(or, How to Spend 600 G’s Without Really Trying)
The year 2012 brought forth a pair of
shameless hucksters political consultants cashing in on conservatives with more money than sense. There was Randy Brock, who lost by 20 points to Shumlin and, in the process, spent $100,000 on campaign “manager” Darcie Johnston.
And lest we forget Lenore Broughton, Montgomery Ward heiress and would-be conservative game-changer. Her right-hand man, Tayt Brooks, squandered more than a million Broughton Bucks in a fruitless effort to influence the 2012 election through the “grass root” (singular) organization Vermonters First. Once bitten, twice shy; Broughton has barely been a factor in Vermont politics since then.
This year brings a new entrant into the Vermont Conservative Consultancy Hall of Shameless: Shawn Shouldice, chief of Capital Connections, the notorious black-hat lobbying shop. She’s attached herself, limpet-like, to the political underside of Bruce Lisman, and she’s milking that cash cow for all it’s worth. (Pardon mixed metaphor.)
Shouldice makes a very good living as an advocate for some of our biggest and dirtiest business groups. Her client list includes the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), and the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association. Shouldice was also the PR arm of Lisman’s
vanity project advocacy group Campaign for Vermont.
Last fall, she stepped away from active lobbying to become the campaign manager of Lisman for Governor. Her salary, according to my reading of the latest campaign finance data: $14,500 per month. On an annual basis, that’s $174,000.
Now, Shouldice is an experienced lobbyist and advocate. But she is, as one observer put it, “a newbie to campaign management.”
Well, she’s being richly rewarded for her on-the-job training. Especially considering that her work on behalf of Campaign for Vermont isn’t much of a recommendation. CFV kept going as long as Lisman was bankrolling it; but once he left, its failure to attract support has become painfully clear. No money, no paid staff, no presence at the Statehouse.
Now, it’s possible I’m wrong on my estimate of Shouldice’s take-home because of the rather odd way Lisman’s campaign is accounting for expenses.
For starters, there is no direct compensation for Shouldice; rather, Capital Connections is being paid $14,500 a month for “consulting services.” For another thing, a whole lot of Lisman’s miscellaneous campaign expenses are being funneled through Capital Connections — penny-ante stuff mostly, but entry after entry has the Lisman campaign “reimbursing” Shouldice’s firm rather than paying bills directly. Seems like a clunky arrangement. Is Capital Connections skimming off a handling fee for each transaction?
There’s a more innocent explanation: perhaps Lisman is paying Capital Connections for a range of services including Shouldice’s. (He has a minimal campaign staff; just two twenty-somethings making about $30K per year.) The problem, then, is the lack of transparency. (Which, I’m given to understand, is one of Lisman’s pet causes.) It’s hard to tell exactly what Lisman is paying for if a lot of stuff is tucked under the Capital Connections umbrella.
Here’s another thing. Lisman’s campaign finance filing is riddled with big-ticket items for “independent contractor” or “consulting,” otherwise unspecified. At least twelve different contracting or consulting firms have received thousands of dollars from Lisman for Governor.
Details coming in a separate post. For now, I’ll merely point out that one of these firms is in Capital Connections’ orbit. “Wilderness Communications” ($3,173) is owned by Chris Adams*, one of Capital Connections’ principals.
*Not to be confused with the late pro wrestler Gentleman Chris Adams.
Three other consultancies are all but invisible online — Riverhall LLC ($8,000), Effective Communications ($1,500) and Burlington Consulting Services ($8,694). I could find no trace of the first two, and only a single note about the latter: it has been registered with the State of Vermont since December 2015.
Gee. That’s awfully… recent.
Overall, the Lisman for Governor campaign finance report has the aroma of a guy “making it rain” in a strip club. Dollars flying everywhere, yours for the taking. And yet, somehow, he came in at four percent in the latest poll. Not the biggest bang for his buck.
What is it about business-oriented, flinty conservative Republicans that they seem to be so easily fleeced by the consultant types of this world? It’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder whether Lisman is truly prepared to “run Vermont like a business.” He’s not exactly running a tight ship in the campaign.
Next time, a deep dive into the murky waters of Bruce Lisman’s consultancy pool. Stay tuned!