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December 11, 2009

The Salmon Speech (video edition)

Plenty of folks expressed an interest in my column this week, in particular as it pertains to State Auditor Tom Salmon and his use of a taxpayer-purchased camcorder to record a speech at a political fundraiser in June.

As I detailed in this week's "Fair Game", we at Seven Days decided to request that Salmon's office produce the contents of the camcorder as it is a public record under state law. They did comply, and charged us $105 to produce the three DVDs.

I've embedded the video detailed in the column, a roughly 13-minute speech delivered to a small group of supporters at a June 11 fundraiser. The event was dubbed "Welcome Home, Tom!" and asked folks to donate as little as $25 to be "Friends of Tom" or $500 to be an event sponsor.

A note to viewers/readers: I inadvertently added an extra five minutes of video to the political fundraiser event. The fundraiser speech lasts about 13:10, the rest is a clip from a speech he gave to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.

It's helpful to put the timing of this even into context. At the time, Salmon, still a Democrat at the time, was making noise that he wanted to run for governor — in 2012.

As of June, Gov. Jim Douglas was still running for reelection in 2010, and though it would have been a tough bid, it's likely he would have won a fifth term in office. That all changed in August when Douglas decided to not run for reelection. A month later, Salmon jumped stream and joined the Republican Party.

Please also note that while Seven Days obtained the contents of the tape, we weren't the only members of the media to raise questions about Salmon's use of a camcorder to document his speeches.

The use of state employees to hand out materials and videotape his November 20 press conference was questioned by other members of the media during a Q&A after the event. At that Nov. 20 event, Salmon largely focused on his personal travails — past financial debts as well as his DUI charge — rather than on the work of his office. He pleaded guilty to the DUI charge last week.

Here is one exchange between Vermont Public Radio's John Dillon and Salmon, which I transcribed from my audio recording.

JD: Do you think it's prudent from a budget standpoint to have people from your office here while your defending yourself against a personal charge?

TS: Say that again?

JD: Do you think it's prudent from a state budget standpoint to have people from your, the state office here, videotaping, producing documents on basically an event that's about you —  it's a personal issue.

TS: Do I think it's a problem?

JD: Do you think it's prudent, from a budget standpoint.

TS: Do I think it's going to help Vermonters financially if what happens here today is documented memorialized? Is it going to help the legislature make brave actions and decisions? Is it going to be appropriate for someone to earn $16,000 less than the person who was in that position when I got here?

Um, yeah, I think it's prudent and that I do this right today, and that it will have a positive impact on Vermont long-term.

Two minutes later, Terri Hallenbeck of the Burlington Free Press also pressed the issue.

TH: So, why are you videotaping it, are you videotaping it?

TS: Yeah, we're recording it.

TH: Why?

TS: Because it may have future value.

TH: Like what?

TS: We're moving into an arena … We're moving into an arena where we're going to be able put video pieces on our website and you may think this is all just personal today, but I think transparency is A) being here and, B) Ownership of telling you folks, look, I'm going to do the right thing no matter what and hold myself accountable does relate to the office — the accountability office.

So, there you have it.

Who to bid 105 105 who to bid 105 we got 105 who to bid 110 110 who to bid 110 nuff said sold 105

It appears that this salmon is fried.

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