By Xander Landen/VTDIgger
Gov. Phil Scott on Friday hit back at the state Ethics Commission’s finding this week that he had a conflict of interest, calling it an “October surprise in an election year.”
Scott suggested the complaint filed against him regarding his ongoing financial relationship in his old company, DuBois Construction, was politically motivated.
The governor said he offered to appear before the Ethics Commission, which was formed just this summer, but received no response. He said he heard about the commission’s finding from the media, and was not offered the “courtesy” of the commissioning informing him first.
“I was disappointed, to tell you the truth, from a number of different perspectives,” said Scott, a Republican who is seeking election to a second two-year term.
In his press conference Friday, he urged lawmakers to change the newly formed commission. The board’s charge, he said, is “fraught with danger,” but he offered no suggestions for how they should go about the task.
“Think about the implications of this,” Scott told reporters Friday. “If all you have to do is make a complaint and the next day the headlines are ‘Someone is unethical,’ think about what’s going to happen to politics in Vermont.”
Scott sold his half-share of his longtime business, DuBois Construction Inc., just after taking office in 2017. But he sold it to the other half of the company and held the 15-year loan for $2.5 million, earning 3 percent interest for the first five years. Last year, he received $75,000 in interest. The newly created Ethics Commission ruled that gave him a financial interest in the company’s continuing success.
Meanwhile, DuBois Construction won a $250,000 state contract, which the commission says created the conflict.
“I still believe that this has been litigated a couple of times,” Scott said. “Two years ago about this time during the election I made the commitment to sell my share of the business. In January, after being sworn in, I had a press conference and was fully transparent and showed everyone what had transpired what I was going to do. So there is nothing that hasn’t been laid out.
“And so now we’re litigating it again, for a third time at the 11th hour, kind of an October surprise during an election year.”
The commission’s opinion came after the Vermont Public Interest Research Group filed a complaint about the governor’s financial ties to DuBois in August.
The advisory opinion states Scott “has a conflict of interest because he is financially intertwined as a creditor, who has an ongoing financial interest in a company that contract (sic) with the State, which the public official as governor is the chief executive officer.”
During a Friday press conference, Scott said that he has been “fully transparent” about his relationship with DuBois since he started running for governor, and took an “unprecedented step” in selling his stake in the business.
He went on to highlight how the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) moved to file its complaint close to the November election.
“It seems suspect to me that a powerful political organization makes a complaint during October of an election year,” he added a few minutes later.
In an interview, Paul Burns, the executive director of VPIRG, said the group couldn’t officially file its complaint until after the commission had adopted a code of ethics, which didn’t happen until June.
“The timing has everything to do with the fact that the state didn’t have a code of ethics until this summer,” Burns said.
He said he was disappointed the governor responded with a “political attack” instead of trying to address the financial conflict.
“He can’t defend his set up, so he attacks the process and messenger,” Burns said.
“Really the concern should be how to address the very clear ethical violation that the commission has recognized in this case… This is not an example of an ethics commission run amok in order to take down a governor.”
The ethics commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The board was created without investigative or enforcement power, and it has little authority other than the ability to issue advisory opinions.
Scott is facing opposition from several independent candidates and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Christine Hallquist, whose party took the opportunity Friday to launch a broadside at Scott.
“Years into people pointing out the clear conflict of interest with Phil Scott’s relationship with DuBois Construction, he’s still profiting off state contracts through his relationship with the company,” said Rob Hipskind.