Rainville staffer resigns over plagiarized policy statements

Vermont Republican House candidate Martha Rainville has parted ways with a campaign staffer who she said plagiarized policy statements from other politicians that ended up on her website.

A Vermont political blog was the first to report on the lifted statements, which appeared to have been drawn from readily available online transcripts of speeches and media appearances of two Democrats, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), as well as a Republican candidate in Colorado.

Rainville’s office learned of the allegations Monday and policy research staffer Chris Stewart resigned immediately, the candidate said. Rainville said her staff is investigating whether anyone else was involved in or knew about the plagiarism and whether any other statements were pilfered. She said Stewart is cooperating.

Rainville’s campaign website was shut down Monday afternoon for revisions and remained unavailable at press time Tuesday afternoon.

“The statements themselves, the concepts, the programs all reflect what I support and my thoughts, where I want to head with these issues,” Rainville told The Hill. “But obviously the precise wording was taken from other people, and it is completely unacceptable. I’m very sorry that this has happened. We are trying our best to correct it.”

The statements are very similar to those Clinton made in a speech at the National Press Club in May, a policy paper dated July 2006 on Colorado 7th District Republican candidate Rick O’Donnell’s website, and remarks Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) made on PBS’s “NOW” in August.

The blog Reason and Brimstone first posted the similarities on Sunday after a contributor discovered them while researching the race, according to the blog.

Some of the sentences on Rainville’s website are word-for-word facsimiles of the other politicians’ statements, while others differ by a few words. One contains the same grammatical error, using the singular pronoun “it” to refer to the plural noun “secrets.”

Rainville said Stewart was responsible for writing the final drafts of policy statements after extensive consultation with her and the campaign’s policy directors.

The former adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, Rainville is in a close race with Democratic state Senate President Pro Tem Peter Welch for the seat of Senate candidate Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Polls have shown the two virtually tied for months, though Welch has led by single digits in recent polls.

Rainville is among a handful of Republicans with realistic takeover opportunities (Sanders caucuses with Democrats) in an environment that appears to favor Democrats. A Rainville victory could help Republicans hold the House by offsetting losses in other districts around the country.

The Vermont Democratic Party seized on the plagiarism charges Monday.

“For someone who has made ethics the cornerstone of her campaign, today’s revelations are particularly deplorable,” Coordinated Campaign Director Bill Lofy said in statement. “From the outset of her campaign, Martha Rainville has been unwilling to discuss the issues that matter to Vermonters. Sadly, even when Rainville is able to talk about substantive issues, she uses words stolen from other politicians.”

Middlebury College political science professor and state politics expert Eric Davis said he doesn’t expect the plagiarism charges to measurably hurt Rainville’s candidacy.

“I really don’t think people are going to decide who to vote for in the House come the first week of November based on a staffer plagiarizing web pages, which was discovered in October,” Davis said.

He said the developing scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley’s (R-Fla.) inappropriate sexual electronic exchanges with congressional pages poses a bigger threat for Rainville.

To win in a blue state like Vermont, Rainville has tried to establish her independence from the national Republican Party despite its role in trying to get her elected. With the GOP leadership’s admitted prior knowledge of some of Foley’s communications, Welch could use the scandal to tarnish Rainville, Davis said.