$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
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
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
# # # # #