Guest editorial: A chink in Balint’s campaign

The decision to run for Congress is more than representing Vermonters on the issues. It is about opening oneself to the public, being fully transparent about whom you are so that voters can match what a candidate says with what a candidate does. There are rules, in fact, that require this transparency.

Becca Balint, a Democratic candidate for Vermont’s U.S. House seat, acts as if the rules do not apply to her. That should raise questions about the integrity of Ms. Balint’s campaign.

Ms. Balint declared her candidacy on Dec. 12, 2021. By law, she was required to file a financial disclosure statement within 30 days, since she had met the $5,000 contribution threshold. She did not, and she did not file for an extension.

That is bad enough. After all, if she can’t follow the rules that guide her campaign, how is it that Vermonters are supposed to have any confidence in Ms. Balint’s ability to follow the far more arcane rules that govern the House?

Candidates, as well as all elected representatives, are also required annually to file their financial disclosure statements by May 15. Ms. Balint did not. Her campaign confessed to the failure and filed for an extension. The campaign acknowledged it would be fined for its failure to file the necessary report in January.

While the campaign has since filed the information necessary for the May 15 filing, it has yet to send in the information necessary to complete the January filing, which is now almost six months overdue.

Ms. Balint’s campaign places the blame on staff oversight. Ms. Balint also notes the complexity of the required forms. Vermonters were assured the proper documents would be filed “in the near future.”

Pleading ignorance to campaign financial disclosure requirements is no excuse. It’s not even credible. One of the central considerations a candidate makes in deciding to run for office is understanding that one’s financial records will become public. When you run for office you lose your anonymity when it comes to how much money you make, which stocks you own, what debts you owe, and the value of your assets. Most people who have the qualifications to run for office decline because they prefer to have their financial affairs remain private. Hence, there is no way Ms. Balint and her team could not have known the law and what was required. They have known from day one.

The failure to file the forms in a timely manner also begs the question that if Ms. Balint cannot follow the law requiring the release of her financial affairs, then how can she expect Vermonters to trust her abilities when it comes to serving in Congress? If she can’t manage her own affairs, why should we believe she can manage ours?

Equally objectionable is Ms. Balint allowing campaign staffers to take the blame for the “oversight.” That is not what leaders do. Leaders take responsibility for what happens on the campaign. It’s her campaign, not the staff’s. It’s the candidate who is responsible for the messaging and it’s the candidate who is responsible for making sure the legal obligations of a campaign are met. Dumping the blame on campaign staffers for violating the law is petty and, perhaps, a window into Ms. Balint’s suitability for office.

No one else in the Democratic primary — Sianay Chase Clifford and Lt. Gov. Molly Gray — has failed to file the necessary financial disclosure statements. To those candidates who do struggle to understand what is required of them, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics offers a tutorial; there is even the following: “Any candidate who is unsure whether or when a Statement is due should call the Committee at 202-225-7103 for advice.”

How easy is that?

In the scheme of things, is Ms. Balint’s failure to comply with the laws governing financial disclosure statements noteworthy?

Yes. If she is willing to ignore this law, then where does she draw the line with other laws? How is it that she can judge others without showing herself as a hypocrite? What kind of leader would she be if she fails to shoulder the blame for mistakes that are her own?

It is vital — now, more than ever — for us to raise the bar on what we expect from our leaders. We have seen what we get when we allow elected leaders to give short shrift to the law. We have seen what happens when the need for personal integrity is replaced by the ragged partisanship in Congress. Ms. Balint needs to publicly admit she has not met the letter of the law. She needs to make public the information that has yet to be sent in to meet the January deadline. And she needs to accept personal responsibility for her failures and stop blaming others.

Note: Emerson Lynn is editor emeritus of the St. Albans Messenger.

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