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Vt. Court Upholds Ruling: Political Group Didn’t Register

Montpelier, Vt. — A Democratic advocacy group violated the state’s campaign finance laws by running television ads against the Republican candidate for governor in 2010 without registering as a political action committee, the state Supreme Court said on Friday, upholding a lower court ruling.

The Supreme Court also ordered a lower court to reconsider the $10,000 civil penalty it imposed on the group, Green Mountain Future, which received most of its funding from the Democratic Governors Association.

During the last months of the 2010 political campaign, the group spent more than $500,000 on political advertisements attacking Republican candidate Brian Dubie. The ads ran more than 4,000 times in September and October of that year.

Green Mountain Future argued its advertisements were purely issue advocacy and didn’t seek to affect the outcome of the race between Dubie and Democrat Peter Shumlin, who were running for an open seat. Shumlin won that race and was re-elected in 2012.

The State Attorney General’s Office argued the group’s ads were designed to defeat Dubie “although they did not state so explicitly.”

“The State argues that (Green Mountain Future)’s advertisements were transparently employed to defeat the candidacy of Brian Dubie for Governor — indeed, they could have no other purpose — although they did not state so explicitly,” said the decision, written by Justice John Dooley.

A telephone call seeking comment from the Democratic Governors Association was not immediately returned on Friday.

Following the 2010 campaign, the Attorney General’s Office filed similar complaints against Democratic and Republican advocacy groups on the grounds they violated the state’s campaign finance laws.

In its original lawsuit, the state sought a $100,000 penalty from Green Mountain Future. But the lower court imposed a $10,000 penalty. The Supreme Court ordered the lower court to reconsider the amount of the penalty.