- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 1, 2016

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont’s lone representative in the U.S. House is returning $37,900 in donations from a Massachusetts law firm after the Boston Globe reported the firm’s partners received bonuses that matched their donations, his office said Tuesday.

A review of the records of Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch found that since 2008 he had received the donations from Michael Thornton, his wife and employees of the Thornton Law Firm, his office said.

Congressman Welch was disturbed to read the Boston Globe story,” Welch chief of staff Bob Rogan said. “Consistent with the paper’s reporting, he was unaware of the law firm’s internal practices related to campaign contributions. In accordance with (Federal Election Commission) guidelines for situations like this, we will immediately return these contributions.”

On Monday, the campaign of Democratic New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, who is running for the U.S. Senate, said it would return $51,000 in donations to her campaigns from the Thornton Law Firm and its employees.

Reporting by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team and the Center for Responsive Politics found that partners at the Thornton Law Firm donated nearly $1.6 million to Democratic committees and candidates from 2010 through 2014. Over that time period the lawyers received $1.4 million listed as bonuses, including more than 280 that matched their donations and were paid within 10 days.

The firm has said its donation reimbursement program was reviewed by outside lawyers and complied with relevant laws, but campaign finance experts say reimbursing people for their political donations is generally illegal.

Welch was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006. He is seeking re-election as a Democrat and as a Republican. He faces a third-party challenger.

Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Scott Milne called on Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy to return $5,000 in contributions from the law firm from 2003. He said Leahy should follow the lead of Welch and other Democrats “who have recognized the impropriety” of keeping the contributions.

“It is shameful, but typical, that Sen. Leahy refuses to return this tainted money,” Milne said in an emailed statement.

Leahy’s campaign said it believed Milne was referring to three donors that collectively gave about $5,000 in August 2003, and it accused Milne of “keeping his 100 percent negative campaign streak alive.”

“Rather than focusing on the issues facing Vermonters, Mr. Milne is desperately grasping at any attack he can in hopes that it will somehow damage Senator Leahy’s reputation,” Leahy campaign spokesman Jay Tilton said. “Senator Leahy has not received any contributions from this law firm in more than a decade.”


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