MONTPELIER, Vt. — Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ request to his supporters to donate to a candidate for the state Legislature did not violate the state’s campaign finance laws, Democratic Attorney General William Sorrell concluded.
State Republican Party vice chairman Brady Toensing had filed a complaint with Sorrell’s office targeting Sanders’ May 24 email to supporters, which netted Progressive state Rep. Christopher Pearson, a state Senate candidate, more than $80,000 for his campaign. Toensing said the email from Sanders, who at the time was a Democratic presidential candidate, went to more than 5 million recipients and should have been treated as having financial value.
Sorrell said the email “was not express advocacy” for the election of Pearson.
“As a result, the email does not meet the definition of the type of speech regulated by the Vermont statute, particularly given the First Amendment protections for certain types of advocacy in campaigns,” Sorrell said Tuesday in a statement concluding his investigation.
Toensing said Sorrell’s comment missed the point of his complaint.
“He responded to an allegation that wasn’t made in order to maneuver out of having to pursue this case,” he said.
Toensing’s complaint, filed in August, said the value of Sanders’ solicitation for Pearson exceeded $1,500, the limit under state law for donations to state Senate candidates.
“How can a scheme that results in $80,000 flooding into a political candidate’s account be anything but a contribution?” Toensing asked.
He said it meets the definition of a contribution, even if Sanders didn’t directly write a check to Pearson’s campaign for one of six Senate seats representing Chittenden County.
Pearson was one of several state and local candidates around the country identified in Sanders’ email as worthy of his backers’ support.
Sorrell said one reason the email stayed within the state’s campaign finance laws was that, while it sought donations to Pearson, it did not explicitly urge voters to support him at the polls.
Sorrell said of Sanders’ email that “its central and sole purpose was to raise funds for particular candidates, not to request that its readers vote a particular way or for a particular candidate.”