Tag Archives: Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce

Dept. of Unwarranted Hubris, EB-5 Division

I don’t know what it would take for Patricia Moulton to realize that the jig is up, that business as usual in the EB-5 program simply won’t cut it anymore. But clearly, a major scandal isn’t enough.

The chief of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development put in an eppearance Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee, where she steadfastly refused to acknowledge that there was anything wrong with Vermont’s EB-5 program. According to VTDigger, one lawmaker characterized her testimony as “unrepentant.” And Sen. Kevin Mullin, not exactly an outside-the-box thinker, said Moulton “kind of scared me today because she was so much of a cheerleader.”

Okay, let’s look at the record. Moulton, following in the footsteps of her predecessor Lawrence Miller and his predecessors in the Douglas Administration, allowed horribly lax oversight of EB-5 projects, thus enabling the (cough, allegedly) fraudulent Jay Peak scheme to proceed for most of a decade. The last two people in charge of overseeing EB-5 left the agency to take jobs with EB-5 developers. The Shumlin administration, belatedly, realized that ACCD was failing to do the job and transferred regulatory oversight to the Department of Financial Regulation.

After all that, the feds raid Jay Peak, haul off the records and computers and change the locks, and issue a massive indictment of Bill Stenger, Ariel Quiros and company, which is a tacit indictment of Vermont’s dereliction of duty.

And now comes Patricia Moulton saying “as secretary of ACCD, my job, absolutely, is to be a cheerleader for the [EB-5] regional center.”

Amazing. How tone-deaf can you be?

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A little bit slow and a fair bit lacking

This whole Stengerville fiasco presents a quandary for the three Democratic candidates for governor. On the one hand, it’s the biggest political scandal in years, ensnaring most of the state’s power elite in its icky-sticky web. You’ve gotta say something. On the other hand, well, it blew up on Governor Shumlin’s watch, and you’ve got to draw a careful line when criticizing your own party’s incumbent.

I guess that explains why it took Matt Dunne, Sue Minter, and Peter Galbraith a solid four days to issue any sort of response. And why, in the interim, the candidates’ press-release operations carried on as if nothing had happened.

There was Sue Minter on Thursday, holding a doomed-to-obscurity presser on “an aggressive plan” to address water quality issues from PFOA to Lake Champlain and beyond. A really nimble campaign might have taken notice of the Wednesday night SEC raid on Stengerville and postponed the event, but maybe that’s asking too much.

Matt Dunne did no better; on Friday he disclosed his personal financial information, as if anybody cared at that particular point. It may be unfair to conclude that the release was a double-barreled newsdump: it came on a Friday when everybody’s attention was focused elsewhere. Yes, it may be unfair, but these are cynical days.

As for Peter Galbraith, that rarest of phenomena: the sound of silence.

Finally, on Monday, all three came out with a gun or two a-blazing, but none have fully addressed the issues raised by this scandal — our scattershot approach to helping specific businesses and the lack of transparency and accountability in the process.

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Koch lapdogs peddle bogus “baby parts” scoop

No sooner does the generally useless Vermont Watchdog score an actual journalistic coup, than it slips back into its usual nut-wing flackatoid ways.

The ‘Dog, for those just joining us, is the Vermont outpost of a 50-state network of right-wing “news” sites funded by the Koch brothers and their allies. Most of its stories are standard right-wing fodder; a prime recent example is its unfounded fearmongering about Russians trying to get Vermont driver privilege cards. (They applied, they got caught, they got no licenses, end of story.) But earlier this month, VW’s Bruce Parker got a legitimate scoop: he broke the story of a backroom legislative deal that netted the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce a $100,000 no-bid grant.

A few days later, Parker reported some widely divergent legislative memories on how this grant weaseled its way into law. Also useful information.

Well, enough of the real journalism. Today, it’s trumpeting the notion that state funds “may be supporting the sale of baby body parts” via Planned Parenthood. Note the inclusion of “may be.”

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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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Not all businesses think alike. Or, Mr. Barlow, your table is ready.

We have a winner in theVPO’s first-ever giveaway.

In some secluded rendezvous…

In some secluded rendezvous…

As you may recall, earlier this week the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce made an ass of itself: one day, its president issued a clarion call for action on Lake Champlain, and the next, its lobbyist strenuously insisted that the LCRCC would fight tax increases to fund cleanup efforts.

Hypocrisy, thine initials are LCRCC. Anyway, in light of that, I offered a free dinner to the first lobbyist who accepted a measure of financial responsibility for his/her group, industry, or membership.

Well, we have a winner, and it’s just who you might expect: Dan Barlow of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.

Dan didn’t nominate himself; a friend in the media, who’d just love to see me spend my money, pointed out to me that at a Statehouse press conference yesterday, Barlow (speaking for VBSR) endorsed Gov. Shumlin’s proposal to close the Medicaid cost gap through a payroll tax. I wasn’t at the presser, but Barlow’s statement has been reported by VTDigger, which is good enough for me.

So Dan, if you want to strap on the ol’ feed bag, let me know.

This brings to mind something that’s been bugging me for a few days. On Monday, the usually impeccable Anne Galloway of VTDigger posted a story entitled “LEGISLATIVE MANDATES HAMPERING RECOVERY, BUSINESS GROUPS SAY.” The story recapped the usual litany of complaints about taxes and costs and regulations — and that hoary old chestnut, “uncertainty.”

Which is just bullshit. Life, by its very nature, is uncertain. Potential legislative changes are one of the smaller aspects of it. To cite just one obvious example: the price of oil. Who predicted its nearly 50% drop in recent months? That alone plunged a fatal dagger into Vermont Gas’ pipeline to Ticonderoga. Fuel costs are a much bigger factor in running a business than anything the legislature might reasonably do.

Galloway’s piece could have been written by a functionary in Jim Harrison’s back office, so one-sided was it. The only note of dissent was a brief comment by House Speaker Shap Smith in the very last paragraph.

Now, you could make an argument for this article as part of VTDigger’s ongoing coverage of the legislature: let’s take a look at how business groups are feeling about the course of the session. Other views will get a hearing elsewhere.

But even on that narrow pretext, the article falls short. By focusing on The Usual Suspects, it fails to reflect the range of views within the unmonolithic “business community.”

It doesn’t, for example, quote VBSR. Not even a little bit. It doesn’t quote business types like Small Dog’s Don Mayer or Fresh Tracks Capital’s Cairn Cross, who have much more nuanced views of the potentially positive role of government in economic development. It doesn’t mention former State Rep. Paul Ralston of Vermont Coffee Company, who’s chairing Shap Smith’s working group on improving the economy. It sure as hell doesn’t quote Ben Cohen or Jerry Greenfield.

EVen if you accept the premise that an overview of the business community is a worthwhile use of VTDigger’s media platform, this article was woefully incomplete. A rare FAIL for a diligent and trustworthy news source.

Free offer: Dinner’s on me

VPR’s John Dillon has captured and preserved a lovely bit of flamboyant hypocrisy from the fine folks at Your Chambers of Commerce. On the one hand:

Tom Torti, president of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, told lawmakers last week that Vermont’s brand is defined by its clean environment. A polluted lake hurts the state economically because visitors will chose not to return, he said.

On the other hand:

A day later, Katie Taylor, a lobbyist for Torti’s organization was in a House committee. She delivered a different message.

…Taylor made clear the Lake Champlain chamber will fight a tax increase aimed at the tourism industry to pay for water pollution controls.

,,, Kendal Melvin of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce also opposed the half-cent rooms and meals tax increase. When one lawmaker asked her to recommend alternatives, she offered nothing.

Yeah, well, thanks for nothing.

Which brings me to my Free Offer. The first lobbyist who accepts financial responsibility, in whole or in part, for a problem or issue facing Vermont, will be treated to dinner by me at the restaurant of their choice. Hen of the Wood? Great. Leunig’s? Fine. J. Morgan’s? Predictable but acceptable. Slum it at Al’s Frys? Outstanding.

To meet my conditions, the statement has to go something like this: “We realize we have a real problem with _________ in Vermont, and we accept that our [industry/company/group/granfalloon] plays a part in solving this problem. We are willing to bear our share of the costs of ___________.” You can add as many bells and whistles as you like.

The lobbyist must represent an entity with “skin in the game” — exposure to increased costs in taxes or fees. This, unfortunately, disqualifies most public-interest groups.

The statement must be delivered in testimony to a relevant legislative committee, and submitted to theVPO in transcript or audio recording.

Caveats: Judging is by theVPO. Judge’s decisions are final. There will be a limit on the bar tab — a reasonable one.

This offer is good until the legislature adjourns for the year. C’mon, lobbyists — do the right thing, and earn yourself a free feed in the process!

Here’s someone who doesn’t think Scott Milne will win

And it’s a guy who might well be sympathetic to Milne’s quest:

That’s Tom Torti, longtime President of the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce. And the breakfast comes four days after the legislature chooses the next governor.

I suppose it’s theoretically possible that this is a farewell event, but given the billing as a Legislative Breakfast, I’m safe in assuming otherwise.

Sorry, Governor Milne. Guess your invite got lost in the mail.