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The Rutland Herald - Vt. Judge: Pollina Can Keep Cash

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Location: Montpelier, VT

The Rutland Herald - Vt. Judge: Pollina Can Keep Cash

Daniel Barlow

A Vermont judge ruled Wednesday that Anthony Pollina's gubernatorial campaign can keep thousands of dollars in contributions from supporters that state officials said violated campaign finance laws.

U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions III wrote that Pollina was a Progressive Party candidate when he collected contributions of more than $1,000 from supporters — and therefore can keep the funds even though he is now running as an independent.

Sessions criticized the offices of the Vermont Secretary of State and the Vermont Attorney General for an interpretation of the law in a "very limited way that is not supported by a plain reading."

"Here, however, the state is taking a more restrictive view of the statute by threatening to enforce the $1,000 contribution limit per election against the Pollina campaign, with no persuasive reason," Sessions wrote. The ruling is a major boost for Pollina's campaign, which has lagged behind the top two major-party candidates in terms of fundraising this year, with less than three weeks to go before the election. Accusations that he violated the state's campaign finance law rocked the campaign late this summer, just weeks after Pollina left the Progressive Party to run as an independent.

Pollina Campaign Manager Meg Brook said Wednesday evening that the candidate was campaigning throughout the day and hadn't yet read the ruling. She issued a brief statement.

"We're pleased that the judge agreed with us and pointed out that the Secretary of State's action made no sense," Pollina said in the statement. "We were singled out for a clearly partisan attack at a time when the economy is falling apart and people are out of work, we stuck with the real issues and I'm glad Vermonters stuck with us. We gained major endorsements and went up in the polls, proving again that Vermonters don't fall for negative politics."

Sessions' ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by several Pollina supporters against the state, just as the attorney general's office was considering taking action against the campaign. That state inquiry began after several Vermont residents filed complaints with the state, accusing Pollina of violating state campaign finance law.

At issue, is how much an independent candidate for governor can raise from a single person during an election campaign. State officials argued that the law now in place after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down major parts of a newer law only allows for independent political candidates to raise $1,000.

Because major-party candidates — which in Vermont include, Democrats, Republicans, Progressives and Liberty Union members — have two elections, a primary and the general election, they are allowed to raise up to $2,000 per person, according to state law.

Pollina's supporters argued — and Sessions agreed with them on many points - that Pollina was a Progressive Party candidate when he accepted donations of more than $1,000 and that he should not have to return those funds.

With the ruling, Sessions approved a permanent injunction blocking the state from taking any regulatory action against the Pollina campaign.

Sessions ruled that even though Pollina never filed the necessary paperwork with the state to run as a Progressive candidate — he announced his independent run on the filing deadline to run for office — he was considered a candidate under the law because he was raising and spending money.

"Pollina was a major party candidate for the primary election because he took affirmative action to become a candidate: He accepted contributions over $500 and announced that he sought an elected position for state office," Sessions wrote.

Most of the donations in question took place before Pollina dropped the Progressive Party label and are lawful so long as up to $1,000 of each donation was used for the primary part of the campaign and the remainder used for the general election, Sessions wrote.

At least one donation totaling $2,000, given to the Pollina campaign days after he started his independent gubernatorial campaign, are lawful so long as the money is allocated between leftover primary expenses and general election costs.

"All of these contributions are lawful," Sessions wrote.

Both sides raised constitutional issues in their motions before the court and during a hearing in a Burlington court earlier this month, but Sessions sidestepped those questions in the ruling to instead focus on the question of whether the state could bring enforcement against the Pollina campaign.

Calls to Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz and Attorney General William Sorrell were not returned Wednesday evening.

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