On our TV screens, Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Richard Tarrant's 30-sec commercials have become a fixture leading into Ch 3's news broadcasts. The Legend of Richie Rich, the poor Irish kid from New Jersey who came to Vermont to shoot baskets at St. Michael's College, is building.
But as we all know, politics provides a propaganda-style mix of image and substance. It's a combination where the line between fiction and fact is often blurred or even eliminated entirely. And sometimes, political campaigns go the extra mile in the name of deception. It's sure worked for George W. Bush, eh?
That appears to be the case involving one of the new political blogs on the growing Vermont Internet stage titled "Vermont Senate Race." You'll find it here: http://www.VermontSenateRace.com . The site started up in early January with this announcement from the website's unnamed administrator:
"We've done it! After much debate over the last few weeks, we have decided that we want to make this web-page a blog . . . What we post on here is through investigation, listening and tips we receive from you. So keep them rolling. The candidates are checking out this page; maybe you'll be an insight to them as well."
The Senate Race blog started out posting copies of Vermont news stories about the race, but this Monday it took a different twist. The anonymous administrator posted an item comparing the Tarrant Campaign blog to Bernie Sanders' blog and found Bernie's lacking:
Since Tarrant's site was launched, and his blog began; he has not mentioned Sanders name, once. Sanders has had several posts that would specifically targeting Tarrant. The agreement, (in our opinion) has been broken and Sanders is the first to go negative. Is that a surprise? Not really.
If that sounds a little pro-Richie/anti-Bernie to you, you're not alone. So we did a little digging -- love the Internet Age!
We learned that domain name "VermontSenateRace.com" was registered with Melbourne IT LTD., a firm with an Emeryville, California, address, on October 5, 2005. Our Internet-savvy sources say it's a registry one would use if one wanted to "anonymize" ownership of the website. The purpose of an "anonymizing" service is to hide the tracks of whoever is really behind it. Anyone who signs up gets to use the Emeryville, CA post-office box as their website administrator's address.
Using appropriate search tools, however, we were able to find a http://VermontSenateRace.com  registry page with a human name attached. The name of only one person appears: "Jeffrey Bartley." Bartley is listed next to "Organization Name."
Bartley? Bartley? Bartley?
The name rang a bell.
Ready for this, folks? Might want to sit down first. That's because the name "Jeffrey Bartley" also appears several times in GOP Candidate Richard Tarrant's recent FEC filing. Bartley, in fact, has been a salaried employee of "Tarrant for Senate Inc." since October, receiving his first paycheck one week after the bogus, seemingly nonpartisan "Vermont Senate Race" website was registered.
In addition to salary, the Tarrant Campaign reported making a personal loan of $2000 to Mr. Bartley on December 13.
Smart political tactics, eh? Start up a phony "nonpartisan" Vermont Senate Race blog. Have a third-party, i.e., campaign employee Jeff Bartley, register the blog's website in California so Candidate Tarrant's fingerprints are off it. And use the blog as one more weapon in an arsenal devoted to deceiving Vermont voters and smearing Rep. Bernie Sanders.
Brilliant strategy, Richie Rich! Quite slimy and sleazy, too. Might work in Florida, where you own two multimillion-dollar mansions and park your $158,000 Bentley, but do you really think Vermonters are that stupid?
We contacted Tarrant Campaign HQ Tuesday for comment. Campaign staffer David Welch told us neither Mr. Bartley nor Campaign Manager Tim Lennon were available for comment.
Kate Goes Republican -- We had it right last week, despite Campaign Manager Tim Lennon's refusal to confirm it. Democratic Gov. Howard Dean's longtime closest political aide has signed up with Republican Rich Tarrant's campaign for the U.S. Senate.
Kate O'Connor, the daughter of former Democratic House Speaker Tim O'Connor of Brattleboro, signed on with Ho-Ho in 1989 when he was still Gov-Lite. When Gov. Richard Snelling died in the summer of 1991, Kate moved to the Fifth Floor with Vermont's new doctor-governor. She stayed by his side for 14 years, until his presidential quest died in the cornfields of Iowa.
O'Connor didn't respond to our inquiry until after Seven Days hit the street.
"I wasn't around," wrote Tarrant's newest advisor. "I knew the release wasn't going out until today, so I spent my last day of peace in peace! It didn't occur to me that anyone knew in advance. I guess I should have known that you would know."
A few seasoned Vermont political observers expressed little shock at the O'Connor news. After all, they note, Gov. Howard Dean governed like a wealthy, business-savvy Republican, so O'Connor's switch to a taller, business-savvy Republican gazillionaire isn't that much of a stretch.
However, for people who know Kate best as top aide to the charismatic, left-wing, antiwar liberal who ran for president in Howard Dean's body. news of her recruitment by Richie Rich was startling!
After all, she is going against the Vermont Democratic Party, the party Ol' Kate was born and bred in, which is already backing Mr. Sanders.
News of O'Connor's defection to a Republican stirred up a hornet's nest among old Deaniacs on the Daily Kos blog. Here are some representative comments:
If she does for the GOP guy what she did to Dean, Bernie might as well start measuring the drapes for his Senate office right now.And . . .
Kate gave the Gov every bad piece of advice he ever got. And she tried to crush every good piece of advice he ever got. This is the best news for Bernie's campaign ever. DO NOT write her and make her feel guilty. We want her on the other side! We need her on the other side! Everything she touches turns to shit . . . Bon Appetite!You get the flavor, eh?
Smart move, Mr. Tarrant!
Zuckerman Out -- Shortly after Seven Days hits the street Wednesday, Progressive State Rep. David Zuckerman will announce at a Statehouse press conference that he will not be a candidate for the U.S. House in November.
The Burlington vegetable farmer and new dad will tell the gathering he's been carefully weighing where he can do the most good for Vermont and the answer is: under Montpelier's golden dome.
The Progressive Chairman of the House Agricultural Committee will also cite the recent change in his family status. Dave the Prog's first child arrived nine weeks ago. He's experienced "amazing changes" since, changes he does not want to miss by running for Congress.
Obviously, this will be very good news for Democrat Peter Welch, Ol' Bernardo's designated successor. One of his biggest obstacles to reaching Victory Lane in November has just been removed.
As for Dave the Prog, this could actually help him somewhere down the line. Nice to see him thinking about the future. Somebody's got to.
Sleazy Journalism -- The Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, the only daily papers in publisher R. John Mitchell's little Vermont "chain," have long been the go-to papers for Vermont political news junkies. Over the years, some of Vermont's finest journalists have written for the chain, including Steve Terry, Yvonne Daley, Jack Hoffman, Diane Derby, John Dillon, Debbie Bookchin -- the list goes on.
But Sunday's edition, we're sorry to say, was an utter insult to that tradition. The evidence: Vermont Press Bureau Chief Darren Allen's front-pager titled, "The Money Game: Everybody Does It."
Here's the lead: "There is a connection between disgraced energy conglomerate Enron Corp. and Peter Welch."
Holy you-know-what! The virtuous Democratic president pro tem of the Vermont Senate and candidate for Congress has ties to Enron? Please pass the smelling salts!
Allen's "evidence" was a November fundraiser Welch held on Capitol Hill at the home of Mark H. Gitenstein. He's identified in the piece as "a Washington, D.C., lawyer who worked for a Chicago-based law firm that represented now-defunct accounting giant Arthur Andersen on oversight and regulation of the accounting profession, including issues arising from Enron's collapse."
Funny, because it sounds like the stuff GOP State Chairman Jim Barnett has been pitching to the press lately. The GOP defense to the ever-mounting corruption scandals, including megabucks lobbyist Jack Abramoff's guilty plea to bribing GOP congressmen, is that everyone, including Democrats, were taking dirty money.
Like thousands of Vermont readers, Welch was dumbfounded by Allen's Sunday front-page expose. He called it "astonishing," and told "Inside Track" it appeared Allen had bought Barnett's pitch "hook, line and sinker."
"Basically what the article says is that somebody knew somebody, sometime, somewhere who worked in a law firm that, before this person worked in the law firm, worked for an accounting firm that at one time did work for Enron. Therefore, having contact with this person who I never met before and who didn't give me any money indicates I have some connection to Enron?"
"I would say that's pretty lax journalistic standards," said Sen. Welch, "but a pretty good move from a political black-arts perspective by the Republican Party chair."
Indeed, Barnett got his "licks" in on Welch's integrity. Unchal-lenged. Nice work, Mad Dog!
However, one thing stood out in Darren's front-pager, and it stood out like a sore thumb -- no quote from the host of the Welch Capitol Hill fundraiser, the man reporter Allen portrayed as some kind of sleazy, Enron-connected lobbyist.
Attorney Mark Gitenstein told "Inside Track" Tuesday he was "infuriated" by the Sunday Vermont front-pager. He also said he felt "hurt" by the fact the reporter who slimed him didn't even bother to call him. Not kosher in Vermont, and not kosher in D.C.
So who is Mark Gitenstein?
In an "Inside Track" interview, Gitenstein told us he was a "longtime friend" of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, has known St. Patrick for 17 years, and worked as a staff member of the Senate Judiciary Committee for many years, where Leahy has long held a seat.
"Sen. Leahy is a friend and asked me to host the Welch fundraiser," he said. "I didn't even contribute. I had no ulterior motives." (Check http://www.mayerbrownrowe.com  for more on Gitenstein.)
The fact is, his modest Capitol Hill row house was a very convenient location. Members of Congress attended, including Sen. Leahy and Rep. Rahm Emmanuel, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"My son went to Middlebury," said Gitenstein. "I've spent a lot of time in Vermont. I love the state."
As for his alleged ties to Enron, ties used by Barnett and the cooperative reporter to slime Peter Welch, Gitenstein said he has absolutely no ties to Enron!
"I was not tainted by Enron," said Gitenstein. "That's malarkey. I was representing a client trying to get to the bottom of what went wrong."
That client, he said, was Arthur Andersen, the accounting giant. Gitenstein was hired to conduct an investigation of what went wrong with their Enron audits, and also to represent Arthur Andersen officials when they appeared before the Senate Financial Services Committee.
"Technically, he said, he "did not have to register as a lobbyist," but did so because he likes to err on the safe side. "When in doubt, register," he said.
One Vermonter we know who lives in that neck of the woods also attended the Welch fundraiser. She said she "almost died" reading the Sunday Herald/TA front-page story.
"My jaw dropped," she said. "There wasn't even a tenuous connection between Peter Welch and Enron!"
Let's hope it's not a new Vermont journalism trend, eh?
Media Notes -- Vermont Press Bureau reporter John Zicconi has signed on with the Douglas administration. John was at the Stowe Reporter for 12 years before moving to the Rutland Herald/Times Argus Montpelier bureau two years ago. He'll be the new spokesman for the Agency of Transportation starting next month.
Reporter Zicconi covered health care and transportation issues.
The three-person news bureau hasn't had a female scribe since Tracy Schmaler left in 2003.
Lady in Red -- GOP congressional candidate Martha Rainville's kickoff was a little disappointing.
She looks great in red, but it's a look that reminds many of former GOP gubernatorial hopeful Ruth Dwyer, especially with former Ruth Dwyer groupies, State Rep. Kurt Wright and ex-Rep. Frank Mazur, positioned in the camera shot just over Marvelous Martha's shoulder.
In fact, we were surprised so few people showed up. About 100 in St. Albans Monday morning, and just 35 in Bennington that evening.
Also, Gen. Rainville's decision to stay general until April 1 is not playing well with the locals, kind of like a bad April Fool's joke. Several readers called to complain about Martha's full-speed-ahead determination to mix politics and the military.
Last Word -- Vice President Dick Cheney's shooting of fellow quail hunter Harry Whittington, 78, in Texas the other day has everyone making wise cracks. The one we like best came from a Vermont Republican who requested anonymity: "Looks like we could have used him in Vietnam after all."
Cheney did not serve, beating the draft with five deferments, though he wasn't called a draft-dodger.
That lack of military experience sure has shown through, eh?