Rebecca Holcombe: Restoring Public Trust in Government

MONTPELIER, VERMONT: On July 9th, 2020, Democratic candidate for Governor, Rebecca Holcombe, released a set of recommendations on ethics and transparency in government.

“Vermonters have a right to know their Governor and government works for them, and not for the special interests representing a subset of the public. Similarly, when lobbyists or other entities come before the Legislature, the public has a right to know what financial interests shape their testimony, to ensure that those who can afford to hire representation in the State House don’t get preferential treatment at the expense of public interest.

Given recent events that have undermined public trust in whether the state is serving the public interest, there is a compelling interest in establishing the ethics and transparency guidelines necessary to restore trust in government,” said Holcombe.

“I am happy to see a candidate for Governor who is leading on issues of ethics and transparency. I’m proud to stand with Rebecca in support of her recommendations and her candidacy for governor,” said John Gannon, Chair of the House Ethics Panel.

Holcombe consulted with Secretary of State Jim Condos, Representative John Gannon, and others before today’s release of her recommendations. She will also be sharing her recommendations directly with the Vermont Ethics Commission, which is currently accepting public comment on a Vermont state code of ethics.

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Proposed Set of Ethics and Transparency Recommendations

Ethics:

As Governor, I will build on the recommendations of the Vermont Ethics Commission and the Coalition for Public Integrity to ensure that:

  • The Vermont Ethics Commission has wide powers to investigate, enforce and as appropriate, ensure corrective action or sanctions for all government personnel, including the Governor.
  • Once the Ethics Commission has reached a determination that an ethics violation has occurred, its proceedings should be available for public review.
  • Both executive branch officials and employees, as well as legislators, are subject to the same treatment and ethics rules as everyone else, and that the reviewing entities are members of the public, and not members of the executive or legislative branches. The Legislature should designate the Ethics Commission to investigate suspected breaches of members, then send its findings to the appropriate legislative ethics committee for judgment.
  • Clear guidelines exist in statute and regulation to prevent Ethics Commission members from removal without cause, while also ensuring guidelines are established for removal with for good cause.
  • As the Coalition recommends, legislators and members of the public appointed to boards and commissions disclose the names of all clients for whom they work, or other boards or interests they represent, whether the client directly hires the legislator/appointee or hires the entity which employs the legislator/appointee. Limited exceptions could be made to protect, for example, attorney-client privilege.

Lobbying:

To ensure the public interest, it is also essential that public leaders not profit, nor appear to profit, from their years of service. To this end, I will support legislation that prevents a revolving door from public office to lobbying:

  • A five year lobbying ban for Governors and appointed administration officials, starting with my administration.
  • Multi-year lobbying bans for former legislators and state employees, so that at least two years pass before elected or government officials are allowed to become lobbyists, with longer bans applying to more senior staff.
  • It is also critical that the public understands which interests are testifying and shaping the policy that governs the state. To this end, I will support legislation that ensures:
  • Disclosure by all persons and entities who testify before the legislature or petition the administration, who receive or are supported by public funds, or who have contracts with the state, of the amount and the percentage of their total funding that is provided by taxpayers. This must be publicly declared, in writing, at the time of testimony.

Records transparency:

Starting with my administration, I will work to change the state’s “deny first” mentality and make more state records readily available online, by:

  • Appointing an ombudsperson to provide another means for deciding record disputes and avoiding the court system, providing access to more records for more Vermonters
  • Improving trust in government through transparency, including by preparing data in ways that can be proactively posted, rather than accessed only through a records request.
  • Ensuring that moving forward, all public meetings continue to have a remote dial in or video option moving forward, to increase access and participation to those who can’t make an in-person meeting.