Tag Archives: Senate Government Operations Committee

Phil Scott asks some dumb questions

Apparently our humble & lovable Lieutenant Governor still has a bug up his butt about public financing of election campaigns. You may recall that Phil Scott had never uttered a word about public financing* until Dean Corren qualified for public funds last year, forcing Scott to actually put some effort into his campaign. The experience was traumatic enough that it birthed a “philosophical objection” to public financing in Scott’s mind.

*Correction: I’ve been informed that Scott has voiced objections on previous occasions. Sen. Joe Benning: ” I first heard him expressing his disagreement with public financing of campaigns when I met him back in 2010.” I thank the Senator for taking the time to write. I’d still like to know if Scott had ever expressed his disagreement on the public record, but clearly his concerns precede his 2014 campaign.

On Tuesday, Scott grabbed an opportunity to again state his “philosophical objection” to public financing, and raise a series of far-fetched questions about the law’s workings.

His testimony before the Senate Government Operations Committee drew no attention in the media because it was immediately followed by Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s appearance, in which he belatedly acquiesced to calls for an independent probe of his campaign finances. Yeah, that kinda overshadowed everything else.

Also, Scott’s remarks were immediately dismissed by the committee, which had convened to consider a single technical change in the law; there was no time for broader questions.

But before it vanishes into the mists of history, let’s recount some of Phil Scott’s testimony.

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Sorrell caves (updated)

I can explain everything

I can explain everything

It’s rare when a journalist can draw a straight line from his/her news story to a significant event. Such is the case today for Seven Days’ Paul Heintz, whose reporting on Attorney General Bill Sorrell started the ball rolling — with ever-quickening speed — to today’s events. Because after several days of blithe assurances that there was no need for an independent investigation of Bill Sorrell because Bill Sorrell had looked into Bill Sorrell’s activities and determined that Bill Sorrell did nothing wrong, Bill Sorrell reversed course today.

It’s hard to imagine this would have ever come to pass without Heintz’ stories about sloppy campaign finance reporting by Sorrell, questions about a big out-of-state donation that helped him win the 2012 Democratic primary, and questionably cozy relationships between Sorrell and some big national law firms that do business with the state.

Throughout last week, Sorrell denied he’d done anything wrong and insisted an investigation would be a waste of money. Today, in a statement to the Senate Government Operations Committee, he acknowledged the need for an independent probe. Further, he heartily endorsed the creation of an independent commission to oversee election law, which would remove that authority from his own office.

When asked about his change of heart, he said:

What I realized was that this was a distraction here in the building and certainly a distraction in my office. I didn’t want the appearance that I had something to hide, so even though it will cost money, the integrity of the office of Attorney General and my personal integrity are too important. If we have to spend some taxpayer moneys to clear my name — or see that justice is done, either way — it’s worth it.

Nice stick save, General.

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Have we just reached the tipping point on Bill Sorrell?

SorrellBlindersSurprising, and rather shocking, news out of the Statehouse today, courtesy of Paul Heintz:

The Vermont Senate is considering stripping Attorney General Bill Sorrell of his powers to prosecute campaign finance violations. Replacing him, according to lawmakers who support the idea, would be an independent elections oversight commission.

… “The fact that the attorney general is charged with investigating him or herself is clearly ridiculous,” says Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington), a member of the committee.

Those wanting to strip Sorrell of his authority include Dems, Repubs and Progs. No partisan witch hunt here. Two thoughts:

— This shows the breadth and depth of the Sorrell-hatred among the political class. To even propose such a slap in his face is a big deal. For all this to happen in a matter of days is pretty extraordinary. It’s like a dam breaking under pent-up pressure.

— If the Legislature has time to think about this and even write a bill, how can Governor Shumlin go on saying he’s too busy to think about it?

Sorry, a third thought: Continue reading

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.