Last Tuesday night, a foreign corporation promised me a minimum of $23,240, as long as voters approve their turbine project in November.
This was done publicly and in writing at an open meeting held at our local elementary school. I was not the only one offered this opportunity. Every registered voter in Windham can get their share of the annual $350,000 Project Partnership Program, provided the referendum goes Iberdrola’s way.
As a prominently displayed sign stated, with the key information in bold print, “Each year the fund will be dispersed evenly among the number of participants in the program, making the yearly payment a minimum of $1,162 per registered voter based upon the current number of registered voters.”
If the turbine project is approved on Nov. 8 and subsequently receives a 20-year Certificate of Public Good by the PSB, I’m in the money to the tune of $23,240 – even more if some people opt out of the program, leaving fewer people to divvy up the spoils of victory.
The dictionary definition of a bribe is “money or favor given or promised in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust.” The Project Partnership Program offers “direct annual payments” in a blatant effort to influence voters who, in a democracy, are in a position of trust when they go to the polls. This certainly seems to fit the definition of a bribe.
A number of people have asked the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office to investigate whether this scheme violates any campaign laws. Iberdrola is a huge, multinational corporation headquartered in Spain with total assets in excess of $100 billion and an annual net income in 2015 of $2.422 billion. No doubt they have an army of well-paid lawyers on their payroll. Odds are they have found a loophole in ours laws that will allow them to legally dangle this money in front of voters.
But even if this is deemed legal, is it ethical? Does it pass the “smell test?” Do we really want a system that allows any fabulously rich individual or corporate entity to say to Vermont voters, “Here is a huge pot of money, and I will give you some of it as long as this referendum, this ballot issue or this elective office is decided as I wish?”
I personally know some of the individuals who worked with Iberdrola to concoct this plan. I have spent hours talking with some of them in an effort to understand their viewpoint. Although I personally respect them, I think they have made a big mistake in proposing and supporting this plan.
Regardless of their motives, I believe they have made an already tense and fractious situation worse. Now we are not only divided over the wisdom of the wind project, but also over the role that money and influence should play in deciding the issue. The referendum in Windham and Grafton on Nov. 8 is not just about windmills anymore, it’s about the integrity of our electoral process.
All we need now is to have a group of rich patrons – or a foundation that opposes the turbines – promise annual cash payments to people in Windham if the referendum goes their way in November. Then we can auction off our votes to the highest bidder and really make a killing.
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