The Fact Checker: Did state Treasurer Beth Pearce get a D minus in transparency?

CLAIM: “If [the state treasurer’s  website] was so wonderful, why do we have a D minus in transparency from the U.S. PIRG? That is unacceptable in this information age.”
— Republican candidate for state treasurer Wendy Wilton, WCAX-TV debate, October 7

FACTS: Transparency has been Wilton’s favorite cudgel in the state treasurer’s race. The Rutland city treasurer accuses Democratic state Treasurer Beth Pearce of failing to present the state’s budget in a “checkbook” format that Vermonters can understand. She points to a March study from U.S. PIRG, a national consumer advocacy organization, that gave the state a failing grade for financial transparency as proof that Pearce hasn’t provided the public with the kind of easy-to-grasp graphics and explanations that would make the state’s finances more transparent to average Vermonters.

Trouble is, Wilton has put the dunce cap on the wrong student. U.S. PIRG gave a D minus not to the state treasurer’s office, but to the Department of Finance and Management. The poor marks are not for
information about the state’s pension system (the purview of the treasurer), but for the state’s not-so-user-friendly annual budget explanations (produced by the DFM).

“I’ll take the lumps when I deserve them,” said Jim Reardon, the commissioner of the Department of Finance and Management. “This is the jurisdiction of finance and management, and not the state treasurer.”

The U.S. PIRG report said Vermont has a difficult-to-use budget website and was one of only three states that failed to complete a questionnaire. The state’s website is also short on important categories of information, such as government contracts with private companies, subsidies for economic development programs, tax breaks and the transactions of quasi-public agencies. State websites rated highly by U.S. PIRG — including those maintained by Texas, Kentucky, Louisiana and West Virginia — provided that information.

The Department of Finance and Management website is not for the mathematically challenged, nor is the state treasurer’s office site. Reardon and Pearce say they’re working on making both more understandable for regular folk.

Wilton has been touting the Rutland city website as a shining example. But instead of offering pie charts and searchable databases, her site is comprised of links to 14 documents — audits, profit-and-loss statements, and other reports. Not a single graphic graces the page titled “Financial Reports.” So much for the checkbook concept.

SCORE: Wilton has blamed the wrong person for Vermont’s failing grade from U.S. PIRG. The transparency rankings focused on state budget information handled by the executive branch — not disclosure of pension data maintained by the independently elected state treasurer. For that reason, we rate the claim “Udder Bull.”

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Anne Galloway

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  • Brian Harwood

    Let us hope that every news source in the state pushes this story. Good diggin’ work.

    • Melissa Aurigemma

      I hope so, too! And I would encourage people to visit the Rutland City website as well.

  • John Mandeville

    Perhaps Ms. Wilton doesn’t know the difference between the State Treasurer’s Office and the DFM. Wouldn’t really surprise me.

  • Nancy Flynn

    Wendy Wilton does not understand the very important financial concept of segregation of duties. The treasurer is not the chief accounting officer and is not responsible for the financial reporting of the state. As a matter of fact, the state treasurer is responsible for investments (including pensions), banking relationships, and cash management. The DFM is responsible for reporting. The City of Rutland has a problem with segregation of duties if the treasurer is has custody and control of assets and is also responsible for financial reporting and budgeting. Of course, the city is not as complex as the state. Still, I would advise that they separate the treasurer from the financial reporting function. If Ms. Wilton were to come to Montpelier, there would be quite a big learning curve. What is truly transparent at this point is how ignorant she is.

  • Will Patten

    Nothing is more frightening than when a concentration of wealth (Super Pac’s) merges with a willingness to lie and deceive. It’s happening locally, nationally and globally.

  • Larry Rudiger

    Will, yes. But it bears mentioning that wasn’t some ‘un-coordinated’ slander by a super-PAC. These are Ms Wilton’s allegations, and yes, it’s sort of comical that she seeks an office that requires (one would hope) a degree of precision. Which, apparently, she lacks.

    I just gave money to Beth Pearce and it felt *great.*


  • walter carpenter

    “What is truly transparent at this point is how ignorant she is.”

    Good point, Nancy.

    “I just gave money to Beth Pearce and it felt *great.*

    I will vote for Beth as well.

  • joanie maclay

    Windy continues to show her true colors!
    My advice is…..don’t comment on that which you do not know,
    Ms. Windy! The hole you dig is already huge..
    Worked phone bank last evening for Beth Pearce..
    It felt good!!