Stowe rep pushes ethics bill modeled after CFV proposal

Vermont is one of three states that does not require public officials to disclose financial information, and it is one of eight states that does not have an ethics commission, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

While ethics policies are standard elsewhere, state officials have long maintained such rules aren’t necessary because Vermont has a citizen Legislature that is unusually accessible to the public.

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, disagrees with the conventional wisdom.

Reps. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, and Paul Ralston, D-Middlebury, have proposed a new economic development strategy to grow business within the state. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

Reps. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, and Paul Ralston, D-Middlebury. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

“Just because our state is small, and we’re very accessible to our constituents doesn’t mean that transparency and accountability are there,” Scheuermann said. “I’m not accusing anyone of anything but I think it’s important. Even the perception of a conflict of interest can be reality. In politics, perception is reality. That perception or true conflict should be considered.”

Scheuermann wants to see the General Assembly adopt guidelines for ethical behavior that would establish strict rules of conduct for lawmakers, statewide officeholders and appointed officials. Her bill, H.846, also includes the formation of a Vermont Ethics Commission.

H.846, is sponsored by 23 other lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, and it is modeled after a proposal floated by Campaign for Vermont, a 501c4 advocacy group that has been critical of the Democratically controlled Legislature.

Scheuermann’s bill would address the “revolving door” phenomenon in which state officials leave public office to lobby on behalf of unions and corporations, or work for the very entities they once regulated. Several recent examples include Vince Illuzzi, the longtime senator from Essex County who lobbied for the Vermont State Employees Association nine months after he left office, and Karen Marshall, who led the governor’s ConnectVT initiative and then left to work for VTel, a broadband company in Springfield.

Under the proposal, an official who has served as an elected official or appointee would be restricted from appearing before the Legislature for a two-year period.

Certain conduct for current officeholders and appointees would also be prohibited, including: use of a position to secure special privileges; personal use of state property; any action taken in which the official has a conflict of interest; actions that “materially advance” the interests of a potential employer; the solicitation of favors, gifts or trips; and stock trades or business transactions based on privileged information gained from service in the Legislature.

An official who is charged with regulating a company would not be allowed to conduct business with that entity.

The policy would apply equally to representatives, agency secretaries, appointees of the governor and the governor himself. Though Gov. Peter Shumlin signed an executive branch order establishing a code of conduct it applies only to appointees of the governor.

H.846 also creates a five-member Vermont Ethics Commission that would have the authority to investigate violation complaints, complete with subpoena power. The commission’s findings would not be subject to Vermont’s Public Records Act. Annual reports about the number of complaints and investigations would be made available to the public.

The civil penalty for violating the code of conduct would be as much as $10,000 per violation. An official would also be responsible for reasonable attorneys fees associated with enforcement.

Scheuermann says this component of the bill is important because currently when there is a question about conduct in the Statehouse there is no one to go to. “If we did think there was some impropriety or something not above board there’s no place to go to say anything or have an inquiry,” Scheuermann said.

The financial disclosure language in the draft now circulating in the House Government Operations Committee is not likely to survive the cutting room floor. Scheuermann says she doesn’t oppose pulling the provision, which currently requires all officials to disclose the name of their business or employer, assets of more than $5,000, and the source of any income that exceeds $30,000.

“It’s a part-time Legislature, it’s a citizen Legislature, we have a difficult time recruiting people to do this kind of job,” Scheuermann said. “I don’t want to make it so really qualified people wouldn’t run.”

Rep. Donna Sweaney, D-Springfield, chair of Government Operations, hopes to move a proposal forward this session, though she is concerned that the Senate will be less inclined to take it up, and there isn’t a clear signal that the governor would endorse legislation. It may be more effective, she says, to adopt new House rules.

Anne Galloway

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37 Comments on "Stowe rep pushes ethics bill modeled after CFV proposal"

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Al Salzman
2 years 7 months ago
Good for Rep. Scheuermann in proposing a Vermont ethics code with teeth in it. The old palsy-walsy ethics system never really worked. It was one of the Vermont myths – you know: “I know him he’s a nice guy, he’d never do anything like that!” Yeah, like George W. Bush was declared to be a guy you’d like to have a beer with. As a society we have become a kleptocracy, a disease that even Vermont is not immune to. The sad truth is that even on the town level our neighbors reflect the felonious behavior of our bankers and… Read more »
Bob Stannard
2 years 7 months ago
Let’s see how this works. Campaign for Vermont test drives a few issues, like accountability and transparency to see what they get for a response. Obviously, they get big support for this issue, because everyone wants to hold their elected officials accountable. Once they determine enough support, then they get one of their top members, who happens to be a Republican Rep to introduce legislation. If it passes anywhere we can be sure to see CFV take credit, which then leads people to think that this group has influence, which is what Mr. Lisman is desperately trying to gain. Oddly,… Read more »
Keith Stern
2 years 7 months ago

Would it also cover lying by the politicians such as Shumlin and his telling the legislature that the feds would pay to rebuild the state offices in Waterbury or Welch who said that he couldn’t understand why the ethanol industry was subsidized after having voted for it.
Also shady deals such as Shumlin trying to cheat his neighbor out of his property or sweetheart deals where he acquired property well below its value should be included in the bill.

Kim Fried
2 years 7 months ago

Good work Rep. Scheuermann and your Committee. Can you imagine Vermont is one of last States in the Union to have such a completely appropriate law? When you look at what happpened to the recent campaign fund raising law and it’s fate I wish you only good luck. It’s so obvious what’s going on in Montpelier during the past couple of years and that is what makes this law so important.

timothy price
2 years 7 months ago
Good luck with what appears to be an effort to keep bad influences out of our government through applying ethical guidelines. However, I do not think that this goes nearly far enough. There is no requirement for office seekers to disclose their relationships with such organizations as The Council on Foreign Relations, which is now become seen as the principle driving force in the US toward instituting a North American Union, and a global government. There are many more such organizations which operate in the shadows, disguised and protected by their media. Corruption is the objective for the globalists to… Read more »
sandra bettis
2 years 7 months ago

would this ethics bill cover lobbyists too?

Lauren Greenfield
2 years 7 months ago

You’re kidding, right? I’d bet there are lobbyists gearing up now to fight the evil ethics bills.

Ralph Colin
2 years 7 months ago
Is it interesting that, so far at least, Bob Stannard is the ONLY commentator who opposes Rep. Scheurmann’s proposed bill. Most people would find it difficult to come up with reasons why the state should not have an Ethics bill. What is Bob afraid of? Well, we know that basically he dislikes anyone who doesdn’t agree with his political views and that means that Republicans are all persona non grata on his territory. He suspects that Citizens for Vermont is a surreptitious front organization for the Republican Party, so they are, in his book, automatically suspicious. Moreover, Heidi Scheurmann, being… Read more »
Fred Woogmaster
2 years 7 months ago

Your question at the end of your comment is perhaps itself unethical, Mr. Colin, or – support your notion that Mr. Stannard is “so concerned about having an Ethics law in Vermont”.
THAT in my opinion is not the case.

Is there not some truth, Mr. Colin, to what Mr. Stannard poses in relation to Mr. Lisman and his organization? Are you simply partisan bookends?

Or – dangling partisans?
I am a political Independent.

Bob Stannard
2 years 7 months ago
Well, I see my old friend Ralph Colin has read much more into my words than he normally does. No, I’m not at all worried about the $5 reporting threshold for lobbyists. Quite the contrary. I supported the idea. The day that law was adopted was the day that big money dried up for legislators. Oddly enough, big money is now back in the for a PACs (yes, I did start one some time ago to draw attention to how bad they are). I am also fully cognizant of the fact that both (or all) parties are subject to corruption… Read more »
Bob Stannard
2 years 7 months ago

Oh, and yes I do tend to find myself more in agreement with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party, primarily because the Republican Party of today is no longer the Republican Party to which I once belonged.

It’s become the party of right-wing, religious extremists; the same people my ancestors couldn’t tolerate and came to Vermont 250 years ago to get away from.

Kathy Nelson
2 years 7 months ago
A commission on ethics in the legislature? Bob, you must be absolutely horrified at this. From your comments I see that a nerve has really been rattled. Why waste money on such a thing? Because you don’t like the organization that proposed it? Where were you when Pete Shumlin whipped up the Energy Siting Commission (during an election year of course) and wasted the taxpayer’s money on this distraction when he just could have said industrial wind was not welcome in VT. It seems that you have always supported Shumlin’s unethical conduct and are doing so now with your opposition… Read more »
Bob Stannard
2 years 7 months ago
There is a difference between disagreeing with one’s position and having the person you disagree with be unethical. You don’t agree with Shumlin on wind development. I happen to think that every little bit helps the bigger problem. I don’t see where an Ethics Commission would make a bit of difference in anything the governor has done. You don’t like him so don’t vote for him. It’s pretty simple. As a retired lobbyist I can tell you where I stand. I believe that if a member of the General Assembly is acting in a truly unethical way, that it will… Read more »
Ralph Colin
2 years 7 months ago

If an Ethics law already exists in forty-two other states, I still don’t understand to what Bob objects in such a law being adopted in Vermont other than the fact that it has been proposed by Heidi Scheurmann who also happens to be associated with CFV. Whether or not one may be a proponent of CFV, what does that have to do with having an objective view
of the benefits that would be derived from
having an Ethics law in our state.

Bob still hasn’t explained that despite his lengthy onfuscation of the merits of the proposal.

Bob Stannard
2 years 7 months ago
Ralph, you are too enamored with your own voice to listen. Go back and read what I’ve said. If people feel that we need an Ethics Commission, because the NCSL tells us we do then go ahead and establish one. And whoever is on it will be chastised by one party or another and it will be perceived as being partisan by one party or another, but if it makes everyone feel good, by all means let’s get it going. They will meet once every twenty years or so or whenever there is a complaint that can’t be resolved. Or… Read more »
Coleman Dunnar
2 years 7 months ago

Thanks Heidi – the establishment of an ethics commission is long overdue. Sunshine is good for getting rid of mold.

Dave Bellini
2 years 7 months ago

For a “citizen legislature” we have many people making a career out of being a politician. I wonder what a few of our elected leaders actually do for “work” or if they even have a real job beyond being a legislator.

Bob Stannard
2 years 7 months ago

I’m not sure just what the compensation is today, but I’d would wager it’s not much more than $25k/session. They most likely have to do something else, which creates another burden of its own. If you think the job is easy, go run for office and let us know how easy it is.

Ron Pulcer
2 years 7 months ago
In regards the specific bill, H.846, a fair question is if the Representative of the citizens of Stowe, Rep. Scheuermann, is also representing “Campaign For Vermont”? She is listed as a “Partner” of CFV. http://campaignforvermont.org/who-we-are.php While there might not be any financial connection, this H.846 bill does seem quite similar to the way ALEC-sponsored “model legislation” gets submitted in other U.S. States. Except, in this case, you could just substitute ALEC with the CFV acronym. I agree that given there is “no one to go to” or “no place to go” to bring ethical concerns to within the Legislature, that… Read more »
Fred Woogmaster
2 years 7 months ago

Campaign for Vermont, Mr. Lisman, what is your position on ALEC?

Tom Pelham
2 years 7 months ago
Ron….usually I find your comments thoughtful, informative and balanced, but the above speculative comment about ALEC is not of that sort. Campaign for Vermont’s interest in governmental ethics comes from a long standing, multi-year conversation among Bill Schubart, David Coates and Bruce Lisman. The research legwork on CFV’s proposal was done by two interns, Ben Kinsley and Kris Jolin, graduates of Norwich and Castleton respectively and was reviewed by Allen Gilbert of the ACLU, among others. ALEC wasn’t involved at all and if ALEC were involved, I wouldn’t be part of Campaign for Vermont. I respond to your comment because… Read more »
Ron Pulcer
2 years 7 months ago
Tom, My intent was not to say or infer that CFV took an off-the-shelf ALEC “model bill” and tweaked it, or even that CFV is a member of ALEC. Sorry, if you interpreted my question that way. I was instead asking the question as to whether this proposal came about from using a similar “process” that ALEC follows to craft legislation. I’m not talking about inviting state legislators, using “scholarships” to entice attendance to out-of-state events, to help craft model legislation, and participate on ALEC subcommittees. Rather, the point of the question was whether CFV is using some kind of… Read more »
Bob Stannard
2 years 7 months ago

I had not made the ALEC connection, but I’m not surprised to learn that CFV might be promoting this right-wing group’s agenda.

For those who are unfamiliar with ALEC you might want to check this out: http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed

They promote issues like voter suppression and get a substantial amount of their funding from the Kochs.

2 years 7 months ago
As of this moment, there have been 20 comments made on the ethics topic, seven of them from Bob Stannard. All of Bob’s comments made in an effort to kill and bury the concept of public official accountability. Instead of wanting to rationally address the issue on its merits, Bob elects to attack the messengers. Vermont is one of only three states in the entire nation without some sort of ethics law and one of eight states without a mechanism to oversee ethics, making progressive Vermont an odd outlier. So its time to have a serious conversation on the matter… Read more »
Tom Pelham
2 years 7 months ago
Peter..You might remind Bob of former Speaker Ralph Wright’s trips to Boston and Montreal with the “Hockey Team”. The Hockey Team was a bunch of R’s that Speaker Wright groomed for votes when needed. They went to Bruin’s games in Boston and word has it strip clubs in Montreal. Here’s a 1990 summary by former lobbyist David Wilson, a great guy, profiling Wright’s efforts. “First, in mid-March, the Speaker of the House and several of his closest Republican allies (later to become dubbed “The Hockey Team”) enjoyed a dinner in Boston followed by attendance at a Bruins hockey game, compliments… Read more »
2 years 7 months ago

Tom:

Believe it or not, a couple of Saturday’s ago, we had one of our selectman and his wife over for dinner. This person, along with his father-in-law, were both in the legislature during Ralph Wright’s time.

My wife and I were regaled with stories about Ralph, the R’s and the good times. So I know what you’re talking about.

Bob Stannard
2 years 7 months ago
Yes, I served with Ralph and was quite close to him. I never went to Montreal, but did go to two NCSL conventions and one Red Sox game. I believe that it was all perfectly legal as there were 30 other members who went to the convention. You might also be interested to know that it was Ralph Wright who instituted lobbyist disclosures of any expenditure over $5.00. That one act completely slammed the door on lobbyists showering legislators with perks. You were around back then, Tom, I think working for Kunin; back when you were a Democrat. I would’ve… Read more »
Tom Pelham
2 years 7 months ago
Bob…Speaker Wright didn’t do it because he wanted to, he did it because the press backed him into a corner. Here’s the rest of David Wilson’s 1990 report on the topic, continuing from where I left off in my comment to Peter above. “When the press got hold of this earth-shattering information, stories were written that played for several days. The Speaker, combative as always, immediately had a new lobbyist disclosure bill drafted (there was already one that had been passed by the Senate in 1989 languishing in Rep. John Murphy’s General and Military Affairs Committee). There was general agreement… Read more »
Bob Stannard
2 years 7 months ago

Well, that’s David’s recollection, but the fact is that Ralph never particularly cared about what the press said and/or did. He really didn’t.

He was pissed that the idiot tobacco lobbyists handed out checks (mostly to Republicans). He pulled his bill out to put an end to that nonsense.

But you are back 25 years ago, Tom. What’s happening today in the legislature that’s causing the impetus for this initiative; other than your organization’s desire for attention and relevance?

Bob Stannard
2 years 7 months ago
OK Peter, let me make it 8. Can you name one instance where a member of the House or Senate has acted unethically? Just one will do. While I wait I would again state that I believe that this is a solution in search of a problem. If someone is acting unethically it will come to light and you can vote him/her out at the next election. Again, is there an estimation as to how many times this new commission will meet? Is there an estimate as to how much it will cost to staff and house this new commission?… Read more »
2 years 7 months ago
Bob: Eight is fine, we always enjoy hearing from you. If some of your some of reasoning on ethics standards had been applied to establishing renewable energy and health care reform policy, those programs would have been dead in their tracks and we wouldn’t have the mess and costs in each of those areas currently confronting us. I agree with you that a whole new bureaucracy is not required. To start, a single person in the AG’s office dedicated to ethics matters would be sufficient to start. In the meantime, the bi-partisan sponsorship of the bill has it right and… Read more »
Coleman Dunnar
2 years 7 months ago
Peter: Glad to see your have begun a list of some or the areas where more the one pair of eyebrows have been raised regarding the appearance of or the actual occurrence of ethical transgressions. Let me add to the list. CVPS /GMP merger – Same household representing the utilities and the ratepayers, the software contract for the health care exchange at nearly the same cost as the federal system just slides through without an explosion from the auditor’s office. I’m certain other commenters have myriad of other examples. Let’s keep the list growing. Regarding asinine comment number nine “We’re… Read more »
Bob Stannard
2 years 7 months ago

Coleman, can you give one example of a legislator who is acting unethically; i.e. the problem that supposedly needs fixing with this initiative from CFV?

Bob Stannard
2 years 7 months ago

Yet no one has answered my question as to what, exactly, is the problem?

What was the occasion when a Rep/Sen. acted unethically and no resolution was possible?

If there is no answer to that question then I go back to my point that this is a solution in search of problem orchestrated by a group looking for a win.

I can easily be proven wrong if someone would answer my question.

Bob Stannard
2 years 7 months ago
In my first term in the House the federal gov’t was breaking up AT&T. It was clear to many of us that once that happened that there would be people who would fall through the cracks. I introduced a “telephone lifeline” bill. I brought it to the Commerce Committee where the Chair, Stu Hunt, asked me “So, what’s the problem?” I explained that the problem was on the horizon and was plain to see. The bill died on the wall. Over the summer AT&T was broken up and sure enough people were falling through the cracks. I had reserved bill… Read more »
Bob Stannard
2 years 7 months ago

and once again I suspect that since this is an initiative of CFV that this group has tested this issue and found it to be winner. Who could possibly be against such a noble idea? We’re holding people who are already accountable, accountable.

It’s one of the Mom & Apple Pie issues that you can’t lose on. Once it’s passed then CFV can hold a press conference to show how in sync they are.

Next maybe we can talk about recognizing the contribution of Maple Syrup to Vermont. I’d vote for that one, too!

Fred Woogmaster
2 years 7 months ago

The Maple Syrup Party.
I like that even better
than The Garden Party.
How sweet it is.

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