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Lobbying Ethics? 

Most of the distinguished hired-gun, contract business lobbyists who buzz through the Statehouse honeycomb on a daily basis readily acknowledge that their role is similar to that of whores. They provide a service for a price and do their best to keep the customer satisfied.

But make no mistake — even among whores there is honor and a fundamental sense of right and wrong. “Lobbying ethics” is not an oxymoron.

And last week the buzz among the bees was all about one distinguished contract lobbying firm’s unusual, and some say “unethical,” list of clients.

Capital Strategies is the name of the outfit. The principals are Betsy Bishop, her mom Susan Auld (the Republican Howard Dean beat back in 1986 to win the lieutenant governor’s race) and Will Adams.

The firm is registered to represent more than a dozen business interests. Among them are the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Care Systems, the State Chamber of Commerce and the Vermont Distributors Association.

What many insiders were scoffing at last week was the obvious conflicts of interest that particular dance card presents.

For example, the Hospital Association frowns on tobacco addiction and supports a big increase in the state’s cigarette tax, currently the lowest in the region. But the State Chamber opposes a cigarette tax hike, and so does the Distributors Association, whose members stock the state’s shelves with cigarettes, retail snacks and health and beauty aids.

Interesting, eh?

“There are any number of curious combinations among lobbyists,” veteran State Rep. Ann Seibert (D-Norwich) told Seven Days. But the client list of Capital Strategies, said Seibert, “is really a conflict that falls in the category of, ‘Who are you lobbying for today?’”

Seibert, a staunch anti-tobacco legislator, knows that tobacco interests “are not interested in increasing the tobacco tax, which I understand is a priority of the Hospital Association. I think the public would be stunned,” she said.

Even veteran Big Tobacco lobbyist William Shouldice Sr. of Shouldice & Associates appeared stunned by the odd assortment of clients. Big Bad Bill is the Philip Morris point man under the golden dome.

“Of course it’s an ethical conflict,” Mr. Shouldice told Seven Days when queried about the Capital Strategies client line-up. Being a water- carrier on both sides of an issue is an impossible task, he said.

Several other business lobbyists who asked not to be identified noted that if Auld, Bishop and Adams were a law firm, they couldn’t possibly get away with representing such diametrically opposed interests.

But Betsy Bishop assured us it’s all perfectly kosher.

“As long as the parties involved have an understanding,” Ms. Bishop told Seven Days, there’s no conflict. “This is between Capital Strategies and our clients.” Bishop said her clients are “knowledgeable” about other clients her firm represents at the Statehouse. “We have an agreement,” she said.

Asked what that agreement is, Ms. Bishop replied, “I don’t want to get into that with you.”

So we contacted the president of the Hospital Association, Marie Beatrice Grause. Ms. Grause, a nurse and lawyer, has been on board just three months. She previously worked on Capitol Hill.

“I come from Washington, D.C.,” she told Seven Days, “and these kinds of conflicts exist on a day-to-day basis.”

The way they handle it in Foggy Bottom, said Ms. Grause, is lobbyists “create firewalls.” For example, she said, “Betsy does not lobby on the cigarette tax” issue for the hospitals. While Ms. Bishop and Mr. Adams “may do some monitoring” on the tobacco tax issue, she said, “Betsy will have no involvement whatsoever. That will be my personal mission.”

President Grause noted we were not the first to raise this ethical issue with her. She said she has had “long and detailed discussions” with Ms. Bishop about a possible conflict and is “comfortable” with the arrangement.

“I find Capital Strategies to be a very ethical business,” said Grause.

Cool. If it works in Washington, D.C., then surely it’ll work in Montpeculiar.

And good news to report on Mr. Adams’ criminal troubles. You may recall Will was arrested at his Hartford home last February and charged with simple assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. Adams pled not guilty. The case has wound its way through the system.

In the end, Adams admitted to the charge and was given diversion. As a first-time offender, his record will be erased if he keeps his nose clean.

According to Windsor County Deputy State’s Attorney Matthew Huntington, “Court diversion will give Mr. Adams an opportunity to meet with a board of community members, as well as the police officers affected, and take responsibility for what he did wrong.”

The prosecutor said that if Adams “successfully completes the program, he’ll avoid a criminal conviction on his record. In light of his clean record, I think this course is a just one.”

Asked about the outcome this week, Mr. Adams replied, “I don’t think there’s a need for a response.”


Douglas Rewrites History! — In his latest direct-mail fundraising letter, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Jim Douglas opens fire on Democrat Lt. Gov. Doug Racine, but manages to simultaneously shoot himself in both feet.

Mr. Douglas goes negative in the January 15 two-page pitch, charging, “It would be dangerous to have Racine as a governor” of Vermont.

Dangerous?

If mild-mannered Doug Racine, Gov-Lite for the past six years, is “dangerous,” then Mother Teresa was a terrorist!

Good grief. The things politicians will say to get money. But it gets worse.

In Slim Jim’s signed letter, not only is the name of the state capital of Montpelier misspelled, but Treasurer Douglas asks potential donors to study Racine’s “seven-year record in the Vermont Legislature and his two years of service as Lieutenant Governor…”

Jeezum crow. Everybody but Jim Douglas knows that Doug Racine served 10 years in the State Senate and is currently in his sixth year as Lite-Gov.

Bizarre.

Meanwhile, Mr. Douglas’ challenger in the GOP primary is back on deck raring to pull off the political upset of the year. Con Hogan spent the opening week of the legislative session tooling around the west of Ireland with his band, Cold Country.

King Con’s quite the banjo picker. If Hogan wins, expect a musical inaugural.


Media Notes — Just one week away from Ruthless, sorry, Investigative Reporter Ruth Dwyer’s debut on the local airwaves for our local ABC affiliate WVNY-TV. The anticipation mounts and the opinions are flowing freely.

Congressman Bernie Sanders said, “I hope she does an honest job, and if she does that there’ll be nothing to complain about.”

Killington developer Bernie Rome told Seven Days, “I’m glad she has a job, I guess.” Rome lost the 1998 Republican gubernatorial primary to Mrs. Dwyer and later went public with charges she had made anti-Semitic remarks to him about Gov. Dean’s family and certain Vermont journalists.

Rome said it will be interesting to see how Dwyer “changes from hating the press to being a member of the press.” Ruth’s “strength,” he noted, “is her outrageous positions. It’ll be a shot in the dark.”

WCAX-TV news director and co-anchor Marselis Parsons weighed in last week in a Vermont Public radio report by Steve Zind.

“Reporters have a tough enough time,” said Marsillyiss, “professing, proclaiming and maintaining their impartiality. And here comes a politician, whether it’s Ruth Dwyer or someone else, who’s perceived by the public in a certain way. The reporter becomes part of the story, and that’s not the reporter’s job.”

Sounds like the “impartial” voice of WGOP, er, WCAX isn’t happy about Ruth the Truth’s imminent arrival on the box. Mr. Parsons called WVNY’s hiring of Mrs. Dwyer “an economic gimmick to get ratings.”

Over at the local NBC affiliate, WPTZ news director Andy Wormser had a less combative approach to Ruthie’s upcoming debut.

“We think it will be interesting to watch,” said Wormser.


DeanWatch 2004 — Due to technical difficulties, the “Calendar” page at the Web site of Gov. Dean’s presidential political action committee — www.fundforahealthyamerica.com — isn’t functioning this week. Bummer.

Last we looked a couple days ago, the Dean testing-the-waters travel calendar did not include the big out-of-state event reported last week by the Manchester Union Leader. Senior political reporter John DiStasio calls it “The Dean Debut.”

The Union Leader reported our favorite presidential hopeful “will make his first political appearance in New Hampshire” on March 24. Vermont’s Guv will be the keynote speaker at the Manchester Dems’ annual pre-parade St. Patrick’s Day breakfast.

March 24? All my life St. Patrick’s Day has been March 17. What’s up?

Not to worry. A spokesman for the New Hampshire Democratic Party enlightened us. Since Manchester is just a 40-minute drive from Boston, all the local shamrocks trek to Beantown on St. Paddy’s Day. Then they get to do it all over again back home a week later. Luck of the Irish, eh?

According to DiStasio’s report, Ho-Ho’s scheduled Feb. 23 speech to the Chamber of Commerce in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is being billed as a “non-political” appearance.

Yeah, sure.

Also this week, yours truly got to ask Bernie Sanders if he thinks the governor of Vermont is “qualified” to be President of the United States and what he thinks of Ho-Ho’s chances.

You may recall that last year, for the very first time, Gov. Dean and Congressman Sanders cozied up on the prescription drug issue. After all, Bernie’s bus trips to Canada were a smash hit. That was then, this is now.

“The governor of Vermont,” replied Mr. Sanders, “has made a mistake in trying to get rid of the very fine campaign finance reform bill that exists in Vermont right now. That’s not only bad for the state of Vermont,” he noted, “but it makes it more difficult for those of us who are fighting for the federal government to pass strong campaign finance reform.”

Ouch!

“People will say here in Vermont they had one of the best and strongest campaign finance reform bills, but they rescinded that bill because of political reasons.” (Actually it’s not officially dead yet. The legislature has to go along with Dr. Dean’s proposed tapping of the public financing account for other purposes.)

Sanders said Dean’s move “sends a bad message to those of us in Congress who are fighting for campaign finance reform.”

Okay, okay, but is Dean qualified for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

“Sure he is,” answered the congressman. “He’s as qualified as anybody else who is running.”

Ringing endorsement, eh?

Finally on the presidential trail, you may recall our recent report on the glowing Howard Dean “sleeper candidate” column that appeared in the Kansas City Star. That’s Kansas City, Missouri. But across the river, some of the good Christians noticed.

The Kookie Kansas Kristians (KKK), of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, quickly issued a news release attacking our governor. This Kansas version of the Taliban issued a press release charging, “Dean made Vermont the first and only state where fags and dykes can get marriage licenses and be joined together in unholy wedlock.”

Apparently they’re not fond of legalizing love in the form of civil unions. Of course, neither is House Speaker Walter Freed, Rep. Nancy Sheltra and the Vermont Taliban that appears to hold sway in the House Republican Caucus.

(By the way, word is Speaker Wally has added to his prestigious personal motor pool! This time it’s a new Ford Thunderbird. Hey, for some people it’s chocolate. For others it’s fancy cars.)

The KKK warned that “If the demon-possessed fag-enabler Governor of Vermont — Howard Dean — runs for president, the Westboro Baptist Church will follow him around like an ugly dog, picketing him at every stop in religious protest by warning: Beware! Antichrist Dean!”

The release quotes several scripture passages from the Old and New Testaments to back up their claim, and features the photo of Ho-Ho lifted from the Guv’s Web page.

Praise the Lord!

Getting picketed by these wacko-bigots would be a big plus for Dean’s White House quest. If only his luck holds up!

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Bio:
Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.

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