Tag Archives: Tess Taylor

Windham Dems consider a call for change in state party leadership

At its scheduled meeting Monday September 9, the Windham County Democratic Committee will consider a resolution calling for “a new slate of [party] officers” for the Vermont Democratic Party.

The resolution is signed by county chair John Hagen. It centers on the embezzlement case involving former party staffer Brandon Batham, who allegedly took more than $18,000 in state party funds through payroll fraud and excessive expense-account claims.

The resolution notes that the party’s Executive Committee “has the oversight and fiduciary responsibility to ensure accountability of all party funds,” and that the Batham case “may undermine future party fundraising efforts.” A change in leadership, it says, is necessary “in order to demonstrate a meaningful change for improved oversight and fiscal accountability.”

The VDP is undergoing its biennial reorganization this fall, including election of state officers on November 16. Current officers include chair Terje Anderson, vice chair Tess Taylor and treasurer Billi Gosh. They have yet to say if they plan to run for re-election, but have given no indication that they need to take any action besides promising to do better. “We will be doing everything possible to move beyond this very discouraging set of circumstances and to regain or retain your trust,” party leaders wrote in a memo to members following the revelation of the embezzlement.

The existence of the Windham resolution shows that some party members are unwilling to be satisfied with mere words. If the resolution is approved Monday, it could set the stage for a truly rocky reorganization process.

Or, perhaps, for the quiet departure of current leadership.

Text of proposed Windham resolution:

20190905_123845

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The Dems Come Clean, Sort Of

On Sunday afternoon, the Vermont Democratic Party issued a thorough and putatively transparent explanation for the Brandon Batham case. Unfortunately, it raises quite a few questions — and its effort to exculpate party leadership rings a bit hollow.

Batham is the former party staffer who resigned suddenly last month. A couple of weeks later, the VDP issued a press release stating that Batham had embezzled close to $3,000 in party funds. But toward the end of last week, I learned that the actual amount was much larger — although I was unable to find out how much. Lips were tightly zippered, and information was closely held by a handful of top officials. Not even the party’s executive committee was informed.

So I wrote what I knew on Friday. Less than 48 hours later, the party issued a press release stating the Batham had taken an additional $15,629 — bringing the total to roughly $18,500. The embezzlements took place between January and June of this year. The statement acknowledged that the total could go even higher, as a third-party audit of the VDP’s books is underway.

Well, that’s comforting. How bad is the bookkeeping system anyway?

The party explained that the original $2,931 was skimmed from party funds, and the remaining $15K-plus was taken by Batham by way of the payroll system. He gave himself an “unauthorized raise,” and also issued “unauthorized additional paychecks and ‘bonuses’ between official pay-periods” to himself.

Which, as the party itself states, he shouldn’t have been able to do. Batham, the release states, “did not have signing powers on the party accounts.”

Who did?

From January through April, it was then-executive director Josh Massey — who goes unnamed in the party’s release. After Massey’s departure, party leaders chose not to name an interim E.D. Instead, party chair Terje Anderson took on many of the duties. As did Brandon Batham, heh.

According to a fact sheet accompanying the press release, Anderson and party treasurer Billi Gosh repeatedly tried to get answers from Batham. They failed to do so.

For more than two months. 

Either Batham is a master of deception, or Anderson and Gosh didn’t try hard enough.

Anderson uncovered the non-payroll takings in early July. He shared his findings with precisely two other people — treasurer Gosh and party vice-chair Tess Taylor. “Documentation was carefully gathered,” says the fact sheet in its characteristic passive construction, and on July 17 Anderson, Taylor and the VDP’s attorney confronted Batham with evidence of the $2,931. At this point the payroll fraud hadn’t been detected — not, if you believe the VDP’s statement, due to any dereliction on the part of Anderson or Gosh, but because of Batham’s deft deployment of Jedi mind tricks.

Batham resigned rather than being fired, but the information was kept close to the vest by party leaders.

The payroll theft was discovered near the end of July, when Anderson was finally “able to access the payroll accounts.” Apparently Batham left the books well-hidden? Finally, on August 8 the matter was referred to police, who supposedly asked party leaders to keep it quiet.

That’s the explanation offered for the complete lack of disclosure until Sunday — two days after I spilled the beans.

The fact sheet says that the party has already reformed its system for cutting checks and documenting expenses. In other news, the barn door has been locked after the horse was stolen.

The party also issued a “Memo to the Vermont Democratic Community,” which is copy-and-pasted below. I’ll note a couple of key passages.

After a brief statement of fact, the memo says, “We will be doing everything possible to move beyond this very discouraging set of circumstances and to regain or retain your trust. We will do so in a spirit of humility and honesty.”

OK, well, good luck with that. You’re going to have a hard time convincing folks of your “honesty” when you kept all this information secret until you were essentially forced to reveal it. I’m sure the police asked you to keep it quiet — but did you feel a countervailing obligation to the people’s trust? Perhaps you had a higher duty than to accommodate the police?

The memo closes with a plea to move beyond this scandal because it “cannot distract from the pressing work that lies ahead” — the 2020 election, etc.

Good luck with that, too. Especially if party leaders continue to hew to the line that everyone other than Batham (and perhaps the unnamed Massey) is completely blameless, did their best at all times, and should not face any sort of sanction or, perish forbid, removal from their positions of trust.

Is the party’s executive committee likely to be so forgiving? Or the larger state committee, which includes multiple representatives of each county?

If not, then we’re likely to see some consequences. For starters, new leadership may be needed to restore trust in time for the 2020 campaign. After all, the VDP has had major fundraising troubles for the past three-plus years. Now it’s facing a significant financial scandal that raises questions about oversight of party spending. The party has just given every potential supporter one more big fat reason to say “no” when the VDP comes calling.

 

Memo to the Vermont Democratic Community

FROM: Terje Anderson, Party Chair; Tess Taylor, Party Vice Chair; Billi Gosh, Party Treasurer

TO: The Vermont Democratic Community

On August 8, 2019, the Vermont Democratic Party filed a formal criminal complaint against Brandon Batham, former Director of Party Operations, for misuse and embezzlement of party funds.

The report alleges Mr. Batham, over the course of calendar year 2019 until his departure from the Party in July, embezzled, fraudulently obtained, or misused approximately $18,500 through various means, including payroll fraud. While these numbers are accurate to the best of our current knowledge, we may not know the total amount stolen until the close of a complete and thorough third-party audit.

This is, certainly, a difficult and painful time for the Party. We believe that an absolutely essential part of addressing the situation is a full and transparent explanation of what happened, and what comes next, to our supporters, donors, and friends. To that end, we hope the attached fact sheet will begin to address your possible questions and concerns.

We will be doing everything possible to move beyond this very discouraging set of circumstances and to regain or retain your trust. We will do so in a spirit of humility and honesty,

But we also want to make sure you know that this cannot distract from the pressing work that lies ahead — the essential business of electing a new President and a new Governor in 2020, electing Democrats at every level, and the urgent need to stand up for the interests of the people of Vermont, the United States and the world. We cannot lose sight of the urgency of that mission.

 

 

 

Health care reform: the election issue with no teeth?

Interesting thing happened last week. Vermont CURE, an advocacy group for single-payer health care reform, cut ties with Tess Taylor, the former House Assistant Majority Leader who resigned from the Legislature to sign on with CURE only about six months ago. In the middle of the 2014 legislative session.

Taylor had been brought on board in the expectation that there’d be some heavy lifting to do in the 2014 campaign, and her political chops would come in handy. Seemed like a good bet at the time, and an even better one after a spring and summer full of trouble for Vermont Health Connect. Surely, went the conventional thinking, the failures of VHC would mean trouble for Governor Shumlin.

Well, maybe not. Bram Kleppner, chairman of the V-CURE board, speaking with VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld: 

“We were expecting a strong candidate to oppose Gov. Shumlin. We were expecting a wave of strong  candidates coming in to run against supporters of (single-payer). So we brought Tess on, obviously because of her deep expertise in the Vermont political process,” Kleppner says. “But it became clear to us after the primaries that that political and legislative opposition that we were expecting really just hadn’t materialized.”

So, rather than a campaigning challenge, V-CURE will focus on a PR effort to convince the general public that single-payer is the best way forward. Taylor’s experience is less germane to that.

This ties in with an email chat I recently had with fellow blogger (and former Burlington City Councilor) Ed Adrian. He wanted to know how my blogposts about health care reform were doing in terms of readership. He’d noticed that anytime he wrote about health care reform, his numbers were “dismal.”

So I checked my numbers and found that, for whatever it’s worth, the same is true for theVPO. Health care stories just don’t attract many pageviews.

Now, theVPO’s audience is a very select, and self-selected, slice of the general public: those with a strong interest in Vermont politics. You can’t safely generalize from them to the entire electorate.

But you’d think that, if anything, my readers would be more interested in health care than everybody else.

Ed pointed out that a sizable majority of Vermonters have never had to interact with Vermont Health Connect because they get their health insurance elsewhere. For them, VHC’s failings are basically an abstract concern.

I wouldn’t have placed much value in the pageviews of a couple of blogs. But combine it with V-CURE’s move, and i have to wonder: is health care reform a lot more sizzle than steak? Is it mainly of interest to insiders and the political media?

It’s hard to tell from the course of the campaign to date. Scott MIlne hasn’t made a dent in Governor Shumlin’s armor with his attacks on VHC incompetence; but is that because of the issue, or because of his terrible campaign?

Then there’s Dan Feliciano, who’s gotten a lot of insider buzz with his devout opposition to single-payer. But his fundraising has been terrible and his 48-hour fundraising blitz came and went without any news — which has to mean it was a complete failure. Is he getting anywhere with a frontal attack on single-payer? It’s impossible to tell, since he hasn’t been included in recent polls. But his fundraising numbers certainly don’t reveal any groundswell of support.

There’s reason to believe that the failures of VHC may not be that politically harmful to Shumlin. I suspect that property taxes would have been a better issue for the Republicans. They still wouldn’t have beaten the Governor; but only a small portion of Vermonters have interacted with VHC, while pretty much everybody pays property taxes, either directly or indirectly.

It’s worth pondering, anyway.

The Bailey Do

do, N.

1. (chiefly dialect) fuss, ado

3. a festive get-together: affair, party

5. (British) cheat, swindle

(from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

I guess Todd Baley’s parents are out of town, because he’s throwing a big party at their Middlesex home this month. Shades of “Risky Business,” in more ways than one.

The Bailey Do is a fundraiser for the least deserving of Vermont political causes, Peter Shumlin’s bulging campaign warchest. Which already contains three times as much money as he’s likely to spend this season. 

The host, Todd Bailey, is an acquaintance of mine and head of the (so-called) white-hat lobbying shop, KSE Partners. One of KSE’s chief causes is health care reform. And, as VTDigger reports, one of Bailey’s co-hosts is Tess Taylor, former House Democratic Whip, now head of Vermont CURE, a single-payer advocacy group and a client of (wait for it…) KSE Partners. And, the top priority in the next biennium will be hammering out the details of a single-payer health care system.

Comfy-cozy.

Bailey contends there’s nothing to see here, keep moving along.

“Campaigns are funded through private donations and every lobbyist in the state of Vermont is going to participate in some type of fundraising activity,” he said Friday. “This is how the system functions. We’re simply exercising our constitutional rights.”

Yeah, just like Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson.

In fact, Bailey is right: as the system is currently structured, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Bailey and Taylor fundraising for the Governor they hope to work with on the single biggest issue before the Legislature.

It might look bad, in a Captain Renault sort of way. But it’s perfectly legal, and Bailey et al. are exercising their constitutional rights as delineated by, ahem, the Roberts Court.

Liberal stalwart, retired lobbyist, and ass-kickin’ bluesman Bob Stannard agrees with Bailey: nothing to see here.

“You can treat them right and hope you get a little more time with them, but if the ideas you’re pushing are out of sync with theirs, it’s not going to happen,” Stannard said.

And then he added the laugh line of the entire article:

If other people feel their voice isn’t being heard, Stannard suggested they throw their own fundraisers.

Mmm-hmm. That’ll get ’em on Shumlin’s short list. Sorry, Bob, but that’s just weak.

Also making a Captain Renault-style appearance in the Digger story is Brady Toensing, vice chair of the VTGOP and a veteran of the inside-the-Beltway fandango. He is Shocked, Shocked that fundraising is going on:

The situation is illustrative of “just how farcical all the complicated campaign finance and lobbying rules and regulations really are.”

Well, your dander is conveniently raised, Mr. Toensing. I presume you’re just as outraged when conservative causes and businesses pump hundreds of millions into SuperPACs?

Nnnnehh, didn’t think so.

Back to the Bailey Do. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next legislative session when VPIRG pushes its chosen issue of the year — campaign finance reform, including bans on corporate and lobbyist contributions to candidates.

Because the Democrats are fond of complaining about the influence of money in politics… except when it benefits them. And the Bailey Do is perfectly legal… within a system that desperately needs a makeover and new limits on what’s “perfectly legal.”

Bailey and Stannard did their best to justify a system that works for them because the Democrats rule our roost. And Toensing is Shocked, Shocked because his party is on the short end of this particular stick. If he was able to attract the attention of the Golden Dome’s power brokers, I’m sure he’d be fine with their exercise of constitutional rights as expressed in generous check-writing.

I don’t really think that backroom deals will be made chez Bailey. No real corruption. But it looks and smells bad. It’s the kind of thing that makes people feel shut out of the process, and give up on trying to influence their officeholders.

Besides, why the Hell does Shumlin need more loot?