sorrell met with them, and what he did on their behalf, indicate that these relationships need to be looked at by someone independent,” Toensing said Monday.
Sorrel said Monday morning that he’s not “going to go about wasting taxpayer monies” to investigate alleged violations that he knows he did not commit.
“I know what the campaign finance laws are. I work very hard, and have for 17-plus years, to meet those obligations,” Sorrell says.
Sorrell says there’s no causal relationship between the $10,000 Baron & Budd gave his campaign, and his decision to enlist their services for a class action case against oil and gas companies he’s accused of improperly using an additive in automobile fuels.
Heintz’s reporting indicates that the firm, Baron & Budd, met with Sorrell at a fundraiser in late 2013, and urged him file suit against the oil and gas companies on Vermont’s behalf. A week after that meeting, according to Heintz, people associated with the firm submitted donations to Sorrell’s campaign. Sorrell would later take on the case, and hire Baron & Budd as outside counsel.
“The reality is it was the Agency of Natural Resources that made the decision … to attack the oil industry for allegedly polluting our groundwater by these additives they put in auto fuels for a long time,” Sorrell says. “And the recommendation to me was to retain four different firms that are doing this litigation around the country.”
Sorrell says there’s no quid pro quo associated with his donation from Baron & Budd.
“I would never either bring an enforcement action or decline to bring an enforcement action because someone had contributed to my campaign or not contributed to my campaign,” Sorrell says. “Throwing the weight of the state in any enforcement action is a big responsibility … I take it really seriously.”
Toensing says he’s unconvinced by Sorrell’s response to his request for an independent investigation.
“What a surprise,” Toensing says. “General Sorrell says General Sorrell did nothing wrong.”
Vermont’s campaign finance statute empowers the attorney general and county state's attorneys with the authority to investigate and prosecute allegations of misconduct, but Toensing says most county prosecutors lack the resources to undertake such investigations. Toensing says lawmakers should revise the law, and create another authority to vet allegations and complaints lodged against the attorney general.
This story was edited at 9:43 a.m. on 4/21/2015