Vermont Business Magazine A Vermont federal court has confirmed a prior ruling, in Corren versus Donovan and Condos, that Vermont’s public financing statute is constitutional. In its decision on Thursday, the Court also ruled that Plaintiffs are not entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees for the action. The case refers to the 2014 Progressive/Democrat candidate for lieutenant governor Dean Corren versus Attorney General TJ Donovan and Secretary of State Jim Condos.
The federal lawsuit was filed in 2015 in an attempt block the state from pursuing a campaign finance law enforcement action in state court. Plaintiffs also asked the Court to declare Vermont’s system for the public financing of election campaigns unconstitutional.
In March 2016, the Court granted the State’s motion to dismiss the case, refusing to interfere with the pending state enforcement action and rejecting all of Plaintiffs’ constitutional challenges to the statute. Plaintiffs then asked the Court to reconsider its ruling.
In its opinion on Thursday, the Court reiterated that state courts, not federal courts, have the authority to decide whether a mass email violated the prohibition on contributions to publicly financed candidates. The Court also reaffirmed that it is constitutional to prohibit publicly financed candidates from self-funding campaigns from their own resources.
In addition, the Court denied Plaintiffs’ request for attorneys’ fees. The Court explained that only plaintiffs who prevail on their claims may recover attorneys’ fees. Since all of Plaintiffs’ claims in the federal case were dismissed, and they failed to obtain an injunction or declaratory judgment in their favor, the Court held that they could not recover any fees or costs from the State.
The State’s enforcement action is pending in the Vermont Superior Court in Washington County. Motions for summary judgment have been filed by both parties. No hearing date has been set yet.
Donovan, taking over from his predecessor Bill Sorrell who began the action against Corren, had offered to settle the state case if Corren dropped the federal case. Donovan has had no comment on whether that settlement is still available to Corren now that he's failed in federal court.
Corren, who lost a lopsided race to then Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott, publicly funded his campaign and then sought assistance from the Democratic Party to send out an email on his behalf. Sorrell ruled that the email violated state campaign finance laws and sought a $72,000 fine against Corren.
Source: Vermont AG: April 3, 2017.