Daily Archives: January 27, 2016

Plausible deniability and the $10,000 envelope

Kudos to Seven Days’ Paul Heintz for a good old-fashioned piece of outrage journalism, a nearly lost art in these days of objectivity fetishism. The object of his scorn: the woefully incomplete “investigation” of Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s demostrably squicky campaign finance shenanigans. (In the interest of self-promotion, here’s a link to my take on the story.)

The whole column is strongly recommended, but I want to highlight one passage — and then It’s Story Time, Kids!

To set this up: In December 2013, Sorrell had dinner with a couple of high-powered lawyers, Mike Messina and Patricia Madrid, who had previously donated to his campaign fund. Take it away, Paul:

“Just before sitting down to dinner, Mike gave me an envelope saying that he and the attorneys from the Texas firm [Baron & Budd] wished to contribute to my campaign for reelection,” Sorrell wrote in the affidavit, which has not been previously disclosed. “I thanked them and accepted the envelope.”

Tucked inside were five checks totaling $10,000 for Sorrell’s reelection campaign.

During the dinner, Sorrell wrote, Messina and his friends “suggested they would come to Vermont at a future date to discuss the possibility of Vermont suing the oil and gas industry, if I was interested.” Baron & Budd has made millions for itself — and the states and municipalities it has represented — by suing the industry over its use of the gasoline additive MTBE.

After Messina handed Sorrell the checks, his clients handed the AG “a folder or manila envelope” containing information about Baron & Budd and a memo touching on “the specifics of relevant Vermont law.” Sorrell trucked it back to his office, gave it to an assistant attorney general and asked him to check with the Agency of Natural Resources to “discuss the possibility” of suing.

Within months, Sorrell’s office had filed suit and hired four firms — including Baron & Budd and Messina — to serve as outside counsel, guaranteeing them a percentage of any money recouped.

The “affidavit” referenced above is a sworn statement provided by Sorrell to independent investigator Tom Little.

Sorrell’s attorney argues that this does “not equate to a quid pro quo arrangement.” Which is downright laughable. But as Heintz notes, Sorrell “practically admitted to the crime” of trading state contracts for political donations.

And now, It’s Story Time.

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If everybody’s leaving, why are most of the moving vans inbound?

The new year brings a seemingly never-ending flood of 50-state rankings. Some, assembled by pro-business interests, tend to rank Vermont near the bottom. Others, like Politico Magazine’s broad-based quality-of-life mashup, put Vermont near the top. Number 3, in the case of Politico.

Well, here comes United Van Lines with its own 50-state ranking, “which tracks customers’ state-to-state migration patterns.” And contrary to the standard Republican talking point — nobody wants to live here because taxes — Vermont comes in near the top. Number 3, as a matter of fact.

The United ranking is based on one single criterion: where are the moving vans headed? And in Vermont last year, there were a lot more inbound than outbound. Here’s the map.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 1.04.39 AM

Okay, so how do we square this with our flat population and very real demographic crisis?

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Phil Scott, blowin’ in the wind

I realize that our universally-liked lieutenant governor is new at this whole “leadership” thing. He’s unaccustomed to taking strong stands and providing firm direction. But if he wants to be Governor, he’d better start practicing. Because right now, he’s displaying the opposite of leadership on the issue of paid sick leave. And the Democrats caught him in the act.

For those just tuning in, paid sick leave almost got through the Legislature in 2015 despite the anguished howls of the business lobby. Phil Scott has been right there alongside them, raising heartfelt concerns about the impact of paid sick leave on small business.

This year, paid sick leave looks certain to pass, with some modest tweaks designed to soothe the tender sensibilities of the bizfolk. And here comes our own Braveheart, triangulating his way to the winning side.

“I like the direction it’s going, and I’m happy to take a position on it once it’s out of committee,” Scott said.

The Democratic Party took note of this and pounced. Here’s a fun Twitter exchange, screengrabbed for your amusement.

Dem/Scott Twitter exchange

Oh, snap!

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