Vermont, Planned Parenthood settle campaign complaints


MONTPELIER -- An affiliate of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England will pay $30,000 to the state of Vermont to settle a claim that it violated the state's campaign finance laws in 2010.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell said the group's PPNNE Action Fund spent about $119,000 on political advertisements advocating against Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Dubie without filing the required reports at the secretary of state's office.

The attorney general said the fund also got contributions from individual donors in amounts greater than the $2,000 limit allowed by law.

Planned Parenthood had argued the Action Fund was an independent-expenditure committee not bound by the contribution limits in the campaign finance law, but agreed to the settlement to avoid the cost of litigation.

Vermont law requires all PACs to register and file reports of their expenditures. While the law also limits the size of contributions to all PACs, the attorney general is not enforcing the contribution limits on PACs that engage in only independent expenditures -- those not connected with any campaign.

Assistant Attorney General Eve Jacobs-Carnahan said the office adopted that enforcement policy in July 2012 after the U.S. District Court for Vermont said such limits might not be constitutional. That decision, in a case brought by the Vermont Right to Life Committee, is currently on appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

Jacobs-Carnahan said a separate campaign finance arm affiliated with PPNNE, PPNNE VT-PAC, was not alleged to have violated the law.

But in a statement, the attorney general's office said there was "significant overlap" between PPNNE VT-PAC, and the Action Fund.

The attorney general maintained "a full examination of the operations of PPNNE Action Fund and PPNNE VT-PAC would reveal significant overlap in their planning, activities, and finances, which would establish that PPNNE Action Fund did not make only independent political expenditures."

The 2010 campaign marked the first time since 2002 Vermont had an open seat in the governor's office, and the hard-fought contest, won by Democrat Peter Shumlin, triggered several allegations the campaign finance law had been violated:

-- Green Mountain Future -- affiliated with the Democratic Governors' Association -- was found to have violated the law by skipping campaign finance reporting requirements and failing to fully identify itself in advertisements.

-- The Republican Governors' Association was found to have improperly shared polling information with Dubie's campaign.

-- A separate complaint similar to the one brought against Planned Parenthood is still pending against the RGA in Washington County Superior Court, Jacobs-Carnahan said.

PPNNE spokesman Nick Carter said the group and its affiliated political arms had tried to comply with the law.

"Planned Parenthood of Northern New England Action Fund was one of many groups that misinterpreted Vermont's finance laws during the 2010 gubernatorial election, which due to the evolving case law were unclear at the time," Carter said in an email. "We have since worked closely with the Vermont attorney general's office to ensure we are in compliance, and will continue to do so. "


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