MONTPELIER -- Republican Attorney General candidate Jack McMullen on Wednesday accused former Gov. Howard Dean of being the conduit in illegal coordination between the campaign of longtime Democratic Attorney General Bill Sorrell and a super political action committee.
McMullen said Dean, a Democrat, was on "both sides of the equation" by serving as a consultant to Sorrell's primary campaign against T.J. Donovan and by narrating TV and radio ads for a purportedly independent PAC that supported Sorrell, the Committee for Justice and Fairness.
He also targeted Sorrell for not having his office investigate the allegations and Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin for not ordering an independent investigation when Jack Lindley, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, raised similar allegations in September.
Dean had previously denied any wrongdoing; a Dean aide said Thursday he was traveling and wouldn't be available for comment. In an interview Thursday, Sorrell also denied doing anything illegal.
McMullen made his comments at a news conference a day after he filed papers with the Chittenden Superior Court asking for an emergency court order including "a determination of whether the expenditure of $194,000" by the PAC supporting Sorrell in the primary constituted "a related expenditure in violation of the Vermont campaign finance law.
At issue is a state campaign finance law that limits contributions to and expenditures by candidates and says that when independent political groups make expenditures supporting candidates there must be no coordination between those groups and the candidates or their campaigns.
McMullen said Dean had served as a consultant to Sorrell's primary campaign against Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan and had worked with the independent PAC Committee for Justice and Fairness by narrating its television and radio ads supporting Sorrell.
Sorrell acknowledged Thursday that he had had breakfast with Dean several months ago and that Dean offered him some general advice about his primary campaign.
"The grand extent of the advice Howard Dean gave me was over a breakfast we had at least six months ago. We were talking about the primary. He said, ‘You've got to hold your own, not lose badly, out of Chittenden County and pick off a bunch of other counties, and you'll be fine.'"
Both Sorrell and Donovan come from Burlington, the county seat and largest city in Chittenden County, Vermont's most populous area. Sorrell said he readily agreed with Dean's analysis because it was both correct and obvious.
Sorrell said that bit of advice, combined with Dean's later involvement in the PAC adds supporting Sorrell, did not constitute anything close to illegal coordination between his campaign and the PAC.
"I had no idea they were going to do anything on my behalf," he said, adding that the first he knew the PAC had created campaign ads supporting him was when reporters called to ask him for comment about them.
"If this is how he's going to act as attorney general ... taking up the court's time without any evidence to support the charge, buyer beware. Or voter beware, I guess," Sorrell said.