Campaign Finance Complaint Lodged Against Village PAC
by Ken Signorello
December 5, 2020
Essex resident Brian Shelden has filed a campaign finance complaint with the Vermont Attorney General against a local PAC* called “Resist the Urge to Merge”.
Shelden's complaint is based on his assumption that flyers were delivered door-to-door to every voter in the Village of Essex Junction and that this must have cost more than the reporting threshold for PACs. After a PAC spends $1,000, filing and reporting is required. 17 V.S.A. §2901(13) 17 V.S.A. § 2971 (d)(1)
The flyer in question was a door hanger with quotes from Town and Village officials voicing concerns in public meetings about the Town/Village merger plan, which was on the Nov. 3rd Village-only ballot.
The flyer also references sections of the lengthy merger charter that many residents may not have read.
Shelden cites two individuals in his complaint: Ed Daudelin, whose address was on the flyer, and Irene Wrenner, who was seen distributing them.
Daudelin is a long-time Village resident and a Vietnam War veteran who opposes the Town/Village Merger. He was a candidate for Vermont House Representative (8-2) on the Republican ticket this November.
When asked about his involvement in the PAC, he indicated that he lent his address and helped with the flyer creation but made no monetary contribution himself.
Daudelin notes, as an aside, that the Town/Village Clerk failed to post the proposed plan of merger in public venues within the statutorily-required 30 days before the vote.
Wrenner is a well-known Town of Essex activist, former 12-year Essex Selectboard member, and publisher of The Essex Retorter. She acknowledged helping to distribute the flyer, along with Village residents, but made no monetary contribution herself.
Shelden is a Town-outside-the-Village resident and was an unsuccessful Demcratic candidate for the House (8-1) in August. He is also chair of the Essex Democrats.
“The complaint is frivolous. The ‘Resist the Urge to Merge’ effort, which involved eight Village homeowners, spent less than $200, well below the required reporting threshold”, says Wrenner.
“We’re in the midst of a world-wide pandemic, not to mention the state of Vermont is essentially broke,” she said. “Yet, some folks are requiring the Attorney General’s office to spend precious resources fighting their petty personal political battles?”
Neither Daudelin nor Wrenner were contacted by Shelden prior to filing his complaint. Attempts to reach Shelden for comment were unsuccessful.
In addition to Shelden’s complaint, PAC member Daudelin said that, after distribution of the flyer began, he was visited in person and without invitation by Elaine Haney, Essex Selectboard Chair, who attempted to change his mind about the merger.
Daudelin continues to feel that the Town has taken too much from the Village, and he supports separation because that would provide instant tax relief.
In addition to his complaint against the anti-merger PAC, Shelden funded the lion’s share of a pro-merger PAC. According to filings, Village President Andrew Brown was the PAC's initial Treasurer.
His PAC produced and spent more than $1,100 on a pro-merger postcard mailing this fall. Their postcard implied that a yes vote was needed a) to gain access to the Indian Brook Park and b) for taxes to go down. Neither is true, according to public officials.
On a related note, the Village of Essex Junction spent $6,400+ on a video and mailing of its own in support of the Village-only Merger vote and did not file as a PAC. Some of the information in the Village flyer was factually incorrect, resulting in a public apology on October 8th by Village President, Andrew Brown.
The Attorney General's office found "no violation" of statute per a letter to Ed Daudelin on Dec. 10, 2020.
*According to Vermont Statutes, 17 V.S.A. §2901(13), a political action committee (PAC) is: “any formal or informal committee of two or more individuals or a corporation, labor organization, public interest group, or other entity, not including a political party, which accepts contributions of $1,000.00 or more and makes expenditures of $1,000.00 or more in any two-year general election cycle for the purpose of supporting or opposing one or more candidates, influencing an election, or advocating a position on a public question in any election, and includes an independent expenditure-only political committee.”