TO: REPRESENTATIVE TOWNSHEND
CC: HOUSE GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS COMMITTEE
FROM: BENJAMIN KINSLEY, PAUL BURNS, BILL SCHUBART
SUBJECT: CHANGES TO GOVERNMENT ETHICS BILL S.8
Dear Representative Townshend:
First, we would like to thank you and your committee for the considerable amount of time you have put into S.8. As you are well aware, ethics legislation can become complicated as you get into the nuts and bolts of it.
CFV and VPIRG were dismayed last week to learn that the committee is moving away from an independent ethics commission. With no oversight authority – even for the most egregious violations –an ethics commission will be ineffective. Even worse, with no separation from the administration, it is prone to becoming a political instrument.
We strongly encourage you to restore the original structure of the commission in S.8 with a majority of the members appointed by groups outside of state government. This ensures independence because no one branch of government has control over the commission, thus providing balance and legitimacy.
Likewise, the commission’s authority over ‘governmental conduct regulated by law’ covers the most serious allegations any ethics oversight authority might face. These MUST be handled in a manner that the general public has the highest level of confidence in. Funneling these complaints directly to the Attorney General does not guarantee impartiality, as it becomes one elected official investigating another.
Further, putting the Attorney General in this position inherently politicizes any investigation. This is precisely the situation an effective ethics commission is meant to avoid. A strong and independent ethics commission is critically important to the success of any set of ethics laws.
We are also very concerned about moving backwards in regard to tax transparency as it has become customary for statewide candidates to disclose tax returns. Requiring them to only file a limited disclosure form instead does not meet the same level of transparency.
Thank you again for your work on this issue. We are looking forward to working with your committee over the coming years as Vermont’s ethics policies and procedures continue to develop.
Campaign for Vermont Prosperity
Vermont Public Interest Research
Author and political commentator