A Confederacy of Consultancies

When last we met, I was exploring Bruce Lisman’s campaign finance filing from March 15, trying to figure out how he managed to spend nearly $600,000 before the race has really even started.

In my previous post, I looked at how much money Lisman is paying his campaign manager Shawn Shouldice*, who’s a very experienced lobbyist (on behalf of big business, mostly) but has never run a campaign before, as far as I can tell.

*spoiler: it’s a LOT.

This time, we’ll explore the bewildering array of consultancies that have hitched themselves to the Lisman gravy train. There are so many different firms, that I wonder how their efforts can possibly be coordinated.

Or, to put it another way, how much money is being squandered by Lisman, currently standing at a brisk four percent in the polls. But first, a brief note about media spending.

As of March 15, Lisman for Governor had spent an astounding $82,242 on TV ad time, which is more than many campaigns spend in an entire cycle. The bulk of that money went to WCAX-TV ($38,080) and Comcast ($32,937). WPTZ was a distant third with $11,225. Lisman also spent $11,475 for online advertising and a measly $3,000 or so on radio.

Add it all up, that’s close to 100 G’s on media. Before March 15, for Pete’s sake! Which doesn’t include production costs — and Lisman, as we shall see below, hired a top-of-the-line conservative production firm to produce his ads.

Okay, back to the consultancies. There are roughly a dozen outfits that have each taken thousands from the Lisman campaign for “consulting” and such-like.

As you scan through this list, try to think like a manager. Ask yourself: how do all these parts fit together? Is Lisman just throwing money around, or is there an organizational plan behind this confederacy of consultancies? It’s hard to tell because their duties are described so generically.

The Rogues’ Gallery, presented roughly in order of interest to me:

The Jackson-Alvarez Group, $5,000. A conservative firm based in Virginia that specializes in “opposition research,” i.e. digging up political dirt. This expenditure came to light last September, when VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld reported that someone was doing oppo research on Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. The obvious suspect was Lisman, Scott’s Republican primary opponent. When asked about it, Lisman fumbled. He first said it was “possible” and he was “going to go find out.” Later, he claimed that he hired Jackson-Alvarez — but only to do oppo research on himself. He further claimed that if the firm also researched Scott, it was not his idea.

Hard to believe a tough DC hit squad would dig into someone without getting paid for it. Anyway, now we know how much Lisman paid for whatever they did for him.

McLaughlin & Associates, $21,752 for consulting plus $29,427 for polling. A high-powered New York firm that does survey research and strategic consulting for corporations and conservative politicians, nationally and internationally. Hopefully its poll will give Lisman a better showing than The VPR Poll’s measly four percent.  

Jamestown Associates, $12,628. (Jamestown has also done major media buys for the Lisman campaign.) A prominent “Republican political consulting firm” based in New Jersey. Its client list features many a Tea Party favorite, including Rick Perry, Mark Sanford, Kansas Sen. Ben Sasse, and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin. Among many other things, Jamestown produces campaign advertisements with a style that combines hard-knuckle attacks with biting humor. The recent Lisman spot with the Peter Shumlin mannequin saying “BLAH BLAH BLAH” has Jamestown’s fingerprints all over it.

Cogent Strategy, $15,857. Cogent is headed by Karen Marshall. If that name sounds familiar, cast your memory back to January of 2013, when Marshall left a job as Governor Shumlin’s “broadband czar” to take an executive post with VTel, a recipient of state and federal broadband funds. Only a month before joining VTel, she had cast a vote in favor of a $5 million state grant for the company. At the time, it was widely criticized as a prime example of Montpelier’s revolving door at work.

Well, she’s not at VTel anymore. Her current shop doesn’t seem to have a website; according to Marshall’s LinkedIn page, “The firm offers services in media placement, strategic planning, project management, talent recruitment and coaching for performance, marketing and sales channel effectiveness.”

You see the same buzzwords over and over, which is why I wonder how all these consultants who do the same kinds of stuff can all work effectively without serious overlap.

Marshall’s firm, by the way, was registered with the Secretary of State in July of last year. Seems kind of recent, which is a recurring pattern in this list.

Radial Marketing, $22,120. Vermont firm that “assists clients with integrated strategic marketing and management planning.” Whatever. Radial is owned by Doug Grahn, a Republican from Middlesex; in 2012 it formed an “affiliation” with Shouldice’s lobby shop Capitol Connections. It’s one of at least three CC-related firms that have gotten a taste of Bruce Lisman’s Wall Street fortune. Lesson: It pays to know Shawn Shouldice.

Oh yes, Grahn is listed as a “Partner” in Lisman’s advocacy group Campaign for Vermont. As of 2013 he was listed as “Coordinator” for CFV, and had a “doug@campaignforvermont.org” email address.

And here’s a blast from the past: Grahn was on Tom Salmon’s “exploratory committee” back in 2011 when the Democratic-turned-Republican Auditor was mulling a challenge for Bernie Sanders’ Senate seat, ha ha.

Angelique McAlpine, $12,022 plus another $8,614 for website development. McAlpine is a Vermont resident and purveyor of “Strategic Visual Solutions,” her words, which includes graphic design and marketing, and something she calls “Graphic Recording.” What that is, apparently, is that she convenes a group of people, facilitates a discussion, and creates a large-scale visual representation thereof. A sample, taken from her website, is nearby.

McApline graphicSounds like snake oil to me, but then, I once suffered through a two-day corporate retreat based on “Who Moved My Cheese?” Couldn’t stand it. I kept wondering, “Why did they move my cheese?” And “What kind of cheese-moving are my bosses preparing to launch?” If McAlpine did a visual representation of the Lisman campaign, I’d love to see it.

On second thought, no I wouldn’t.

A separate firm, Studio Four Nine ($5,908) is also listed as providing “website development” services for the Lisman campaign. Man, that’s gotta be one hell of a website. Studio Four Nine is a Vermont firm that has taken assignments for Capital Connections in the past, and has also done work for Lisman’s Campaign for Vermont.

Madmotion LLC, $11,375. Vermont firm listed as “independent contractors,” but Madmotion’s in the video production business. (As they put it, “Digital Storytelling.”)

Digital Media Creations, $12,539. Another Vermont firm listed as providing “media consulting,” and like MadMotion, its core business is video and digital production. I don’t know how DMC, Madmotion, and Jamestown fit together; maybe they were hired sequentially, maybe the Vermont firms shot the local video and Jamestown did the actual conceptualizing and production. Hard to say because, again, the Lisman campaign finance report offers nothing more than a one- or two-word description for each consultancy.

Burlington Consulting Services, $8,694. It doesn’t have a website; a Google search only turned up a reference to the firm being “registered and doing business in Vermont since 12/14/2015.” Aww, just a baby. BCS is registered with the Secretary of State’s office; the Registered Agent is Jennifer Tedeschi, who happens to be the Lisman campaign’s finance director.

Okay, now, if Lisman wants to pay his finance director, I’ve got no problem with it. But why the rigmarole? Why, apparently, create an LLC to funnel money from his campaign to his finance director? Where is the transparency, as Lisman himself would say?

Tedeschi is also head of something called the Naitonal Gardening Association. Lisman is the chairman of the nonprofit’s board. Also serving on the board is one Erik Beal, which brings us to…

Riverhall LLC, $8,000. I could find no trace of Riverhall online, except for a Secretary of State registration dated 11/14/2015. Another brand new corporation, created after Lisman’s campaign launch! And yes, Riverhall’s Registered Agent is Erik Beal.

FYI, both Tedeschi and Beal are “Partners” in Campaign for Vermont. Which may or may not mean much, since the list of “Partners” runs to the hundreds of names. I think it includes anyone who’s ever given money to CFV or signed up for its mailing list.

Wilderness Communications, $3,173. PR/communications firm owned by Chris Adams, a partner in Shouldice’s lobby shop Capital Connections. And oh look, it was registered as an LLC on November 2, 2015. Another Lisman campaign startup. (Hey, the guy’s creating jobs and small enterprise, right?)

The Schuman Group, $4,500. Burlington-based “sales training and consulting firm.” Before opening his own shop, Philip Schuman was Director of Sales for the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Question: Why does a political campaign need training in sales? Is this part of Lisman’s “run government like a business” worldview?

Well, that’s it. The list of consultancies that have all pulled down four- and five-figure paychecks from the Lisman campaign. Most of the Vermont shops have past connections to Shouldice and/or Campaign for Vermont; three of the companies were created in the closing months of 2015, after Lisman launched his bid for governor.

It’s all very cozy, and lacking in the kind of transparency that Lisman advocates every time he opens his mouth or writes an opinion piece. He’s not setting much of an example.

Note: I’m sure I don’t know all the players and the connections. If anyone has additional information, please post it in the Comments below. And preferably, provide documentation in the form of a weblink or reference. Thanks.

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2 thoughts on “A Confederacy of Consultancies

  1. Walter Carpenter

    It’s all very cozy, and lacking in the kind of transparency that Lisman advocates every time he opens his mouth or writes an opinion piece.”

    Thanks so much for putting this out there. It’s Wall Street at work again.

    Reply
  2. Macy Franklin

    I almost feel sorry that this sad little Wall Streeter has been fleeced by Stepford Wife Shouldice and her band of consulting gypsies. Tusser’s adage holds true: a fool and his money are soon departed.

    Reply

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