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. Editorial

Give $8000, Get $4.3 Million is Just the Tip of the Iceberg 
By Rob Roper 

The press had done a good job shedding some light on the $8000 donation to Peter Shumlin by big time donor David Bilttersdorf, Shumlin’s appointment of Bilttersdorf to the Clean Energy Development Board, and Bilttersdorf’s company ultimately receiving $4.3 million tax credits from that very board. 

However, this $8000 investment with an apparent $4.3 million payoff is just the tip of the iceberg, and only presents one small aspect of how a few wealthy special interests are manipulating the political process to extract millions of dollars from Vermont taxpayers. 

First, let’s look at that $8000 to Shumlin. The legal donation limit per individual is $2000 per cycle ($1000 for the primary and $1000 for the general election). Bilttersdorf was able to quadruple his influence by funneling donations to Shumlin through three of his corporations. This is not illegal and not unique, but it does illustrate how campaign finance laws with the advertised intent of limiting the influence of the wealthy actually give the wealthy an unfair advantage. 

This $8000 is not the only "investment" David Blittersdorf has made, and the $4.3 million in tax credits has not been his only pay day. Since 2003, David Blittersdorf and his wife Jan have given nearly $100,000 in direct donations to the Vermont Democratic Party, including $20,000 this 2009-2010 election cycle. In addition, Blittersdorf made in April, 2010, a stunning $35,200 donation to Vermont Senate 2010. 

This seems extremely generous. But it’s a small fraction of what he gained when in 2009 the Democratic veto-proof majorities in the Vermont House and Senate passed H.446, which guarantees through subsidies companies like Blittersdorf’s well above market rates for the power they generate. ("For a plant using wind power … $0.20 per kWh… For a plant using solar power, $0.30 per kWh.") These rates are between four and six times what Vermont Yankee and Hydro Quebec charge, and are locked in for ten to twenty-five years. 

This is a tremendously lucrative deal if you, like David Blittersdorf, own wind and solar companies. Everyone else is footing the bill. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, those Democrats who were elected with considerable assistance from Mr. Blittersdorf’s checkbook passed H.446 with near unanimous support in the house (only one Democratic representative voted no). There was slightly more resistance in the Senate where five of twenty-three Democrats broke ranks, but shepherding the bill through to guarantee passage was the Senate President Pro Tem… none other than Peter Shumlin. 

And, perhaps not so coincidentally, it’s the same Peter Sumlin who is leading the charge to shut down David Blittersdorf’s number one business competitor, Vermont Yankee, with the help of another organization of which David Blittersdorf just happens to be a board member – VPIRG. 

We don’t know how much money Bilttersdorf has donated to VPIRG as that organization is under no legal obligation to disclose the names or amounts of individuals who donate. However, VPIRG’s half a dozen lobbyists in the State House, grassroots activities, and ad campaigns have been tightly linked to the Blittersdorf’s business agenda. 

So, when in January VPIRG raised eyebrows by giving singular mention (and benefit) to a Democratic candidate for governor in an statewide messaging poll, and then in May that same politician improperly jumped up on the VPIRG Mardi Gras float sporting a "retired" Vermont Yankee cooling tower, we shouldn’t be surprised that that politician was and is…. Peter Shumlin. 

Closing Vermont Yankee would be a terrible blow to Vermont’s economy, killing jobs, driving up the cost of living and, certainly in the short term, increasing our carbon footprint dramatically. But, it would profit David Blittersdorf immensely, and advance Peter Shumlin’s political power.

Vermonters have a very emotional commitment our environment as well as our small-town, grassroots, town meeting day approach to government. It’s a shame to see both being manipulated and bought, from the inside and the outside, for the enrichment of a few wealthy special interests. 

Rob Roper is the host of the True North radio show

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