After reading the recent February editorial “Follow the money” in the Rutland Herald and Times Argus, I was left wondering exactly where these publications stand on the issue of ethics standards for public officials.
For those who haven’t seen it, the editorial begins by referencing the Legislature’s interest in ethics legislation, a forward step toward greater transparency that a group called Campaign for Vermont has proposed with the ACLU.
Then it seems like the editorial meanders back and forth, both criticizing the legislation and also providing strong supporting language for the proposed bill.
As the article itself concludes, Vermont has recently seen various conflict of interest scenarios play out involving state officials and a range of organizations and businesses.
Campaign For Vermont, just a few weeks back, pointed to a conflict involving Rep. Mike McCarthy of St. Albans. McCarthy serves as an employed community organizer for a company called SunCommon. He allowed himself to vote on a net-metering bill, which clearly violated House Rule 75, the House of Representatives’ own governing rules.
The legislation increases the level of renewable energy Vermont utilities can purchase from their own customers, directly benefiting SunCommon’s and Mr. McCarthy’s business interests.
There are other examples of impropriety involving other state officials that have stacked up steadily in recent years. In the last couple of months alone, Paul Heintz of Seven Days has pointed to many others: Conflicts involving Rep. Linda Wait-Simpson, the former “telecom czar,” as well as Karen Marshall, Rep. Lucy Leriche, Rep. Bob South and Rep. Jill Krowinski, among others.
Marshall, the former chief of the Vermont Telecommunications Authority, approved millions of dollars of grants to VTel and then began working for VTel as an executive just a few short weeks later. Leriche, a former House Majority Leader, immediately joined Green Mountain Power after leaving her legislative post. Prior to the move, she had major political influence on both GMP’s merger with Central Vermont Public Service and its controversial wind project in Lowell.
Furthermore, Leriche voted against bills that would have disallowed GMP from recouping $21 million in “windfall” money owed to ratepayers as a result of the GMP-CVPS merger. She also voted against a bill that would have allowed an investigation of state ownership of the state’s electric transmission system.
In reference to the Leriche conflict, past gubernatorial candidate Annette Smith wrote in an online commentary, “This is the best argument I’ve seen for legislation creating some ethics requirements for legislators. The revolving door is too blatant and harmful to our democratic process. Time to legislate ethics since some people don’t seem to have any.”
Currently, Vermont is one of just a few states with no ethics laws and has been ranked at the very bottom by numerous good-government groups for its conflict of interest and ethics standards.
Even the editorial states, “When officeholders stand to benefit personally from decisions they make, they ought to know that people are aware and watching. Voters need to follow the money, and politicians must not be allowed to hide it.”
In this case, I stand with Lisman’s group, Campaign for Vermont, and support their effort to push for the enactment of ethics, accountability and transparency standards. These folks are leading Vermont in the right direction. It is absolutely critical that the citizens of Vermont can see how their money is being spent.
We must also feel confident that those voting on legislation have only the best interests of their constituents in mind. I would assume the Herald and Times Argus are also fans of such progress.
Andy Dean is a resident of Woodstock.MORE IN Perspective
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