By Sara Puls
State v. Green Mountain Future, 2013 VT 87
It’s like the old song says:
Put 'em together and who do you vote for?
. . .
Magic words often have a specific, and sometimes unintended, effect. They are often nonsensical phrases, used in fantasy fiction, requested by parents in response to ill-mannered children, and certain comic book heroes use magic words to activate their super powers. Here, “vote for,” “elect,” “support,” “cast your ballot for,” “Bob for Congress,” “vote against,” “defeat,” “reject,” or any variations thereof, were traditionally the eight “magic words” set forth by the United States Supreme Court to open the gateway to the magical world of Express Advocacy-land (which the SCOTUS locates somewhere between Tomorrow-land and the Enchanted Forest).
Here in Vermont’s mystical land of politics, today’s case is an appeal of a summary judgment decision of the trial court, which found that, even without saying the magic words, Appellant opened the door to Political Action Committee-land, and thus, violated a number of provisions of the Vermont campaign finance laws during the 2010 election.
In the 2010 general election, then-Lieutenant Governor, Republican Brian Dubie was running for Governor against the Democrat Peter Shumlin. An “issue advocacy organization” (almost entirely funded by the Democratic Governors Association) registered with the IRS pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 527 with a stated purpose, “to communicate with the citizens of Vermont about economic, environmental, and other issues of importance without expressly advocating the election or defeat of any candidate.”
In September and October of 2010, this organization ran television ads staring, non-other than, Dubie as the champion of the ever-so-popular Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station. In an attempt to skirt PAC status and Vermont campaign laws, the ads did not mention the upcoming election for Governor, nor Dubie’s candidacy, and it did not urge voters to vote for a particular candidate. Rather, they just portrayed Dubie as a simple, VT Yankee-loving guy, who merely hates Vermont and wants everyone to burn in a fiery nuclear disaster. You know, we report, you decide stuff.