Tag Archives: executive privilege

Logrolling In Our Time, Bespoke Contracts Edition

Here’s me doing something I never thought I’d do: recommending a story on the right-wing website Vermont Watchdog that I believe is an actual scoop of some importance.

Vermont Watchdog, for those just joining us, is the Montpelier outpost of a conservative journalistic enterprise that gets its money from the Usual Suspects, i.e. the Kochs et al. The site’s usual content is vastly overblown at best, completely off the mark at worst. But this time, VTW’s Bruce Parker got hold of something.

Business development groups in Vermont are demanding to know how a $100,000 appropriation for fostering business with Quebec was awarded exclusively to Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, according to emails obtained by Vermont Watchdog.

The appropriation in question was included in S.138, an economic development bill that passed the Legislature this year. The bill’s language does not mention LCRCC; it simply says the $100,000 will go to the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development “to implement a targeted marketing and business expansion initiative for Quebec-based businesses…”

One could reasonably infer that once the bill was signed into law, ACCD would fashion a means of using the money for the intended purpose. But apparently there was a backdoor deal to simply hand the 100 G’s over to the LCRCC, whose Executive Director, Tom Torti, held high positions in the Dean and Douglas administrations, and was recently referred to by Seven Days’ Paul Heintz as one of “the state’s traditional power brokers,” whose counsel, sez Heintz, would be invaluable to potential candidates for governor.

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No smoking guns in the Gruber file

Now I know how Neal Goswami’s been spending his spare time lately:

The Vermont Press Bureau obtained nearly 2,400 pages of emails between Jonathan Gruber and state officials that detail the work Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist, has been doing for the administration.

Woof. That’s a lot of emails to wade through. The result of all that work was published in the Sunday edition of the Mitchell Family Organ. (The article is paywalled; if you don’t subscribe, Get Thee To A Library.)

So what did he find? More impolitic comments about stupid voters and conservative pundits? Arrogant pronouncements over how he’s gonna pull the wool over our eyes?

Er, no.

Emails… highlight the administration’s work since the summer preparing a long-awaited financing plan for Gov. Peter Shumlin’s proposed universal, publicly financed health care plan.

… In a July 7 email to Michael Costa, Shumlin’s deputy director of health reform and the tax expert spearheading the administration’s financing plan, Gruber expressed unbridled enthusiasm at the opportunity to help the state craft a single-payer health care plan.

In short, the emails depict a top-shelf policy expert avidly engaged in a very difficult project, and using his economic model to test countless iterations of single-payer.

And seeing Vermont as a ground-breaking opportunity: “I think we have a chance to make history here,” he said in a July email.

Goswami describes a lengthy, painstaking process that seems to validate Gov. Shumlin’s claims that he couldn’t release his plan because it wasn’t ready yet. This was, the emails show, a long, tough slog. Which still continues; reform chief Robin Lunge expressed confidence that the plan would be ready by late December, but only after an all-out effort.

It’s a fascinating read if you’re a policy wonk. But it doesn’t provide provide any new evidence for legitimate attacks on Gruber or single-payer.

Which is not to say there’s no room for illegitimate, partisan attacks:

Many emails that included details of the administration’s plan were redacted, with the administration citing executive privilege.

“Aha!”, I can almost hear Darcie Johnston crying. “Redacted! Cover-up!”

Partisans will certainly look at it that way. Especially since, according to Goswami, the Shumlin administration had an interesting rationale for adding a provision to Gruber’s contract stating that he “may advise the Governor on policy matters.”

That provision was added, not because Gruber would actually provide any policy advice, but simply to lay the foundation for a claim of executive privilege.

Lunge… said the clause in the contract was included to protect her policy advice to the governor. Gruber has not contributed policy advice to the governor, according to Lunge.

Got that? Lunge generated policy ideas… Gruber ran them through his model… and Lunge used his information to shape her policy ideas. But since she had to give her policy ideas to Gruber, his work must be privileged.

It makes sense, but it also provides fertile ground for conspiracy theories.

And it creates some concerns about government transparency: Lunge told Goswami that “the same provision is also included with other contractors.”

If that’s true, then we ought to be less worried about Jonathan Gruber and single-payer, and more worried about broadening claims of executive privilege.