Democrat Sue Minter and Republican Phil Scott say they support the creation of an ethics commission in Vermont, but sharply disagree over what constitutes a conflict of interest for elected officials.
Vermont is one of a handful of states that doesn't have an ethics commission in place. Backers of a plan to create one say it's needed to design and enforce ethical standards for public officials. The Senate considered a stripped-down version of the proposal this past session but the House didn't have time to review it.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter says it's critical for Vermont to create an ethics commission in 2017. She says the panel could have limited duties at the outset. Under this approach, the commission would review allegations of impropriety and then decide if cases should be sent to the attorney general for further investigation.
"In the large sense people have really lost faith in government,” says Minter. “And I truly want to make sure that people can know that the public interest is the primary interest of their elected officials."
Republican gubernatorial hopeful Lt. Gov. Phil Scott supports the concept of an ethics commission, but he wants to be certain that it's not the multi-million dollar plan that was first proposed in the Senate.
"What I'm not interested in is developing a full-time board that's going to cost millions of dollars and added bureaucracy,” Scott says. “I’m not looking to do anything to increase the cost of living on already struggling Vermonters."
During the Republican gubernatorial primary, Shelburne businessman Bruce Lisman spent tens of thousands of dollars on TV spots charging that Scott was improperly benefiting from state construction contracts.
Scott is a co-owner of Dubois Construction. The company received just under $4 million in state contracts during Scott's career as a state senator and lieutenant governor. Scott was considering putting his financial interest in the company into a blind trust if he's elected governor, but over the weekend he announced that he's decided to sell his share of the company if he wins.
"I came to the conclusion that maybe the best thing to do would be to separate myself totally without question and to sell my portion of the business if I became elected,” said Scott.
Minter says she's not satisfied with this arrangement.
First, she wants to know why it took Scott so long to recognize the potential conflict of interest.
"It is worth explaining why he was able to receive so many contracts while he was lieutenant governor and why he didn't acknowledge that this was a conflict earlier,” Minters says. “He's been running for governor for a year."
Minter says Dubois Construction should be prohibited from bidding on any state contracts if Scott is elected governor, because Scott has a cousin who still owns part of the business.
"I think that when a governor is able to award contracts to businesses that are owned in part by family members it certainly undermines the public trust,” Minter said.
Scott says Minter's comments are extreme.
"I believe they're going over the top,” he says. “This is a really ridiculous statement and shows just how far they're willing to go in their quest for power."
Scott says it would be unfair to the company and its employees to make the business pledge not to bid on any state contracts if he's elected governor in November.