Tag Archives: lobbyists

Things I learned at the Statehouse (or, My First Listicle!)

I’ve been blogging about Vermont politics for almost three and a half years (first at Green Mountain Daily and then here), but this was the first year I spent considerable time observing the Legislature at work. In previous years, I’d dropped in here and there, but I became an irregular regular this time around.

In addition to following the fates of particular bills, I also took away some overall lessons. Many of them actually positive. And here they are, in no particular order.

Our lawmakers work pretty hard. They get paid a pittance, and spend lots and lots of hours under the Dome. Seemingly endless hearings and debates, having to actually read and understand legislation: I wouldn’t have the patience for it. And their attendance record is shockingly good. Many of them have real jobs and/or travel long distances to Montpelier; on any given day, almost all of them are there.

— There’s always plenty of partisan rhetoric flying around, but people who disagree on the issues work surprisingly well together. This is especially true in committees, where a small group of folks work collaboratively, and cooperatively. It’s not all peaches and cream, but there were times when I was watching a committee debate and it was hard to tell which lawmaker came from which party.

Not that they were selling out; just that they were more interested in getting stuff done than in scoring political points.

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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!

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.