Sorrell pays defense attorneys out of campaign funds
Outgoing Attorney General William Sorrell has used a chunk of his leftover campaign money to pay a hefty legal bill and to make a significant contribution to the social service agency headed by his ex-wife.
Sorrell, who is not running for re-election, had more than $40,000 in his campaign coffers from previous races.
He paid $14,000 to O'Connor and Kirby, a Burlington law firm that defended him during an investigation into allegations he violated campaign finance laws and that he hired an out-of-state law firm to help the state after it gave him a campaign contribution.
Sorrell was cleared on the campaign violations by a special state commission, which said it did not have the authority to investigate the "pay to play" allegation. State law enforcement authorities declined to open a criminal investigation. Whether federal officials launched an investigation is unknown; the FBI does not comment. However, no federal charges have been filed.
Sorrell said it is legal to use excess campaign funds to pay the lawyer bill because their work related to his duties in office.
"I wanted to take this investigation seriously, so I hired people I like and respect and trust," Sorrell said in an interview.
In his campaign report filed with the Secretary of State, Sorrell also disclosed giving $10,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Burlington, where his ex-wife, Mary Alice McKenzie is the executive director.
"I have a lot of respect for the organization and a great deal of respect for Mary Alice and the work she does," Sorrell said.
He also gave $1,000 to the Kidsafe Collaborative.
The investigation of Sorrell was started after a complaint was filed by Brady Toensing, a Republican party official, following reports by Seven Days columnist Paul Heintz and the New York Times.
Sorrell was critical of both Toensing and Heintz on Friday and called the allegations "completely unfounded." The most serious charge was that Sorrell took a $10,000 campaign contribution from a Texas law firm in return for the state hiring them to work on a case involving the gasoline additive, MTBE.
Toensing said he is still attempting to have Sorrell produce evidence, including emails.
Sorrell is leaving office next year after being the longest serving attorney general in state history. He was appointed in 1997 by Gov. Howard Dean after former Attorney General Jeffrey Amestoy was selected to be on the Vermont Supreme Court. Sorrell has been re-elected 10 times since then.
He said he is considering several options, including service work overseas, after he leaves office next January.
TJ Donovan and Brooke Paige are running for the Democratic nomination and Republican Deborah Bucknam is running to succeed Sorrell.
Sorrell said he would either use the remaining campaign funds, approximately $13,000, to make contributions to other candidates, to charity, or he said he may keep it for a possible future run for the Legislature, which he said some friends have encouraged him to do sometime in the future.
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