Category Archives: ethics

Lost in the weeds

Sue Minter seems to be spending a lot of time lately trying to out-ethics Phil Scott. After he announced he would sell his stake in Dubois Construction if elected governor, she continued to pound on potential conflicts of interest. Now, she’s returning campaign donations from a lawyer connected to the scandal-plagued EB-5 developments ni the Northeast Kingdom.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think this is a waste of time and unlikely to resonate with voters. It’s the kind of stuff that political insiders (and us outsiders who obsess about politics) care about, but I seriously question whether the voters do.

Besides which, trying to blacken Scott’s reputation is a mug’s game. He’s such a familiar figure with such a positive image; you’re not likely to change people’s minds unless there’s an October Surprise lurking in Scott’s closet.

Better, in my mind, to focus on the issues, where Scott is weakest.

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Phil’s Conflict (UPDATED)

UPDATE: He did it! He chose Option 1A — he will sell his share in Dubois Construction if he wins the governorship. Full credit to him for doing the right thing. And no, I don’t feel sorry for him possibly having to exit the family firm he’s spent most of his adult life in; his share of the firm is worth two and a half million dollars. That’ll buy an awful lot of binkies. 

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Kudos to Mr. Leadership Phil Scott for unveiling his conflict-of-interest fix at the friendliest possible venue — his construction firm’s annual picnic. Ah yes: burgers, dogs, potato salad, Daddy Pops, frisbees, sack races, football tossin’, and the long-awaited announcement of how he will handle the inherent conflict of owning a firm that regularly bids on state contracts.

“One of these things is not like the others…”

This isn’t the first time he’s tried to settle this particular issue, which tells me his past solutions have failed to satisfy. The fact that he’ll make this announcement before a crowd of family, friends, and folks on his payroll doesn’t fill me with confidence about how he’ll handle it this time.

Heck, I don’t know if he’ll even take questions. Even if there is an opportunity, the occasion certainly won’t be conducive to aggressive questioning; any reporters who get uppity are likely to be shouted down by the Scottophiliac audience.

All of which leads me to expect some kind of half-assed, modestly tweaked version of his laughable “blind trust.” If so, well, he might have to try yet again.

In my mind, there are only two credible choices for him. That is, if he really wants to eliminate any appearance of conflict. I don’t expect him to choose either one.

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Jobs for the Boys (and Girls)

Patricia Moulton just became the latest high-ranking rat to leave the Good Ship Shumlin. The Commerce Secretary, under whose watch the EB-5 scandal went on undetected for years, has herself a soft landing spot as interim president of Vermont Technical College.

Moulton is one of those seemingly unmovable fixtures of Montpelier life — a species that moves effortlessly between government, private sector, and government-related nonprofits. She’s served in the last two administrations, Douglas and Shumlin; and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she turned up in a hypothetical Phil Scott cabinet.

What are her credentials to lead an educational institution? Pish tosh. Who needs relevant experience when you’re one of the cross-partisan In Crowd?

“… I can bring to that institution great knowledge about education and workforce for the state of Vermont,” Moulton said in an interview Thursday.

Well, that’s one way to spin it.

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Disclaimer over here, boss?

Recently, an opinion piece by the doughty and redoubtable John McClaughry made the rounds. It appeared in some newspaper op-ed pages, and in the Commentary column of VTDigger.

And it involved a significant, undisclosed, conflict of interest.

McClaughry’s missive was a big sloppy wet kiss on the feet of Charles Koch, one of the infamous Koch brothers. McClaughry regurgitated a few nuggets of wisdom from Koch’s recent book, Good Profit. The book is a self-serving explication of why the Koch brothers are fine, principled businessmen with a strong focus on customer service and an aversion to big gummint.

Except when they can profit from it, of course. Curiously, one Kochbit highlighted by McClaughry concerns Koch Industries’ production of ethanol, which is almost entirely a creation of government subsidy. McClaughry writes with evident approval:

… out of principle, Koch opposes the present government mandate to blend ethanol into gasoline as a political scheme that produces “bad profit.”

Which has not prevented Koch Industries from continuing to enrich itself with this alleged “bad profit.” But somehow McClaughry overlooks the evident hypocrisy and praises Koch for a principle he never acts upon.

But I digress. The point isn’t that McClaughry has blessed the world with a few hundred words of free-market rhetoric, but that his own conflict of interest was not disclosed by VTDigger.

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Skunk at the party

The abrupt end of Norm McAllister’s first trial on sex-crime charges — a case of prosecutorial overreach, malfeasance, or cowardice, or a combo platter of all three — creates a world-class headache for Franklin County Republicans.

DoonesburyGuiltyMcAllister’s second trial is vaguely scheduled for sometime this fall, and will be conducted by the same legal Dream Team that flushed the first case down the sewer. Between now and then, we’ve got ourselves a primary vote and maybe a general election. McAllister has filed for re-election, and there’s nothing to stop him from carrying on.

Well, shame, perhaps. But he’s already proven he has precious little of that commodity. Remember the Franklin County Legislative Breakfast in January, when the recently suspended McAllister not only showed up, but tried to chair the meeting?

There will be a three-way Republican primary for two Franklin County ballot spots, featuring incumbent Dustin Degree, incumbent in-limbo McAllister, and State Rep. Carolyn Branagan.

It wouldn’t be a surprise, at all, if the esteemed ranks of Franklin County Republicans renominated McAllister despite the massive and unmistakable aroma surrounding him. Vermonters are, after all, strongly inclined to support incumbents — or too lazy to do their homework, take your pick.

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The Watchdog labors mightily and brings forth a mouse

The readership of this blog has been growing rapidly of late. Part of the new crowd, to judge from the Comments and my Twitter feed, is comprised of conservatives who apparently read this stuff as a form of aerobic exercise: Stimulate the heart rate through aggravation.

One brave Tweeter recently responded to my disparaging comments about Phil Scott’s letter touting “concerning reports,” anonymous, that the Shumlin administration was trying to shoehorn political job-holders into regular state positions.

Scott has kept quiet about the letter ever since, so methinks he realized he had no evidence beyond, according to his office, one single inside source.

(Either that, or somebody told him to STFU because Jim Douglas did exactly that during his exit from office.)

This Tweeter referred to a report on Vermont Watchdog about the allegations, and cited it as the kind of quality journalism that I’d failed to produce.

Well, as you already know, Watchdog is a place where they spell “quality” with a “K”, but I thought I’d better take a look at the article.

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Something you should know about that Bernie allegation

The Burlington College closure has a chance of causing trouble for the Bernie Sanders campaign, since his wife Jane played a key role in sinking the college under a mountain of debt. There are whispers of a federal probe, and now Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck reports that VTGOP Vice Chair Brady Toensing claims to have “new information” linking Senator Sanders to the case.

“I was recently approached and informed that Senator Bernie Sanders’ office improperly pressured People’s United Bank to approve the loan application,” Toensing said in letters to U.S. Attorney Eric Miller and to Fred Gibson Jr., the acting inspector general of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

There is cause for skepticism aplenty; Toensing is a Republican official, and he refuses to say anything more about his sources or his new information.

But there’s one more thing you should know, and Hallenbeck didn’t catch it.

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Good Ol’ Norm: Bloodied but not unbowed

Heh-heh. Just as I predicted, Senator-in-Purgatory Norm McAllister has filed petitions to run for re-election.

Heh-heh-heh. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Sorry. Political junkies get a little excited at the prospect of chaos among the comfortable class. And I bet the Franklin County GOP is wetting its collective pants.

VTDigger broke the news; McAllister dropped off his petitions at the Franklin County courthouse this morning, and (showing uncommon restraint for him) was not immediately available for comment.

Need I remind you: McAllister faces two trials on numerous sex-crime charges; he allegedly coerced women (over whom he exercised some measure of control) to have sex with him. He was arrested on the Statehouse grounds in the last days of the 2015 session; the Senate then spent the entire off-session with its head stuck in the sand, hoping Norm would just go away. When he didn’t, the Senate decided to suspend him for the remainder of the session.

So now that he’s thrown his hat in the ring, let the speculation begin…

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Corporate cash: a marginally relevant issue

A single issue dominated the Democratic gubernatorial race this past week. It’s an issue that’s way, way, waaaaaay down on my priority list for this campaign.

Corporate contributions.

I know, I know, “corporate” has become synonymous with “evil” in Vermont liberal circles, and “corporate contributions” synonymous with “evil money in politics.” Let me explain, please.

There is a severe problem with money in American politics. Some of this is corporate, a lot of it comes from the pockets of our richest citizens. Bernie Sanders has made campaign finance reform one of the centerpieces of his presidential campaign, and I applaud him for that.

Vermont, however, is a different story.

There is precious little corporate cash in our politics. Look: When Dunne returned his corporate contributions, he lost $16,000. That’s a drop in the bucket; he’s raised more than half a million dollars for his campaign. Minter is now returning $11,000 to corporate donors; her warchest is also somewhere north of a half million.

I do believe there’s too much money in Vermont politics, but there are at least three items that concern me more than corporate largesse.

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You can’t blame the ethics issue on the media

Jeanette White never wanted ethics reform.

The Putney Democrat and chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee made that clear, over and over again. And she blamed a tried-and-true scapegoat for bringing it up:

The issue of ethics and the lack of an ethics commission has been of great interest over the last year or so to the media. How many Vermonters are passionate about the issue is not clear…

Which was obvious bulldookie at the time. But now I’ve got evidence from an unexpected source.

Researchers at Illinois State University have been involved in a lengthy study of corruption in state politics. They took an unusual approach: seeking the perceptions of reporters covering state politics and corruption issues. They reasoned that corruption cases are handled differently in different states, so rates of indictment and conviction might be grossly misleading. Just because, for instance, New York has pursued several high-profile cases doesn’t mean its politics are more corrupt than, say, New Jersey’s. Perception-based studies have their own limitations, but it’s a different way to evaluate what’s going on.

Turns out that in Vermont, reporters see the state as fundamentally clean, untainted by political sleaze. Vermont ranked near the top in most categories, and overall was one of the “cleanest” states in the country in the eyes of our own allegedly cynical media corps.

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