News & Politics

Vendetta: Bernie Sanders Brought the Power of the State on Vt. Business Owner Behind Attack Ad

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during the CNN Democratic Presidential Primary Debate with Hillary Clinton at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on Thursday, April 14, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an early leader in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary (if the DNC doesn’t disqualify him for being an Independent), stands accused of weaponizing his U.S. Senate office to persecute business owner Radolphe “Skip” Vallee after Vallee launched an attack ad in September 2014. A week later, Sanders’ press aide Daniel McLean met with the Vermont Attorney General’s office.

According to a court motion filed by Vallee last week, either Sanders or McLean suggested the AG bring a case against the business owner “just to make a point.”

While Attorney General Bill Sorrell decided not to sue the business owner, Vallee presented documents showing that McLean corresponded with attorneys from two firms interested in bringing a class-action suit against him. In June 2015, the firms filed a $100 million class-action lawsuit against the business owner and three other companies, accusing them of price-fixing, Seven Days Vermont reported.

Vallee owns more than 45 gas stations in Vermont and neighboring states. He is a prominent Republican donor who served as ambassador to Slovakia under George W. Bush.

The price-fixing lawsuit is still ongoing. Vallee filed a subpoena to force McLean to testify in the discovery process, but Sanders’ press aide filed a motion to quash this. The most recent motion — in which Vallee charged that Sanders used the power of his office to satisfy a vendetta against him — requested that the judge reject McLean’s motion to quash the subpoena.

Sanders’ office argued that Vallee’s subpoena was a “fishing expedition.”

“Far from being a ‘fishing expedition’, R.L. Vallee has demonstrated a sufficient need to discover the extent and motivation of Mr. McLean’s (and the Senator’s) repeated apparent efforts to bring price-fixing and other antitrust enforcement actions against R.L. Vallee over a period of years,” the business owner countered.

“The Civil Action may well have been brought forward based upon political considerations, rather than actual evidence of an anti-competitive conspiracy. This would clearly tend to exculpate R.L. Vallee. While this animus and bias against R.L. Vallee is no secret, their extent can only be ascertained through discovery,” he argued.

While it may seem odd for a senator to target a business owner over political animus, the gas station mogul’s hard-hitting ad may provide an explanation. The September 2014 anti-Sanders television spot aimed right at the heart of the senator’s appeal to voters in the 2016 Democratic primary.

The ad opens with Sanders’s attacks on “the rich,” specifically the senator’s condemnation of “golden parachutes.” Then the spot turns to his wife, Jane Sanders, who received a $200,000 golden parachute while leaving Burlington College after a notorious land deal that bankrupted the institution. (She will not face charges in the case.)

The seeming attacks against Vallee go back to 2012, when Sanders approached the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) seeking evidence that Burlington gas stations were charging too much for gas. The FTC found that the local gas prices fell in line with their expected margins, but Sanders’ office still issued a press release headlined, “Burlington Gas Prices Exceed FTC Projections.”

Vallee argued that “it strains credulity that Mr. McLean’s official duties as a press aide for a United States Senator (or even the duties of the United States Senator himself) included (among other activities): attempting to persuade the FTC or Vermont Attorney General’s Office to bring a public enforcement action against Vermont companies; lobbying the Vermont Legislature to enact legislation against a constituent; or coordinating with Washington, D.C.-based counsel to develop a private, class-action litigation against Vermont constituents (‘just to make a point’).”

If this is indeed an abuse of power to persecute a dissenter and local businessman, it falls in line with the activities of oppressive socialist and communist governments. Under the Soviet Union, this kind of vendetta would have been abetted by an organization like the FTC, even in the face of evidence.

Thankfully, Sanders has not remade America in his Marxist image — at least not yet. “Socialism” may sound good to many, but entrusting the government with massive power will result in corruption like this. Sanders’s actions here seem utterly despicable, but if his ideology were to prevail, they may become commonplace.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.