Sunday, December 24, 2017

Onward, Kleptocracy: General Dynamics Writes Your Tax Legislation

General Dynamics and its lawyers are busy "helping" representatives in Maine write tax legislation to benefit their bottom line. Here I share the report back of tireless peace organizer Mary Beth Sullivan about her meeting December 21 with legislators promoting a big tax break for this mega wealthy corporation (it paid its CEO $21 million last year).

Also the opinion of a former member of the Maine legislature that the meeting MB attended was illegal on several counts.

I have added the bold emphasis, and the contact information for two Maine legislators.

Former Rep. Jeff Evangelos is of the opinion that any meeting concerning tax legislation is public in nature, and may be videotaped or otherwise recorded.

See his comments below Mary Beth's. Note that BIW means Bath Iron Works, which is owned by the General Dynamics corporation.

It has been reported in newspapers that State Representative Jennifer DeChant is submitting a bill in this legislative season to provide a $60 million tax subsidy to BIW over the next 20 years.  This Bill would extend Maine's Shipbuilding Facilities Credit which has delivered BIW an annual $3.5 million subsidy since the 1990s. 

When she received correspondences opposing this bill, she invited people to her home for a meeting to discuss this bill.  She then changed the venue to the Bath Library, then changed it again to City Hall. 

The meeting took place on Thurs, Dec 21. Besides myself and State Rep. Jennifer DeChant, the following people were there: State Sen. Louise Vitelli (who will be a Senate sponsor of the bill), Brown Lethem, Karen Wainberg, Jerry Provencher, Gary Anderson, Lisa Ledwidg, Lou Ensel ~ and two VFP members who don't live in Bath, John Morris and Peter Morgan. 

Martha Spiess showed up early to videotape the event, and Jennifer did not allow that to happen, so Martha left. 

I did not know that occurred until I got home and read Martha's email.  I'm sorry that happened. 
Jennifer reported that she did not intend for this to be a public meeting; she intended an “informal meeting.” She also reported that she is willing to hold a “public meeting” anytime. I disagree that a meeting held with constituents about pending legislation is something less than public. Transparency should be at the heart of a democratic process. I heard nothing in that meeting that an audience of Mainers would not benefit from knowing.  
State Representative Jennifer DeChant
Home Telephone: (207) 442-8486

Jennifer ran the meeting.  As I understood the basics:  she was asked by a constituent (BIW) to submit a bill to allow BIW to continue to receiving the tax break it has been receiving for the last 20 years. She agreed. The language for the bill is being written; it is in the legislature's Revisor's Office;

BIW lawyers are assisting in drafting the language; 

it is important to her that language using some of these dollars training is in the bill. 

State Senator Eloise Vitelli
Home Phone: (207) 443-4660
Jennifer and Louise described that the process is this:  the bill's language will be completed soon.  The Taxation Committee will take it up, and hold a public hearing.  By law, the Taxation Committee needs to hold a public hearing, and give a 10-day notice to the public. When people come to the hearing, they can speak for three minutes on the bill and submit something in writing to the committee. The next step is a work session.  The public is allowed to attend, but not to speak or participate.  Then, if it passed out of committee, the bill goes to the floor. If passed, it goes to the Governor to sign. 

I perceived the conversation that ensued as civil, lively, honest and blunt. Many of those attending had many questions, and expressed opposition to the bill.  My notes cannot do justice to the great questions and concerns that were expressed; I urge those who attended to add to this email any of the important exchanges that should be shared. 

We were urged to pay attention to the Taxation Committee agenda (Jennifer said we could sign up as friends of the taxation committee to be apprised by email of when the hearings will happen) and to show up at the hearing to express our opposition.  Jennifer also urged us to stay in touch with her if we have any questions along the way. 

Thanks to all for paying attention to this issue.  It is never too early to contact your local reps/senators to express your opinion of this bill. Consider letting them know that BIW is a strong, capable, successful shipbuilding company.  At $4 billion of taxpayers dollars a ship, they (and their parent company, General Dynamics) should certainly be able to budget well enough to meet their financial responsibilities. 

On the other hand, Maine is constantly stressed in its efforts to meet the needs of its constituents impacted by a decaying physical, educational, medical and social infrastructure.

Create a vision for what you think might be a higher priority for the $3 million a year over the next 20 years, and share it with your State Representatives and Senators. 

If you have not yet seen it please watch the interview with emeritus USM Law professor Orlando Delogu who discusses this tax subsidy - 

Thanks for you attention and activity around this issue. In peace, Mary Beth Sullivan Bath, Maine

Dear Mary Beth,
As a former member of the Maine Legislature, I am disturbed to hear that 2 legislators attempted to hold a private meeting in a public space for what is clearly public business, done in an effort to influence public opinion, on a clearly public issue, ie, the use of taxpayer money to subsidize a corporation. Legislators must strictly adhere to the Right to Know Laws in Maine. A meeting of legislators and members of the public at City Hall is a public meeting and is subject to all FOAA requirements. State law also says you are allowed to video tape and record what are clearly public proceedings. There are no exceptions to this as long as the taping does not interfere with the meeting. Martha had an absolute right to tape thisproceeding and she should have refused to leave and told Rep. DeChant she was violating the law. In public business, there is no such thing as an informal meeting, everything we do as legislators is public. 

The Attorney General's Office has an employee who works on these issues and handles complaints, here is the link to her contact details: 

The Maine Ethics Commission also advises on ethical breaches by legislators:
Neither Rep. DeChant or any other elected official has the right to determine what is public and what is private. This is a matter of law and the public's right to know. 
Yes she can have a few constituents over to her private house for a conversation, the content of which  is still public if what is discussed pertains to pending legislation. But once that meeting goes to City Hall, a public building, the entire Right to Know Law comes into play, especially when a meeting in a public space is called by a Legislator to discuss pending legislation and the possible expenditure of public money. 
 From what you have described, this meeting violated your rights and violated Maine law. Preventing the video taping also violated the law 
Jeffrey Evangelos
Friendship, Maine
former member, Maine House of Representatives 2012-2016

Under the current system of kleptocracy, taxation without representation has become the order of the day. And in case you think it is only the bad, bad Republicans who are in government in order to represent their corporate sponsors, note that both DeChant and Vitelli are from the other corporate party. Because Democrats are eager to carry water for their corporate donors, too.

From the corporate tax bonanza just enacted in Washington DC to the one about to be proposed in Augusta, Maine, corporations are bailed out while we, the people, are sold out.

Join me in contacting the Maine Attorney General to register a complaint about the "informal" meeting to discuss tax legislation where the public's right to know was violated. 


Bobbie Raymond said...

Thanks for sharing in a public space what can happen among legislators and their constituents in a place like Maine so that an interested member of another state can learn what can happen here, in California, as well!

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