Tag Archives: Bill Sorrell

Vermont to recover millions in tobacco settlement

MONTPELIER — The state will receive $14 million in civil penalties and legal relief from tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds following a 2005 lawsuit, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell announced Monday.

The state sued the company over unsubstantiated advertising claims about the health consequences of one of its products.

A trial court ruled in 2010 that the company did not conduct sufficient scientific studies to support an advertising claim that a non-traditional cigarette, known as Eclipse, would reduce a smoker’s chance of developing cancer. The court awarded the state $8.3 million in civil penalties for the violations and issued a permanent injunction against Reynolds to prevent similar conduct in the future.

The court was in the process of considering the State’s request for attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in the lawsuit when the parties reached a settlement, according to Sorrell.

Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell

Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell

Under the the terms of the settlement, the company will pay the state $8.3 million in civil penalties. The remaining amount will cover attorneys’ fees and costs and will be divided among the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, other state attorneys general offices and a private attorney that worked on the lawsuit, along with the National Association of Attorneys General Tobacco Enforcement Fund, which advanced funds for the lawsuit.

The permanent injunction against Reynolds will remain in effect.

“This was a long and hard, but successful fight. Reynolds crossed the line and it cost them. At a time when tobacco companies are trying to find ways to hook new smokers, Vermont has sent a message that advertising tobacco products with unsubstantiated health-benefit claims is illegal and will not be tolerated,” said Sorrell said in a statement.

Reynolds made its “less risk” claims in print ads placed in nationwide publications, on a website promoting the product, in direct mail materials sent to Vermont consumers and on cigarette packages of Eclipse sold in Vermont.

Democratic PAC settles with state

MONTPELIER — A Democratic PAC must may a $30,000 penalty for violating the state’s campaign finance law during the 2010 election.

Green Mountain Future, a political action committee created by the Democratic Governors Association has settled with the state for the $30,000 penalty, Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell announced Wednesday.

The settlement, which has been approved by the Vermont Superior Court, requires GMF to pay the state a civil penalty of $20,000 for failing to include its address on its website or in television ads that ran during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign. GMF must also pay a $10,000 penalty the court had previously imposed for not registering as a PAC and filing campaign finance reports.

“Voters are legally entitled to know who is seeking to influence them,” Sorrell said a statement. “PACs need to obey the laws. They cannot hide. They must disclose their identity, including their address, their donors, and their expenditures, to the extent required by law.”

GMF spent more than $500,000 during the 2010 campaign on political ads. Television ads attacking Republican candidate Brian Dubie, the state’s former lieutenant governor, aired thousands of times but did not include complete identifying information. The public had no way of knowing who was behind the ads because GMF did not file required reports, Sorrell said.

The Vermont Superior Court determined that GMF violated Vermont’s campaign finance laws in Dec. 2011 but did not impose a financial penalty for its failure to fully identify itself in ads.

The Vermont Supreme Court then ruled in September that the lower court erred in not imposing a penalty. In its decision the Vermont Supreme Court said “the difficulty of calculating a penalty [does not] mean that no penalty can be awarded.”

The case returned to the trial court for consideration of an appropriate penalty. The settlement announced Wednesday closes out the only remaining issue in the enforcement action, Sorrell said.

Donovan campaign says victory or concession speech won’t happen Tuesday night

TJ Donovan supporter Steve Howard said the the Democratic primary race for attorney general could keep going into late Tuesday night or Wednesday, and a victory or concession speech would not happen Tuesday night.

With 244 of 258 precincts reporting, 95 percent of precinct areas, Donovan reached 20,000 votes to incumbent Bill Sorrell’s 20,615, making the margin 49 percent to 51 percent.

Gallery

One part of Hilton Burlington swarming with Donovan supporters

This gallery contains 2 photos.

BURLINGTON — A conference room for Democratic primary attorney general candidate T.J. Donovan has some 125 or more people, ranging from politicians to office workers and supporters. There’s standing room only, and people are hovering over iPhones to check AP … Continue reading

Donovan campaign bustling

BURLINGTON — A conference room filled with T.J. Donovan supporters at the Hilton Burlington is buzzing with chatter as precinct results for the Democratic attorney general race are rolling out.

With 23 percent of the precincts reporting, incumbent Bill Sorrell had 51 percent of the vote, and Donovan had 49 percent, according to unofficial figures. The crowd applauded after previously giving a “boo” in unison because another tally showed Sorrell with a wider margin.

Former Gov. Phil Hoff is here, and the crowd hovered around a standing up flatscreen with TV news updates scrolling on the screen.

Donovan is walking into the room now.

Donovan campaign lingers for results

Time will soon tell how much T.J. Donovan’s efforts paid off.

The 38-year-old has sought to oust an incumbent with 15 years on the job, perhaps the most competitive race Attorney General Bill Sorrell has ever seen for an office he first landed through an appointment.

Donovan secured numerous endorsements, ranging from two police associations of the state and Republican mayors of Rutland and Barre. And he apparently out-raised and out-spent Sorrell in campaign dollars.

Continue reading

Suspense in AG primary building as polls near close

Fifteen years after assuming statewide office, Attorney General Bill Sorrell today faces the first election-night suspense of his political career.

Since being appointed to the post by then-Gov. Howard Dean in 1997, Sorrell has won less than 60 percent of the popular vote only twice, and has never trailed his closest competitor by fewer than 25 points.

But Sorrell had also never faced a name-brand competitor, and in the estimation of one longtime political strategist, his campaign muscles had “completely atrophied.”

We’ll find out later tonight whether Sorrell, 65, managed to work himself into fighting shape, or if challenger TJ Donovan will knock the seven-term incumbent out of a job.

The Vermont Press Bureau has reporters at the election-night headquarters of both candidates. I’ll be watching events unfold with the Sorrell campaign in a cozy conference room here at the Courtyard Marriott, nearby the Burlington waterfront. David Taube – it’s his first Vermont election since joining the bureau earlier this summer! – is hanging out with the Donovan camp just a stones throw away at the Burlington Hilton.

Stay with us all night for the latest on AG returns, as well as updates in other closely watched primary races.

Sorrell has 20-point lead!!! Or not…

Vermont media is atwitter this afternoon with new polling numbers on the Democratic primary for attorney general.

So what do the numbers tell us? Perhaps nothing.

The poll, which surveyed a random sample of 477 registered voters earlier this week, will certainly grab some headlines. It shows incumbent Bill Sorrell wielding a commanding 44-to-24 edge over challenger TJ Donovan.

But in a late-August primary that by most accounts will be lucky to draw 12 percent of registered voters to polls, how reliable is a poll of 477 random registered voters?

“I have serious doubts about the validity of this poll,” says Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

Even Rich Clark, director of the Castleton Polling Institute, which conducted the survey, says he wouldn’t put a ton of stock in the results.

“If the election was held by calling up people and asking their preference, Sorrell kills right?” Clark says. “But that’s not what’s going to happen. We’re going to have a low turnout and whoever turns out voters wins. I doubt the Donovan campaign look at this and says, ‘it’s over.’”

Primary voters are a tiny subset of the electorate, one whose voting behaviors differ from larger universe of voters in general elections.

“But I don’t have good scalpel to cut out those who are least likely to vote,” Clark says. “Polling in a primary race, especially where you have low turnout, is extremely difficult for that reason.”

Davis says the he’s troubled by one of the poll’s stats in particular – the percentage of respondents who say they’re “very likely” to vote in the primary. According to the poll, 59 percent of registered voters say they’ll turn out next Tuesday.

But turnout in the five-way Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2010 was only 24 percent, and most political observers say the Democratic primary this year will be lucky to draw half that. Poll respondents are notorious for inflating their likelihood of voting. ButDavissays the 59 percent number stands out nonetheless.  

“I have serious doubts about the validity of a survey which is based on a group of respondents of whom nearly 60 percent say they’re going to vote when the actual turnout is likely to be closer 10 percent,”Davissays.

Clarksays he thinks it’s a “closer race than the numbers show.”

“But if I was betting, I would bet on Sorrell,” he says. “We don’t turn away incumbents that often in primaries. And Sorrell does better with older voters, which are also more likely to turn out in primary.”

According to Clark’s poll, Sorrell also does better among voters in Chittenden County, where turnout will be highest next week. He’s also favored over Donovan among voters who voted in the 2010 primary.

“So that tells me he’s got some support among the habitual voters,”Clarksays.

The poll found that Donovan, 38, has the advantage among younger voters and women.

Davis, however, says he has a hard time putting any stock at all in the findings that deal with sub-categories of respondents. When the sample size falls below 200, Davis says, margins of error become widen enough to render the result meaningless.

As for the poll’s 44-24 findings in favor of Sorrell?

“I don’t believe that for one second,” Davis says. “My guess is it’s going to be very close next week.”

The poll found that 31 percent of would-be primary voters are undecided.

The poll also tapped the pulse of Vermonters on general election races. If the gubernatorial election were held today, Gov. Peter Shumlin would defeat his Republican challenger by a margin of 60-to-25. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, retains a 62-25 lead over Mitt Romney. Both results mirror the outcome of the CPI’s last Vermont-related poll, conducted in late February.

Donovan to pick up endorsements from Rutland County senators

TJ Donovan will head to Rutland this afternoon to pick up endorsements from the county’s three-member Senate delegation.

At 4 p.m. in Rutland City Hall, Sens. Kevin Mullin, Peg Flory and Bill Carris will throw their weight behind the 38-year-old challenger. Mullin and Flory are prominent Vermont Republicans, and it isn’t the first time Donovan has courted support from the GOP in his bid to unseat incumbent Bill Sorrell in the Democratic primary for attorney general.

He’s also won nods from Rutland City Mayor Chris Louras, who formerly served as an ‘R’ in the Legislature, and Barre City Mayor Tom Lauzon.

Sorrell, meanwhile, has his own campaign stop in Burlington, where he’ll be lavished with praise from tobacco-control advocates. The 11 a.m. press conference, at the back entrance of Fletcher Allen Health Care, will feature doctors and other anti-smoking figures lauding Sorrell his efforts on behalf of their cause.

Donovan picks up endorsements, unveils drug plan

Following a morning press conference in St. Albans at which he received endorsements from mayors past and present, TJ Donovan unveiled a prescription drug plan that he says will serve as “a cornerstone policy of his campaign.”

St. Albans has become a poster city for Vermont’s prescription drug problem, with local officials attributing chronic public-safety issues to rampant opiate abuse.

Former St. Albans mayors Peter Deslauriers and Martin Manahan, as well as current mayor, Liz Gamache, all formally endorsed Donovan today.  

You might remember Manahan from the 2010 cycle, when the Democrat enthusiastically endorsed Republican Brian Dubie. Manahan was so hot on Shumlin’s rival that he was featured in a 30-second TV spot entitled “Democrats for Dubie.”

“The last thing Brian cares about is what party I belong to,” Manahan said in the ad. “He cares about our community and the state ofVermont.”

This year, Manahan is a Democrat for Donovan.

“TJ has fought alongside us in the battle against the number one criminal activity our state is facing,” Manahan said in a release from the Donovan campaign. “We need an Attorney General that has not lost the connection to our local communities.”

Manahan had some rough words for Bill Sorrell, who has, according the former mayor, been a no-show in St. Albans, despite the city’s well-chronicled narcotics woes.

“I was disappointed that during my six years as mayor, I never had any contact from Attorney General Sorrell,” Manahan said. “I think the highest ranking member in theVermont law enforcement community should have offered his support in our efforts fighting the prescription drug epidemic our community was facing.”

Manahan’s comments, and the Donovan campaign’s decision to feature them so prominently in a press release, spotlight the challenger’s newfound willingness to go more directly after Sorrell’s record.

The release comes literally one day after Donovan, at Sorrell’s behest, signed a “positive campaign pledge.”

In doing so, Donovan has vowed not to “engage in, permit or condone any negative or defamatory attacks upon my opponent’s character.”

Donovan looks to be on safe ground here, with Manahan’s jab directed at Sorrell’s job as AG, not his constitution as a human being.

Anyway, here’s the text of Donovan’s prescription drug plan:

 

Sharing Our Common Responsibility
Building an Informed Community Solution to Vermont’s Prescription Drug Problem

Vermont is facing a drug epidemic that is damaging our communities. Drugs like Oxycontin, Oxycodone, and other opiates have risen to the top of the most abused drugs in Vermont.

Drug-induced death rates nationwide have tripled since 1990 (1). Over-the-counter prescription drugs account for approximately 40 deaths each day (2). For the first time ever in 2009, drug deaths outnumbered traffic fatalities in the United States (3). Some of these drugs, like relative newcomer Fentanyl, can be up to 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine (4).

According to a July 23, 2011 report by Sam Hemingway in the Burlington Free Press, based on information from the Vermont Dept. of Health, in 2010 prescription opiate overdose deaths accounted for more than half of all fatal drug overdoses in Vermont for the sixth consecutive year (5). The report indicated that in 2010 more people were prosecuted in Federal court in Vermont for illicit trafficking in oxycodone and other opiates than any other drug. The report also indicated that Vermont ranks second in the country, behind only Maine, in per-capita treatment admissions for addiction to opiates. The report indicated that the number of Vermonters looking for treatment for addiction to opiates has jumped by 300% since 2005. In 2008, Vermont ranked 31st among the states in rate of drugs overdose deaths per 100,000 population (6).

More importantly, the demand for these drugs drives crime. In Chittenden County, we continue to grapple with petty crime, home intrusions, robberies, break-ins and thefts involving drug-addicted individuals looking for the closest medicine cabinet or source of funds to feed their addiction.

Clearly, there is work to be done and the office of Attorney General should play an important role in leading the charge in addressing prescription drug abuse. Our next Attorney General can do more for Vermont.

My plan addresses these issues by staying watchful for signs of abuse, offering relief and support to those who ask for help, providing safe disposal for medications, and offering sanctuary to those in danger.

GOOD SAMARITAN LAW:
We can no longer turn away from the epidemic that is killing our neighbors. Vermont cannot afford to lose another life in this battle against addiction. As Attorney General, I will work with law enforcement, community organizations and the legislature to establish a “Good Samaritan Law,” which will allow individuals who are overdosing on prescription drugs to seek emergency medical help without the fear of facing charges. We should not prosecute those who seek sanctuary in this way for the pills in their pocket.

We have long been tough crime. Now we need to be smart on crime. To be smart on crime we must focus on treatment, provide support services and ensure that law enforcement is informed about addiction issues. The Attorney General should lead on this issue and work together with local communities to change the way we handle drug abuse here in Vermont.

OPIATE SCREENING:
Vermont must improve its drug screening capabilities. Screening for heroin, cocaine and marijuana is now common, and screening for opiates must be as well. We must work to prevent the escalating cost of life associated with opiate overdoses and deaths. As Attorney General, I will work shoulder to shoulder with Vermont’s medical community and drug screening organizations as well as recovery and addiction organizations like Spectrum and the Lund Family Center. We can collaboratively re-build our criminal justice system with a foundational rock of treatment, not the shifting sands of incarceration.

MORE BEDS FOR TREATMENT:
Vermont must focus on treatment and rehabilitation. We must meet the needs of addicted Vermonters. When we fail to commit needed resources, we not only fail our neighbors, but we also put our communities at risk.

As Attorney General, I will work aggressively with the Department of Health, Governor Shumlin and others to make sure that more treatment beds are available. Being smart on crime means committing to having resources and systems available to help people get back on their feet and become productive members of society. Now is the time for the Attorney General to lead the way, fight to keep our communities whole and healthy, and make sure we have the resources to treat people in need.

PILL TAKE BACK:
The most dangerous drugs in the house are the ones you forgot you had. Many times, these pills are leftovers from past surgeries or are prescriptions that have long run out. Currently, we are relying on the federal government, which has begun organizing “Pill Take Back Days” in some communities. We must be more aggressive. As Attorney General, I will work with local law enforcement, pharmacists, and the medical community to develop and implement a simple plan for easy, safe and secure disposal of these highly addictive drugs and an aggressive outreach program to educate Vermonters about the importance of safe prescription drug disposal.

Donovan secures coveted endorsement from archaeologists

With only about three weeks until primary day, everyone has been on pins and needles awaiting candidate endorsements from …. theVermont Professional Archaeologists Association?

Turns out the executive board of this small trade group likes to swim in political waters. TJ Donovan is their man in the AG primary, and they had some pretty harsh words for Bill Sorrell.

Specifically, the archaeologists took issue with Sorrell’s opposition to federal recognition for the Abenaki.  

“It is inconceivable that Mr. Sorrell would fight against Abenaki recognition, yet he did,” VPAA Chairman Andrew Beupre said in a press release. “Given the undisputed fact that Vermont’s Native American community suffered a systematic program of state sponsored forced sterilization during much of the last century, not to mention 400 years of conquest and near genocide, we find in unforgivable for a public official to take a stand against contemporary Abenaki recognition and the basic dignity that such would impart upon a community.”

Sorrell said he has a strong record on civil rights, and that federal guidelines are to blame for the Abenakis’ plight, not him.

“I just followed the law,” Sorrell said Sunday. “You have to meet the requirements of federal law to receive the benefits of federal recognition, and quite simply the group seeking recognition did not meet those criteria.”

Peter Shumlin and Vince Illuzzi won nods from the VPAA in their races for governor and auditor, respectively.

Beupre said he realizes that archaeologists might not seem like a significant voting bloc, but that members of the profession decided to get involved politically a few years ago to voice their disdain for the Act 250 revisions sought by former Gov. James Douglas.

“They were going to seriously affect the ability of the state ofVermontto preserve its archaeological resources,” Beupre said. “We were concerned about mothballing and sideliningVermont’s history.”

The association’s membership numbers in the low dozens, and, according to Beupre, “we don’t raise money and we don’t donate money.”

But the group will be sending it’s slate of endorsements to its email list – which includes groups like historical societies – to encourage them to vote for the candidates.

Donovan campaign apologizes for absentee ballot mistake

Gail Speno, a loyal supporter of Bill Sorrell, will be headed to the Brattleboro polls on Aug. 28 to cast a vote for the incumbent attorney general.

So she was surprised to learn recently that someone had asked the local town clerk to send her and her husband, Francis, an absentee ballot for the Democratic primary.

Even more surprising, Speno said Sunday, is that the request came from the campaign of TJ Donovan.

“I got a call from (Brattleboro Town Clerk) Annette Cappy two weeks ago, and she said she had received an email from ‘Ward’ at the Donovan campaign and that our name was on it, along with 22 other names, requesting that absentee ballots be mailed to us,” Speno recalled.

Speno said Cappy knows she and her husband generally show up in person on Election Day, “so she was calling to confirm that we in fact wanted them sent.”

“I said, ‘my god no.’ And they I said, ‘who is this guy?’” Speno said.

Donovan campaign manager Ryan Emerson has since apologized to Speno for what he said was a “mistake.”

“We have hundreds of volunteers working for us and either when they’re knocking on doors or making phone calls, when we identify a confirmed Donovan supporter, we ask them if they’d like to vote early,” Emerson says.

If they do, Emerson says, then the volunteer fills out an absentee ballot request on their behalf and sends it to the voter’s local town clerk.

“In this instance, it seems like a mistake was made, and we apologize for it,” Emerson said Sunday.

Though Speno isn’t actively volunteering for Sorrell, she and her husband are friends with Sorrell’s campaign manager, Mike Pieciak, as well as his campaign treasurer, Kate O’Connor.

Speno said she worries the same mistake might have happened to other people, “and because they haven’t requested them they’re going to think it’s junk mail and they’re going to throw them away.”

Contacted at home Sunday, Secretary of State Jim Condos said he’s aware of the incident but couldn’t offer any further comment.

“We’re looking into it,” Condos said.

Emerson said that while he feels bad about what happened to the Spenos, the Donovan campaign stands firmly behind the practice of requesting absentee ballots on voters’ behalves.

“We’ve done tens of thousands of calls so far and processed hundreds of absentee ballot requests,” Emerson said. “There will be mistakes made along the way, and this was one of them.”

Pieciak said the Sorrell campaign has a different approach. In most instances, he said, the campaign sends the ballot-request forms directly to voters.

“That way they can request it themselves,” said Pieciak, who said the secretary of state’s office prefers that tactic. “It cuts down on confusion, and allows the town clerk to know with certainty that this person is in fact requesting a ballot.”

Emerson said Pieciak’s strategy is one of the reasons Sorrell is going to lose. Filling out absentee request forms for voters has long been the convention in political races, according to Emerson, who worked as regional field director for the Vermont Democratic Party in 2010 and as deputy field organizer for Shumlin for Governor in the 2010 primary.

“This is the exact scientific field program that virtually everyone I know of in the state of Vermontuses,” Emerson said. “You want to be aggressive on the early vote front, therefore we train all our volunteers to ask possible supporters if they want us to request absentee ballots on their behalf.”

Said Emerson: “We do not apologize for running an aggressive early vote program – it’s what’s going to win us this election.”

AG race dustup over absentee ballot requests

Sorrell, William

Attorney General Bill Sorrell / Stefan Hard photo

Gail Speno, a loyal supporter of Bill Sorrell, will be headed to the Brattleboro polls on Aug. 28 to cast a vote for the incumbent attorney general.
So she was surprised to learn recently that someone had asked the local town clerk to send her and her husband, Francis, an absentee ballot for the Democratic primary.
Even more surprising, Speno said Sunday, is that the request came from the campaign of TJ Donovan.
“I got a call from (Brattleboro Town Clerk) Annette Cappy two weeks ago, and she said she had received an email from ‘Ward’ at the Donovan campaign and that our name was on it, along with 22 other names, requesting that absentee ballots be mailed to us,” Speno recalled.
Speno said Cappy knows she and her husband generally show up in person on Election Day, “so she was calling to confirm that we in fact wanted them sent. I said, ‘my God, no.’ And then I said, ‘who is this guy?’” Continue reading

Poll ignites tit for tat in AG race

We just got an email from Bill Sorrell, sent to media outlets and written as a letter to TJ Donovan. The letter asks Donovan to release the questions included in a poll (which Sorrell frames as a ‘push poll’ based on coverage by Seven Days, more on that in a sec) that had been performed by an out-of-state polling firm, and was reported by two Sorrell partisans. For the full Seven Days article by Paul Heintz, click here. Donovan denies the poll was anything but a rigorous survey.

The poll cost $10,000. Sorrell’s letter is below the fold. Continue reading

Sorrell makes it official: Super PACs fair game in 2012

Rarely do prosecutors give the go-ahead to violate state laws. But in an advisory opinion issued Wednesday afternoon, Attorney General Bill Sorrell let it be known that he won’t be enforcing aVermont statute that imposes $2,000 contribution limits on independent-expenditure political action committees.

While he supports the limits in concept, Sorrell said recent federal court decisions render Vermont’s statute constitutionally indefensible. Sorrell’s advisory opens the door to unlimited independent expenditures in poltiical races this year, heralding the arrival here of the same statutory landscape that has inspired the creation of super PACs in federal races.

“I remain deeply troubled by Citizen United’s unduly cramped understanding of the potential for corruption caused by the flow of large sums of money through all types of PACs in elections,” Sorrell said.

But the state of Vermont, he said, can’t go its own way on this one. Montana recently sought to uphold state limits on contributions to PACs, Citizens United notwithstanding, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck them down.  

Enforcing the $2,000 limits on PACs that have no coordination with the candidates themselves, Sorrell said, would spawn costly, and unwinnable, legal battles for Vermont.

“By announcing the office’s position on the issue, it is my goal to provide advance guidance to PACs and all participants in this election cycle and take meaningful steps to avoid potentially costly litigation,” he said.