So, wind developer Iberdrola has come under fire for its cash offer to people in Windham and Grafton, should its proposed Stiles Brook wind farm be built. The individual payments would be in addition to sizeable payments to each town government.
Opponents call it bribery. Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s office said no, it wasn’t against the law. But a few days ago, Secretary of State Jim Condos said he was “greatly concerned” by the offer. As VTDigger’s Mike Faher reported, Condos acknowledged that the offer wasn’t illegal, but it was “pushing the envelope” in using cash to influence voters.
(I’ve been critical of Faher’s wind coverage, but full credit to him for a well-written, balanced piece.)
Sounds dire. But when you read the whole story, it doesn’t seem nearly so clear-cut.
First, Condos didn’t contradict the Attorney General’s legal decision. In fact, he said that he respects the AG’s ruling and “will follow [its] guidance.”
And second, when Iberdrola clarified its offer, Condos walked back his initial statement.
Originally, Iberdrola was offering a payment to each voter. Now, the offer is open to all permanent residents — whether they are voters or not.
Contacted Friday, Condos said he probably wouldn’t have taken a position on money offered only to full-time residents. But he noted that he was reacting to Iberdrola’s original offer to voters, given his office’s election responsibilities.
Condos did say he would seek legislative clarification of the pertinent law, which seems reasonable. Iberdrola’s offer may be legal, but it doesn’t look right. The company would have been wise to find a different way to make this offer.
But i do understand why they did it, thanks to Faher’s reporting. Company spokesman Paul Copleman says the direct payments would lend a measure of equity beyond simple property tax relief.
“While delivering direct benefits to those with more expensive homes or more land, (a property tax cut) does not equitably distribute the project benefits to all permanent residents,” Copleman said. “And that equitable distribution is what local residents have asked us to accomplish.”
That, actually, is a valid goal and a reasonable explanation. Direct cash payments will bring more of the benefit to those who don’t own property.
Direct payments from development of a public resource aren’t unprecedented, either. Every resident of Alaska gets an annual windfall from oil tax revenue.
My conclusion, for what it’s worth: Iberdrola’s offer is within legal bounds, but should have been more thoroughly conceived and better presented.
To be honest, one’s perception of the offer depends in large part on one’s position on Stiles Brook. If you’re against it, then you’ll interpret the offer accordingly.
Is that what it is? Direct payment for development of a public resource? Maybe if you don’t look at the forest as a public resource. I think Iberdrola would be further ahead giving everyone free beer.
That forest *isn’t* a public resource, it’s all private property. It’s a working landscape, managed for timber, among other uses. And it depends on the beer, even I wouldn’t vote in favor of the project for a Bud.
“To be honest, one’s perception of the offer depends in large part on one’s position on Stiles Brook. If you’re against it, then you’ll interpret the offer accordingly.”
Aw, c’mon. Use your imagination. What if VGS offered to abide by a municipal vote? And what if they offered such a payment when they realized they were going to lose? How would you interpret that?
Or what if it were a candidate? Maybe your whipping boy, the ineffectual Phil Scott. How would you interpret that?
I believe you just proved my point.
Let’s see if I have this right. Iberdrola wants to build a power plant in Windham and Grafton. They say they will only build if the towns want it, so they ask for a vote. Prior to the vote, they promise a specific sum of money to every registered voter if the vote passes. Obviously, the project would financially benefit Iberdrola directly. Our elections statute prohibits both “bribery” and “undue influence.” You’ve concluded it is neither and surmised that anyone else’s conclusion would be based on how they feel about this specific project. Interesting.
Okay, so change the players/project. A coal-fired power plant is proposed by the Koch brothers for downtown Montpelier. The Koch brothers say they will build only if the town wants it, so they ask for a vote. Prior to the vote, they promise a specific sum of money to every registered voter if the vote passes. Obviously, the project would financially benefit them directly. (I’ll skip the question of whether this is outright bribery, although I’d bet my bottom dollar that many of your readers would instantly claim it to be so).
Now apply the facts to the law. The intent of the law is grounded in our state constitution. Chapter 1, Art. 8 states: “That all elections ought to be free and without corruption.” The statute is quite clear. 17 V.S.A. §2017 reads, in pertinent part: “A person who attempts by … undue influence … to dictate, control, or alter the vote … about to be given … shall be fined not more than $200.00.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the Koch brothers are seeking to influence the vote with their offer because they’ll benefit directly if the vote goes their way. I would submit the only question left is whether it is “undue.” Normally, that is for a jury to decide. AG Duane’s decision sets a precedent which will prevent that from ever happening.
You are twisting your liberal roots if you are suggesting the law can be nullified based on the nature of the project. (I’d say the same thing to a conservative, just so you know.) This isn’t an issue of renewable energy versus fossil fuels. Rich people and corporations have just been invited to try to buy whatever they want in our elections. Whether you are a liberal, conservative or something in between, we should all be looking a little closer at this.
We are learning that Walters has no principles. If he likes the ends, any means are justifiable.
Not only that–he thinks everybody operates that way.
Thanks Thump, you got Walters in the crosshairs. Exactly right.
Iberdrola changed their offer to any full-time resident, registered voter or not.
Real story — unless mistaken there is *nothing* binds them to keep any part of the offer — there is no force of law.