Land trust deal netted lieutenant governor candidate cash, property, farmer/candidate Klar says
By John Klar
David Zuckerman touts himself as defender of the impoverished and down-to earth farmer, but his wealth accumulation suggests gross hypocrisy. Many Vermont farmers pejoratively refer to the former Lieutenant Governor as “Mr. Palmolive” for his soft, unfarmerly hands (referring to the iconic TV commercial for Palmolive dishwashing liquid: David avoids “dishpan hands”!). This metaphor applies to his elitist business dealings as well.
There is a pattern of trust-fund-baby behaviors from this current Democrat LG hopeful. In 2010, Mr. Zuckerman was criticized by Seven Days for collecting mileage and other expense reimbursements that he clearly had not earned, and for being the only legislator who voted against a legislative pay cut. But Mr. Palmolive defended his unethical behavior by implying he was poor:
“Every day I claim the mileage, and I probably shouldn’t,” says Zuckerman, a ponytailed Progressive who runs an organic vegetable farm in Hinesburg. Beyond that, though, Zuckerman isn’t apologizing for his behavior.
Zuckerman’s main argument is that lawmakers earn so little money, the job is unaffordable for average working Vermonters. Even after maxing out his mileage and food allowances, Zuckerman says his legislative pay comes to around $16,500 — barely enough to pay the farm hands he hires to replace him in the fields while he’s at the Statehouse.
“The pay is so low it’s deterring people who are accelerating in their careers,” Zuckerman says. “If you look around this building, there are very few people in their prime earning years, in their thirties and forties and even early low fifties. Shouldn’t we make this a position that can bring all types of expertise to the process?”
But Dave was invoking the poverty of others here to justify maximizing his own plutocratic bloat. David is quite wealthy, and reported nearly $280,000 in adjusted gross income for 2021 in his campaign filings – including $23,826 in dividend income; $3,207 in interest; and $157,136 in capital gains. Not as bad off as the “average working Vermonters” he invoked to justify scalping taxpayers for unethical non-expenses, is he?
Faux-farmer Dave hardly limits his wealth-suction to expense reports. A review of Vermont Property Transfer Tax Returns shows that Mr. Palmolive washes land as well as expense reports. Here is a summary of how this “social justice warrior” obtained his Vermont farmland, whether or not legal:
– an LLC named Esnid, LLC (apparently named after high-priced, not-for-average-Vermonters Burlington Law Firm, DINSE, spelled backward) was formed April 27, 2006 naming Thomas Storrow of Castanea Foundation as manager and DINSE KNAPP & ANDREW, PC as registered agent.
– On or about 12/12/07, The Wayne Bissonnette and The Barbara Bissonnette Family Revocable Trusts transferred 32.2 acres on Hines Road in Hinesburg to Esnid LLC for $318,000; and 123.67 acres on or about 7/31/2007 for a reported $1,000,000. (a total of 155.87 acres for $1,318,000).
– On or about 6/19/2008, Esnid, LLC transferred to David Zuckerman and his partner Rachel Nevitt 4.79 acres for $125,000 and 151.08 acres for $254,000 (155.87 acres for $379,000).
– On the same date, David and Rachel transferred the development rights to “151 =/- acres” to the Vermont Land Trust, for $500,000.
In the midst of the nation’s financial meltdown, Dave Zuckerman appears to have used a star entity to purchase a $1,318,000 property for $379,000 and sell the development rights simultaneously for $500,000 of Land Trust funds – walking away with 151.08 acres of prime farmland PLUS $$121,000 in his pocket. If this looks fishy to “average Vermonters,” perhaps they just need to wash in the appropriate dishwashing liquid to purge the stench. Like Donald Trump’s tax liabilities, this was all presumably legal – if below board.
Wayne Bissonnette was a longtime employee of the USDA and worked with the Vermont Farm Bureau. Castanea Foundation is a privately-held nonprofit entity that issues low interest loans to individuals and non-profit agricultural enterprises, and invests in preferred stock of private agricultural companies. David Zuckerman was throughout this time chairing the Vermont House Agriculture Committee.
As explained on his campaign website:
Having farmed in Burlington’s Intervale for 10 years, David and Rachel bought their own farm in Hinesburg, VT, in 2008 with the help of the Vermont Land Trust, the Hinesburg Land Trust, The Trust for Public Land, and the Castanea Foundation. Going from managing 15 acres to 150 acres overnight was no easy feat for Rachel and David.
Being paid a net of $121,000 by Vermont taxpayers (Vermont Land Trust, a taxpayer-supported 501(c)(3) entity) to acquire $1.3 million worth of prime farmland is no easy feat for anyone! Those softy hands have access to opportunities unavailable to regular Vermonters – these transactions occurred while the nation was roiling in financial meltdown, and when many rough-handed Vermont dairy families were denied the opportunity to sell the development rights to their intergenerational family farms to the VLT! (Castanea Foundation donated $100,000 to the VLT in 2018 – the big money rolls around through so-called “nonprofits” while working-for-meager-wages-Vermonters watch their paltry incomes decline).
David labels as “bigots” parents who challenge experimental gender hormone therapies and sexualization of their schoolchildren. What then will Vermonters call Mr. Palmolive, if not completely out of touch with the lives of real Vermont farmers and farm families?
This cursory review of public document filings surely does not tell the entire story – it is hoped that Mr. Zuckerman will fill in the blanks. I am here reporting what I was able to unearth, but there must be more under the surface: perhaps David and Rachel paid or received other monies not evident in these filings, and have a perfectly sensible explanation – and clean hands – to share with would-be Vermont voters.
The author is a Brookfield resident, lawyer, author, farmer, and the 2022 Republican nominee for Orange County Vermont Senate seat. A response from Lt. Gov. candidate Zuckerman, if forthcoming, will be published fully and verbatim.