We won the lawsuit, please help us meet the $57k in legal costs.
No one will be able to use public financing again until we win this fight. (If you want to read the gory details, scroll down.)
Despite a clear law about the use of public financing during a campaign, and a federal ruling that supports the obvious reading of that law, the Vermont Attorney General pursued a baseless case, claiming that an email supporting Dean in his 2014 campaign for Lt. Governor from the Democratic party warranted a $72,000 fine.
Public Financing of campaigns is the cure for elections run by and for the 1%
The good news is that with Bernie Sanders’ campaign showing that small money campaigns can work, the VT legislature’s support for the public alternative to Big Money is stronger than ever.
The great news is that the VT Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in a separate public records case that should result in the release of key emails that show why the AG brought this illegitimate case in the first place.
The other great news is that in giving up, the AG dropped his demand that we drop our federal case to make the Public Finance law Constitutional. That case, which we brought against the AG, will be heard in January, 2018 in the US 2nd Circuit in New York.
The bad news is that while we always expected to win, it took over three years, and legal fees have cost over $57,000.
So, please join Ben and Jerry and over 100 other Vermonters in supporting Clean Elections in Vermont – We’re almost one-third of the way there!
You can contribute to this effort in 3 ways:
directly from your credit card or checking account for free via Corren’s PayPal donation site.
2. By Check
please make checks out to “Dean Corren,” with “Public Finance” in the memo and mail to: Dean Corren, 92 Brookes Ave. Burlington, VT 05401.
3. Contribute to the Clean Elections Project of the Peace & Justice Center
CEP is an allied group of the Peace & Justice Center, with the mission to litigate and educate to promote Public Financing of campaigns. It is a tax-exempt (501c3) organization and contributions are tax-deductible. Make checks to:
Peace & Justice Center
Clean Elections Project
60 Lake St. Suite 1C
Burlington, VT 05401
Thanks for supporting this effort to restore and expand public campaign financing.
And … Please spread the word to your friends!
After Three Years, the VT Attorney General Drops the $72,000 Case Against Dean Corren and Public Financing
First, to my wife Cindy: for hanging in there, enduring three years of torment, knowing the truth, yet hearing the powerful lies of the state in the media, and suffering for having a deep sense of justice. US Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts recently told a class of middle school graduates: “I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice.” Cindy has come to know that all too well, and in the face of it, she persisted.
To our attorney, John Franco: we absolutely would not have prevailed, and could not even have made it a fraction of the way there, were it not for his brilliant, thorough, caring and dogged work. I shudder to think about if he hadn’t been there for us. And he has more work ahead (representing the plaintiffs rather than the defendant!) on the federal case.
To my campaign staff, including Meg Polyte and Chris Pearson who did everything right in the first place, so that the AG never had a chance.
To our co-plaintiffs in the ongoing federal civil rights case: the Vermont Progressive Party, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, Marjorie Power, Richard Kemp, and Steve Hingtgen. Also thanks to others Vermont Auditor Doug Hoffer, Rights and Democracy, and the Peace & Justice Center and many others.
And, to all the Vermonters, starting with Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield who supported us my Public Financing in the first place, and then returned to support our legal fight with their dollars.
This case was brought by Attorney General William Sorrell who argued that as a publicly-financed (PF) candidate for Lt. Governor, I accepted an illegal contribution by failing to pay for an email sent by the VT Democratic Party (VDP) that was worth $255. He demanded that I pay $72,000. The AG also argued that, as a publicly-financed candidate, I had no right to even talk with the Democratic Party that had nominated me. This, and other unconstitutional threats and actions caused us to bring a federal civil rights action against the AG.
We fought this state case because it was false, and built on lies and misdeeds by the AG and his staff. We also fought it because it would prevent all candidates from using Vermont’s Public Financing law out of fear of such targeted, bad-faith prosecution. Because of the misrepresentations of the AG, the understanding of this case in the media and the public has been distorted. Here are the basic facts.
We were prepared to show in court that there never was a violation:
- On October 24, 2014, the VDP sent an email supporting me along with Governor Peter Shumlin and Congressman Peter Welch. It was sent without my approval, contrary to the AG’s assertions to the public and the courts.
- We had offered – indeed, insisted – before, during, and after, to pay for an email, or any other support that was not exempted by law. We have documentary evidence of trying to pay at least 10 times.
- We could not just pay an arbitrary amount: we couldn’t pay too little, and paying too much could be considered an illegal public subsidy of the VDP, so we asked for an invoice.
- The VDP said initially that they could not determine a value, but we persisted in trying to get one from them, and expected to get one in a reasonable amount of time.
- Less than one week after the email, the AG sent a notice that stopped the process of us paying. From that point on, neither the VDP nor the Secretary of State (SoS) would act without direction from the AG. despite our requests, timely direction from the AG was not forthcoming.
- By law, the campaign had to close out in mid-Dec. 2014, so we even proposed to put remaining funds in escrow with the SoS. He would not act without approval from the AG, who, after a long delay, eventually rejected even that option.
- In Feb. 2015, the AG threatened to sue, refusing to discuss any solution other than a $72,000 penalty. This was apparently the smallest purported violation ever prosecuted, while the largest campaign penalty ever sought. He refused to accept any contrary information from my campaign.
- In March 2015, along with several other plaintiffs, I brought a federal suit against the AG for violating my First Amendment rights.
- The following week, the AG sued me without ever having interviewed me or a single Corren campaign staffer.
- The AG, was in fact, the cause of the non-timely payment for the email.
Three years later:
- The facts from Corren campaign testimony came out through the discovery process – at great legal expense.
- The Court also ordered the production of a letter from the VDP attorney (now Deputy AG) to the AG showing they calculated a $255 value in mid-Nov 2014. Both the AG and VDP kept that information secret from us for three years, and the current AG tried to suppress its release.
- If they had told us that value, we would have immediately paid our share (of the three candidates), still in less time than the customary 30-day bill period.
In the end, while fighting the unlimited power of the state for three years is wearing, I’m glad we stuck to our principles, just as I’m proud of our campaign staff, Meg, Chris, and everyone else, for having done everything right, right from the start. Once the facts came out, including their concealing of evidence, it was the AG, who after three years, caved, facing a clobbering in court only two weeks away. The well-proven strategy of wearing down our resources and resolve with unlimited and unaccounted-for state resources had failed.
- The AG dropped the case completely.
- There was no guilt and no penalty in a case that had sought $72,000.
- We finally got to pay the $255 for the email, as we had tried three years earlier. We are the first to ever do so, and probably the last. As far as we can tell, no campaign, out of thousands of campaigns and thousands of emails, before or since this case, has ever reported an email as a contribution. If the AG’s position is applied equally to others, virtually every campaign since the invention of email has been in violation.
What the AG had previously demanded that we did NOT agree to:
- We did not drop our federal civil rights case against the AG, now scheduled for a hearing in January at the 2nd Circuit in New York.
- I did not agree to be silenced.
What the AG required that we DID agree to:
- I did waive my right to sue the AG and the other state lawyers who participated in this. (Practically, it is no great loss: VT case law gives the AG and his staff essentially complete immunity.) Clearly, this liability was the AG’s top concern. And of course, this does not preclude any independent investigation of the case.
The Results so far of the AG Bringing this Case:
- The 2016 race for Lt. Governor was improperly influenced.
- The PF option, though in the law, has been unavailable for any candidates since Nov., 2014.
- A major impact on my family over three years with a cost of $56,000. Supporters of PF have contributed $17,000 of that so far.
Our 2014 campaign for Lt. Governor emphasized from the start that we took no private contributions, and promoted a platform of extending the clean elections Public Financing option to all Vermont races.
Since that time, the Sanders campaign for president has highlighted nationally, the need for PF, if we are to restore democracy to the US by allowing regular citizens who are not wealthy, or backed by the wealthy, to also run for office.
The VT AG effectively eliminated Vermont’s PF option by wrongly prosecuting me and my campaign for a non-existent campaign finance violation for three years until it became obvious that the actions of the AG’s office could no longer be concealed.
The legal and policy issues regarding the actions of both AGs could not be more serious.
Obvious Questions Remain:
- Why did the AG bring this case in the first place?
- Why didn’t the AG interview a single person on my campaign?
- What was the cost to state taxpayers?
- Why did the new AG take 11 months to drop the case, more than doubling the costs to me and VT taxpayers?
- Why, in the end, was his protection from liability the only thing the AG required for settlement?
- Why has no other campaign ever been prosecuted for someone else’s email, including the other candidates featured in this email, Peter Shumlin and Peter Welch?
- What will we learn about this case from the newly-released public records, including AG Sorrell’s emails that the VT Supreme Court has just ordered to be produced?
- Will the state conduct an independent investigation of this case?
Now that this absurd case is over, we look forward to working with the legislature to investigate what happened, fix, improve, and extend the PF law, and to ensure that campaign finance law is never again abused by such a baseless and unaccountable prosecution.