What a week, and we're not over the hump yet! The Vermont political world is buzzing with a story that no political candidate would ever want to be connected to. Politics, you see, is based on trust and telling the truth. The trust the poor voters have for the folks who want to be their officially elected government leaders. Without it, democracies do not function as democracies should.
Plagiarism is by definition "the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own." Students get expelled from colleges and universities for plagiarism. People get fired for it, too.
In this case the plagiarism was on the website of Vermont's Republican Congressional hopeful Martha Rainville at http://www.martharainville.com. Over the weekend a vigilant Vermont blogger noticed striking similarities between a Rainville energy quote posted there and remarks made and published last May by Democratic U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of neighboring New York State in a much heralded energy speech.
You see, besides having her own blog (as does yours truly in these modern times), Julie Waters of Westminster is a web designer and musician who also teaches psychology part-time at the Community College of Vermont. Check out her blog for yourself: http://www.reasonandbrimstone.blogspot.com/.
On Sunday, Ms. Waters posted an item titled "Rainville's Stolen Ideas." It contains a Martha quote on "energy" taken right off Candidate Rainville's website.
"Briefly, I strongly believe that our present system of energy is weakening our national security, hurting our pocketbooks and threatening our children's future."
Then Blogger Waters posts a quote from a speech Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill, delivered in May.
"Our present system of energy is weakening our national security, hurting our pocketbooks, violating our common values and threatening our children's future."
Curious, Ms. Waters did a Google search and found two more interesting Rainville quotes on the former National Guard General's campaign website. Unfortunately, Marvelous Martha was not the first person to speak them.
One came in August from the lips of a Democratic congressman from Tennessee - Rep. Tim Cooper.
The other in July was from a Colorado Republican House candidate, Rick O'Donnell. In an "Inside Track" interview Monday afternoon, Candidate Rainville confirmed the plagiarism.
"Unfortunately," said Martha, "we have looked into that this morning after we were notified, we being myself and the campaign manager (Judy Shailor, her former top assistant at the Vermont Guard).
"The individual responsible for the final draft of my policies is no longer with the campaign now. He submitted his resignation and basically told us that he did lift wording from other people. That is completely unacceptable by anybody's standard. I am incredibly disappointed in him. And we have shut down the website. We are reworking the wording of our issues," she added. "And we are continuing an internal investigation to see if there were any other cases of this, or if anybody else was aware of it."
The GOP candidate for Vermont's open U.S. House seat said she personally had not been aware of it.
"It's very disappointing news," said Rainville. "We put a lot of of time into discussions on each one of those policies, and the policies reflected in the issue papers absolutely and accurately reflect my thoughts and my beliefs. The wording of them, though, obviously came from others and is something that's just not done."
But does that mean that first-time political candidate Martha Rainville actually agrees word-for-word with the position of Democrat Hillary Clinton? If so, maybe she's in the wrong political party?
At first, Candidate Rainville was reluctant to release the name of the plagiarist, describing the 29-year-old Brattleboro native as "very smart" and "very enthusiastic."
Maybe too enthusiastic, eh?
When pressed, Martha identified the culprit as Christopher Stewart. In fact, he's a grandson of former U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Potter Stewart.
"This is a hard lesson," said Rainville, "but it's also a lesson we all should have learned a long time ago. So, in his zeal, perhaps, to represent exactly what I thought, he found others that had said it extremely well and used it. I don't know, but again, there's no excuse."
Turns out yours truly had the pleasure of meeting Chris Stewart, Vermont's leading plagiarist of the day, weeks ago when he and another Rainville Campaign aide dropped by a Peter Welch presser on the Burlington Waterfront. We even took a picture of him that day with our new blog camera. Didn't post it, but we are posting it here in light of his recent celebrity.
Also on Tuesday we got a big surprise. Stewart called us up.
"I am deeply sorry and embarrassed for my actions," Chris Stewart told "Inside Track." "I, and I alone, take full responsibility for any plagiarized material used by the campaign. I was stupid and I was wrong."
The dismissed campaign aide assured us his former boss' "leadership, integrity and good character is unquestionable." He said, "She will make an outstanding representative for the State of Vermont in Washington."
Whatever you say, Chris, but you do understand credibility and judgment are not your strong suits at the moment, eh? Plus, until May you were employed by the other rookie GOP candidate on the Vermont ballot this November - Rich Tarrant.
Tarrant's the gazillionaire who sold IDX medical software to G.E. for a measly $1.2 billion last year. The latest FEC reports indicate Richie Rich has already pumped more than $6 million of his personal stash into what appears to be one of the strangest major-party campaigns we've seen in our 27 years of covering these things in the Green Mountains. And his endless, sourpuss, negative attack ads on TV have not won him many friends. At least Mr. Tarrant has his brand-new, $9 million Florida oceanfront mansion to retire to. There he can lounge around watching U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont boost C-SPAN's Senate-coverage ratings. Anyway, back to Rainville.
Welch's Campaign Manager Carolyn Dwyer told "Inside Track" on Monday, as the story broke everywhere except on WGOP, er, WCAX-TV News, "Vermonters will have a hard time believing Martha Rainville can clean up Congress when her campaign has had one ethical lapse after another."
"Tying herself to the Republican leadership that has shown, time after time, that it is more concerned about winning elections than doing the right thing won't help her cause, either," added Ms. Dwyer.
The latter is perhaps a reference to the growing sex scandal on Capitol Hill involving now-former Florida GOP Rep. Mark Foley, underage congressional pages, and a Republican House leadership team that appears to have ignored it all for years!
As Candidate Welch told Vermont reporters in a Monday afternoon conference call, "Anybody in leadership who had knowledge of this and failed to act on it immediately should resign. There is significant indication that the leadership team was aware of this for months. If the investigation confirms that to be true, they should resign."
Hey, but that's the leadership team that's put its attention on and money behind Marvelous Martha Rainville of Vermont as a "Top Ten" GOP House candidate!
Rainville said she supports "the full investigation by the FBI." And, she said, no deals should be cut for the GOP House leadership if they had been aware of the sexual activity with children and not taken action.
"People need to be held responsible," said Martha. "It doesn't matter what position they're in. If a member of Congress or a responsible adult in any capacity knew that there were sexually explicit emails or instant-messenger notes, contacts going on, they should have acted immediately and they should have acted in the interests of protecting the children and holding Congressman Foley accountable. And if they didn't do that and they had that information, then they are responsible also."
Adults Only - The letter arrived in my mailbox last Thursday without a signature or return address. It was addressed to Peter Welch and yours truly.
The allegations are pretty outrageous.
"I am sending you both letters because I cannot believe how Martha Rainville lies to the people of this state. She talks about integrity and running a clean campaign, when, in fact, she didn't run the Guard with integrity.
"There is currently an investigation being conducted by the Guard about one of their officers that Martha protected constantly - Martha even broke military rules to protect this officer."
Sitting down, are we?
"Now, six months after Martha is gone, this officer's actions are being questioned and for good reason. This officer broke several military rules. The officer was providing homemade pornography to Guard members, Martha heard about it, took the evidence and destroyed it without taking any actions against the officer."
"Now the Guard is conducting the investigation. Had Martha acted appropriately and in accordance with the rules, she would have turned the movies into evidence. Now the Guard is left with her mess.
"You probably don't believe me and think that this is just a crazy letter with no grounds. Well, all you have to do is call Mike Dubie's office and ask him about it. Most of the higher-ups are involved in this one because of the nature of it."
Not every day we get letters like that. Is it for real?
First we called Welch Campaign HQ and spoke to Ms. Dwyer. Yes, Welch received the same letter as yours truly. What did she do?
Dwyer told us she immediately contacted both the Vermont Guard and Candidate Rainville. "I personally turned a copy over to Adjutant Gen. Mike Dubie (brother of Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie), and gave the original to Martha Rainville," she said.
Dwyer said Gen. Dubie "thanked me for my professionalism." Dwyer previously managed U.S. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy's re-election campaign. Rainville also thanked her, she said.
"I made it clear this had nothing to do with our campaign," said Dwyer, who had concerns because of a bogus dirty-tricks story that Rainville tried to stick on the Welch Campaign prior to the primary. In fact, Martha did get WGOP, er, WCAX-TV to bite on the bogus story that was based on one email about Democrats allegedly organizing to vote for Rainville's opponent Mark Shepard in the September 12 GOP Primary.
Unfortunately, even when Martha's allegation was proven false, Ch. 3 did not issue a retraction to the Welch Campaign. (WCAX never owned up to their big mistake on Judge Ed Cashman last January, either).
On Tuesday we attempted to speak with Gen. Doobie-Doo. He was busy. Captain John Geno, the Guard's public-affairs officer, told us Gen. Dubie was "in meetings all day. His schedule is right out straight," he said. Then he essentially confirmed that the investigation the anonymous letter referred to is actually underway.
"Basically," said Geno, "we have personnel investigations ongoing all the time, and no information can be released concerning personnel investigations." He noted "Gen. Rainville is retired and is not the object of any of these investigations."
Indeed, our sources indicate an investigation is very much underway, and pornography - locally produced porn movies involving Guard members - is involved. Of particular concern, we're told, is that the sexual activity crossed the lines of rank. That is a big "no-no" in the military.
Marvelous Martha, the general-turned-politician, called the letter "disgusting." She said she personally hoped yours truly would not report on it. Sorry Martha, it's a dirty job, but . . .
Like Gen. Dubie, Rainville had told us that she "appreciated" Ms. Dwyer's handling of the anonymous letter "in a very professional way."
"I'm not going to say a lot about it except to say that any situation I dealt with was dealt with appropriately," said Rainville. "There's a lot behind what this letter refers to that's developed since then, and I'm sure that the present adjutant general will deal with it appropriately and professionally."
"It doesn't really affect me," said Rainville, "but it sure does affect others. I assume Mike has an investigation going, so I doubt he could say anything about it anyway."
As for the charge she covered up an internal Guard pornography probe - she denied it. "That's completely untrue," said the Vermont congressional hopeful. "I had a relatively short incident that I dealt with immediately," said Rainville, "and since then some other stuff has developed that Mike is having to deal with. This is not something that either one of us would take lightly."
Whatever you say!
Media Notes - Yes, the Vermont press is buzzing this week over Ch. 3 News' non-coverage of Monday's biggest political story. Rainville's "Plagiarismgate." It made the top of the fold in Tuesday's major Vermont dailies: The Burlington Free Press and the Rutland Herald. WPTZ and VPR also had reporters covering it.
But the day's top story never made the "news" Monday night over in Marselis Parsons Land. Not a peep about the Rainville scandal on WCAX-TV.
That may have made the conservative, pro-Republican Vermont Chamber of Commerce happy, but Ch. 3's Vermont viewers got shortchanged big-time.