Reporters at VtDigger.org and other Vermont news outlets have faced a raft of criticism for reporting on Gov. Shumlin's property dealings in the town of East Montpelier. In 47 other states, this wouldn't have happened. That's because financial disclosure -- including reporting of property holdings -- is required of statewide candidates and office-holders.
It’s only in Idaho, Michigan, Utah, and Vermont that such disclosure isn’t mandated. In all other states – and across the federal government – financial disclosure is considered routine and important. It’s a way of spotting conflicts of interest or unusual relationships that could influence the way public officials analyze and decide issues. Disclosure is not considered being nosy, but a necessary part of good government.
What reporters, and the public, do with information provided in disclosure reports could cause discomfort for candidates. But Vermont news reporters themselves shouldn’t be excoriated for doing something that generally is seen as an important public service.
The lack of financial disclosure requirements is one of the reasons Vermont consistently earns low marks from national organizations grading government accountability and integrity. One of the most important campaign finance reforms Vermont could pass in the next legislative session would be to establish financial disclosure rules. If there are no conflicts and no undue influence exerted on candidates and office-holders, this shouldn’t be an objectionable measure.