Legislative Update: Ethics Commission

Vermont is one of only three state without an ethics commission – and that’s a problem. By and large, our elected officials serve with honor and distinction. But with many Americans losing faith in government, Vermonters deserve to know that we can trust our elected officials to serve our state honestly and without the appearance of conflict.  Our elected officials deserve clear standards and resources to help them make ethically sound decisions.

The Senate Government Operations Committee has made ethics reform one of their top priorities this session, and VPIRG strongly supports this effort. S.8, sponsored by Senators Pollina and White, would create a state Ethics Commission that can review and evaluate complaints of ethical violations, and serve as guidance for our officials to make ethical decisions. It would require basic financial disclosures from our elected officials, and would prohibit practices like the “revolving door” where high-ranking state employees move directly into lobbying positions, and “pay-to-play” where individuals or corporations grease the skids for lucrative state contracts.

VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns testified in support of S.8, highlighting the importance of a strong pay-to-play restriction.  “Simply put, no person or corporation should be eligible to receive a contract from an agency led by a person they’ve given a political contribution or gift to,” Burns said. “We must concede that it’s not possible to know the real intent of the executive officer in these cases. But to the public’s eyes, it still carries the appearance of corruption.”

Though VPIRG is seeking to strengthen several key provisions in S.8, it is our hope that this legislation will represent an important first step towards greater government accountability, transparency, and oversight.

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