Bruce Lisman: Vermonters Burdened By Absence Of Government Ethics Standards
Once again the Vermont Legislature has adjourned and once again it has failed to enact meaningful ethics reforms. A comprehensive ethics package would not be the last step towards good government. It’s the first step toward reminding us all that our Legislature and executive branches of government work for the people not the other way around.
The latest case in point is the unfolding EB-5 scandal in the Northeast Kingdom. Our state and the struggling region embraced the seemingly inspiring vision of developers who were raising funds from overseas investors in a program supposedly regulated by the state and federal government.
The people of the Northeast Kingdom trusted their state government to provide supervision and accountability so that a series of new projects would be built to inject economic prosperity. But the state let them down.
Two years of investigative reporting by Anne Galloway of VTDigger.org raised serious questions about the development projects, and as Vermont Public Radio’s Peter Hirschfeld reported and documented, “Federal authorities launched an investigation into Jay Peak’s EB-5 projects nearly a year before state officials had their first inkling that something illegal was afoot.”
The Shumlin administration should have been developing a robust process for scrutinizing the offering documents and business plans. Instead, the governor and his aides went on marketing trips to Asia to promote the projects to investors, offering the empty promise that the state would audit the projects.
Even more appalling, the governor and state Democratic Party were collecting tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the developers. And even now, they refuse to return these contributions to the EB-5 receiver who needs every dollar possible to keep Jay Peak Resort operational and to open the Burke Mountain Hotel.
While apparently focused solely on glad handing the Jay Peak developers, the administration ignored the needs and challenges faced by many Vermont businesses. Instead of visiting manufacturers, dairy farms, hotels and other small businesses all across our state who are facing great economic challenges, the governor and others have shallowly watched as Vermont’s business climate continues to deteriorate.
The ethical lapses in Vermont epitomized by the Shumlin administration, and others who have stood by silently, are sad and obvious. For years our government has been based on personal ambition, insider connections, impulse and ideology – instead of highly qualified professional managers and formal structures. As a result, there is inevitably a rise in bad actors, bad policies, and bad government.
Since 2011 I have been pushing for government accountability and ethics standards, it is only recently that conversations in the Legislature have occurred, yet shamefully there is still no action toward enactment.
• Vermont is one of only three states that does not require public officials to file comprehensive financial disclosure information or an independent ethics commission. This must change.
• Vermont does not have a “revolving door” policy that would prevent elected officials from moving in and out of government posts and the private sector. This too, should change.
• We must end the practice of allowing those who are in the Legislature or hold statewide office, and their companies, to benefit from state contracts.
The Center for Public Integrity gives Vermont a D- for integrity. We can, and must do better.
With comprehensive ethics standards, we can begin to restore the public’s trust in government. When government lacks transparency, accountability, and ethics standards the people of our state suffer the consequences. The politicians of today have caused great disruption in our health care system, economic development efforts, and education programs. Instead of establishing strategic goals, measuring results and allocating resources openly, they have been stumbling along, compounding mistakes and avoiding blame.
If given the honor and privilege to serve as the next governor of our great state, I will restore the people’s trust and integrity for the highest elected office in our state. I will continue to call for the enactment of ethics standards. I will establish goals and clearly articulate steps to achieve and measure them. I will recruit highly competent managers to run our government. I will build relationships with our large, medium and small sized businesses to better understand their needs and challenges. Vermont is ready for a new direction and I am ready to lead Vermont in that new direction; I ask for your support.
- Vermont EB5 Regional Center
- Jay Peak - Q Burke Mountain Resort, Hotel and Conference Center L.P.
- Peter Shumlin
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