Tag Archives: Associated Press

State Senate trying to Norquist ethics reform

Vermont’s Most Sclerotic Deliberative Body has been taking its time with a proposal to set up a state Ethics Commission. Much more time than they took with legalizing marijuana, and probably longer than they’ll take with the frickin’ budget.

Why the slow play? Well, the Senate’s point person on ethics reform makes it abundantly clear.

Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham and chairwoman of the Government Operations Committee, said, “Because the press keeps saying that we’re the only state without an ethics commission and clearly we have something to hide … I don’t really believe that.”

Credit to the Associated Press’ Dave Gram for capturing that entry into the Quote of the Year competition.

Jeezum Crow. The Senator in charge of ethics reform doesn’t believe ethics reform is necessary. She blames the media for fomenting “a lack of faith in government officials.”

Methinks the good Senator has been in Montpelier too long. She’s been so deep in the system for so long, she’s lost all perspective.

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Connect the dots, and reveal a black hat

The Senate Government Operations Committee, last seen saying yes to the Fourteenth Star, held a hearing Friday on a bill that would increase disclosure requirements for ad campaigns meant to influence legislative debate.

The bill would require disclosure of public-policy advertising over $1,000 within 48 hours. Under current law, disclosure is only required three times a year: January 25, April 25, and July 25. The April report is the biggie, since it covers the bulk of a legislative session. And it comes at the very end of the session, which means the disclosure is almost useless for finding out who’s spending money to influence which piece of legislation.

The Associated Press’ Wilson Ring was there, and reports that one of the top lobbyists in Montpelier, Andrew MacLean, testified against the idea.

Ring failed, however, to deliver the context. Which I will now do. You’re welcome.

MacLean makes a darn fine living representing numerous business interests. He told the committee that the 48-hour disclosure requirement would be difficult for lobbyists to meet.

Which is, pardon my French, pure bullshit.

The same requirement is already placed on political candidates in the last 45 days of a campaign season. If candidates can meet the requirement, surely a well-endowed lobbying firm can do so.

MacLean also efforted the First Amendment argument —  “the proposal… could infringe on free speech rights” — which is also bullshit. Disclosure imposes no limits on speech.

His alternative? “… change your disclosure dates and maybe add one or two.”

Uh-huh. And why, you might ask, is Mr. MacLean so anxious to avoid prompt disclosure? Committee chair Jeanette White gave us a hint:

[White] said the proposal grew out of a case in which a lot of money was spent trying to get members of the House to vote against an issue. She did not say what the issue was.

Well, I’ll tell you what the issue was. It was the 2013 attempt to impose a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The beverage and retail industries mounted an all-out effort to kill the bill, spending more than $600,000 in the first three months of 2013. We didn’t find that out until April 25, 2013, by which time the beverage tax was dead.

The chief local lobbyist for that effort? Andrew MacLean.

Fast forward to 2015, when the legislature is once again considering a beverage tax, and Andrew MacLean is once again at the forefront of a very expensive advertising and lobbying campaign against the bill.

Naturally, he prefers disclosure to be as infrequent and untimely as possible.

MacLean’s testimony was motivated by blatant self-interest. I hope the committee sees through that, and proceeds with a reasonable effort to add some transparency to the flow of money through our politics.

Unwarranted outrage from your Freeploid

 

(See also addendum below: the Free Press didn’t have a reporter at one of the biggest news events in recent history!) 

Regular readers of the Burlington Free Press (all six of us) know that transparency is one of its signature causes.

(Except when it comes to the Burlington Free Press itself; there, secrecy rules the day.)

Well, this preoccupation caused Vermont’s Saddest Newspaper to leap to an unwarranted conclusion yesterday.

In the morning, the media got notice of a gubernatorial press conference to be held at 2:15 p.m. There was no mention of the subject matter.

And this caused the Freeploid to throw a nutty. It posted a short piece entitled “Secrecy surrounds Shumlin’s news conference.”

Shumlin has led the fight for government transparency, but his new press secretary, Scott Coriell, has failed to respond to questions about the topic of the governor’s meeting with the media.

Well, son of a bitch. Of course he didn’t respond.

Most gubernatorial pressers include a bit of political business — a bill signing, a new initiative, a ribbon-cutting. In those cases, the media alert will tell us what’s coming up.

But when there’s an actual policy announcement of significant magnitude? Hell no. Shumlin’s people aren’t going to upstage the announcement by providing advance information. The Freeploid is basically demanding that the administration leak its own stuff.

Particularly in this case, when the announcement was made simultaneously to the media and to those who’d been involved in the single payer work.  If Coriell had disclosed the subject matter, do you think the Free Press wouldn’t have found a way to publish the “scoop”?

The Freeploid went on to complain about changes in the time and venue for the presser. Which, c’mon, grow up. It’s not that big a deal.

I suspect the Freeploid’s real problem is that it no longer has a Statehouse bureau, and the editors had to decide whether to send a staffer down from Burlington. That’s a big deal for a paper as understaffed as the Freeploid. But that’s not the governor’s problem. And Scott Coriell shouldn’t be raked over the coals for simply doing his f’n job.

The article was slightly updated after the presser, and can be viewed by anyone who hasn’t canceled their subscription yet. The updated version mostly changes the verb tenses; the misperceptions, self-entitlement, and aspersions on Coriell remain intact. One more signpost on the Burlington Free Press’ descent into irrelevance.

 Addendum. A loyal reader pointed out that the Free Press’ main article on Shumlin’s presser was not written by a Freeploid staffer, but by the Associated Press’ Dave Gram. That’s pretty awful for a “media company” that insists it hasn’t retreated from Statehouse coverage, and whose leader has publicly slammed “rumors and speculation that we are abandoning coverage in Montpelier.” Well, sir, your absence at yesterday’s announcement is not rumor or speculation, but fact.

Presumably what happened was: the Free Press tried to find out the subject of the presser and failed. The editors then made a calculated gamble not to send a reporter — although they did send their photographer Glenn Russell. Their gamble exploded in their faces. Dave Gram’s a fine reporter, but Vermont’s largest newspaper should not be depending on the AP for coverage of a huge news story.

Messaging 101: Don’t make mistakes in press releases about education

So this happened. Governor Shumlin’s office issued a press release on Monday about education funding — specifically its projection of a two-cent increase in the state property tax for the coming year.

And there was an oopsie. First to spot it was Dave Gram of the Associated Press (and now, apparently, chief Statehouse correspondent for the Burlington Free Press):

And here is the error in context:

“The bottom line is that education spending in Vermont is supported by a wide variety of state revenue sources, not just the property tax,” Gov. Shumlin said. “That’s why I do not think simply shifting more education spending to other sources will address the burden Vermonters feel. We need to tackle this first as a spending challenge because education costs have continued to rise faster than Vermonter’s ability to pay for it, even though our student count has declined.”

It’s bad enough when a gubernatorial missive goes out with a big fat juicy typo. It’s even worse when the subject of said missive is education. Does newly-minted communications chief Scott Coriell need a little proofreading help?

A brief moment of excitement for Vermont conservatives

Twitter was all-aflutter on Friday evening with news of a new Associated Press poll showing Republican Teahadist Mark Donka within five percentage points of incumbent Congressman Peter Welch. The apparent shocker quickly rattled around the dank corridors of #tvcot:

Er, sorry to piss on your bonfire, but that’s not a poll. Those are test election results, routinely circulated by the Associated Press before elections to make sure its systems are working. Apparently the results were posted online by the Daily Mail, a British newspaper, presumably by mistake.

I know about test results because in a past life I worked a lot of election seasons as a reporter. Back when there were teletype machines, they would spit out reams and reams of these test results in the days before an election.

I can tell by the formatting. The actual webpage has a huge long list of “returns,” but here’s the segment about Vermont’s congressional race.

275 of 275 precincts – 100 percent
x-Peter Welch, Dem (i) 98,083 – 44 percent
Mark Donka, GOP 87,107 – 39 percent
Matthew Andrews, LUn 2,778 – 1 percent
Cris Ericson, Ind 14,800 – 7 percent
Randall Meyer, Ind 2,799 – 1 percent
Jerry Trudell, Ind 16,643 – 7 percent

See, your tipoff is the first line, saying “275 of 275 precincts — 100 percent.” Election returns always show how many precincts have reported, and what percentage of the total have reported so far. There’s also the “x” in front of Welch’s name, indicating the winner. Any experienced reporter would tell you, that’s the standard AP election return format.

Poll results just don’t look like that.

Also, Cris Ericson and Jerry Trudell getting 7 percent apiece? Snort.

Also also, the Associated Press doesn’t do polls. And it certainly hasn’t done anything as intensive as polling every single Congressional district in the country, which is what our conservative Tweeters think this is.

A word to the #tvcot community: stop making fools of yourselves.