A moment of dismay, dissipated

I was skimming around in campaign finance reports the other day*, when I came across something that made me say “Hmm.” And here it is:

Lisman donation

This is taken from the latest campaign finance filing of Common Sense Leadership PAC, House Minority Leader Don Turner’s slush fund political action committee. It indicates that one Bruce Lisman made a donation of $4,000 to CSLPAC on October 11.

Bruce Lisman. Of 716 Kipling Street, Houston, Texas.

Oh please, say it ain’t so, Bruce. Say you haven’t left us for a warm-weather tax haven. Especially after a campaign full of bumpf about what a true-blue Son of Vermont you were.

Reinforcing my curiosity were the fact that Lisman’s Twitter feed has been inactive since August 10, his campaign’s Facebook page was last updated on August 15, and his campaign website has been consigned to the same Internet purgatory populated by the remnants of AngelFire and GeoCities.

(Kids, ask your parents.)

Fortunately, I’ve been reassured by Lisman’s costly campaign manager, Shawn Shouldice:

Have no fear Bruce is still very much in Vermont.

Whew.

Apparently the Houston address was due to a mixup between Bruce, his bookkeeper, and the campaign finance reporting system. So no, Bruce Lisman didn’t run for the border as soon as he lost the primary.

Before I heard from Shouldice, I checked out the address on real-estate listings, and found it was a plausible pied-a-terre for the likes of a Wall Street millionaire.

This is a Single-Family Home located at 716 Kipling Street, Houston, TX. 716 Kipling St has 4 beds, 3 baths, and approximately 2,892 square feet. The property has a lot size of 6,003 sqft and was built in 1932. The average list price for similar homes for sale is $713,970. 716 Kipling St is in the Neartown-Montrose neighborhood in Houston, TX. The average list price for Neartown- Montrose is $622,982.

So, biggish house in a neighborhood full of large, well-maintained homes on small lots. There’s a gate at the end of the driveway to keep out the hoi polloi. Maybe $700K is a little light for a man of substantial means, but yeah, believable.

A check of property ownership records showed that the house belonged to a staff attorney for Hess, a gas-and-oil giant. Seemed unlikely that Lisman would stoop to subletting. And Shouldice’s prompt email reply eliminated all doubt.

We’ve still got Bruce Lisman to kick around.

Hey, if Phil Scott loses, are we gonna get “Lisman ’18 — The Empire Strikes Back”?

(Did I just become the first media member to begin speculating about the NEXT election.)

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11 thoughts on “A moment of dismay, dissipated

  1. Sen. Joe Benning

    All valid questions in your quest to paint the Republican party with the “we only support rich guys” brush. Now let’s see you get to work on identifying how many of those way-too-rich-out-of-touch Republicans were able to attend that $5,000.00 per plate dinner with Joe Biden last night.

    Reply
    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Did I say anything about the Republican Party? No, I wrote about Bruce Lisman, the guy who adopted the GOP as a flag of convenience for his ill-fated campaign. Before then, he used to claim to be a lifelong Democrat.

      Yes, there are rich liberals who want to see a measure of social justice and are willing to, say, pay higher taxes if necessary (Hi, Mr. Buffett!). If we could overturn Citizens United and return to reasonable campaign financing, both parties could stop their perpetual pursuit of money.

      Reply
  2. Sen. Joe Benning

    Darn, for a moment there I thought I might have spurred you to name the folks on the other side of the Tarrant/Valley/Broughton coin. Would have been refreshing to see different names. After all, SOMEBODY had to be paying $5,000.00 for a plate of rubber chicken and beans to get the Vice-President to pay a visit.

    As for the “perpetual pursuit of money,” I can assure you from this politician’s perspective that it isn’t any fun. Correcting the problem without infringing on the 1st Amendment or yanking it from the pockets of unwilling taxpayers seems to be an obstacle, however.

    But on the subject of Citizen’s United, it seems to me there’s way too much noise about it giving way too much power to the allegedly evil Koch brothers. To demonstrate, which of the following would you say shouldn’t have been elected based on their unfairly taking advantage of that “unreasonable” Supreme Court ruling: Barack Obama & Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Peter Welch, Peter Shumlin, Phil Scott, Beth Pearce or Bill Sorrell? (I’m only using candidates who had competition in at least one election since the decision came down in 2010.) My point? From a liberal perspective, I would submit that case really hasn’t been an issue at all.

    Now if you REALLY want to get excited about money in politics, forget Citizen’s United. Let’s talk instead about that Iberdrola payment offer to voters in Windham and Grafton. Our attorney general has said the offer doesn’t violate 17 V.S.A. §2017, which prohibits “undue influence” of voters. I think he got that decision dead wrong. If the Koch brothers came along and offered a sum of money to each voter to vote against the wind project, I can just imagine the reaction. But let’s up the ante. Suppose the Koch brothers got into a bidding war against Iberdrola with each side increasing the offer to be paid to the voters. How could anybody in their right mind NOT consider this “undue influence” in an election?

    Reply
      1. Sen. Joe Benning

        That’s it? No comment on an out of state corporation offering money to Vermont voters if they get their project approved when measured against 17 V.S.A. §2017? Just a snarky deflection to the observation that liberal-oriented federal and state candidates haven’t seemed to have any problem getting elected since Citizen’s United came down in 2010? That’s all you got? [Sigh]

      2. John S. Walters Post author

        “Liberal-oriented candidates haven’t had any problem getting elected” because national conservative Republicanism is a bankrupt philosophy. One of the main reasons you’ve got Trump on your ticket is that a goodly chunk of Republican voters don’t even buy Republicanism any more. And the fact that so many of your fellows across the country have twisted themselves into rhetorical pretzels to accommodate Trump’s misogyny, racism, nativism, and non-conservative ideology just shows how bankrupt they are. You, at least, have some consistency in your views.

        As for my failure to adequately respond to your comment, well, (1) it’s not my job and (2) you made a ridiculous statement that kind of overshadowed the rest of your argument. But if you insist:

        The Attorney General’s office tossed out that complaint as baseless.

        [Senior Assistant AG Michael] Duane said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against violations in similar cases after applying several criteria, including whether an offer applies to all voters, whether it is a general or specific promise, whether it is offered in an open setting and whether everyone receives a benefit regardless of how they vote.

        I’m not surprised you don’t agree with the decision, but it appears to be on solid legal footing.

        Is there really a difference between payments to individual residents and Iberdrola’s core incentive, offered from the very beginning, to dramatically ease their tax burdens? A wind farm is, you should pardon the unfunny pun, a windfall for host communities. As your fellow Republican Travis Belisle, developer of the Georgia wind project, notes: Republicans are supposed to be all about the economy, jobs, and affordability. Wind farms are positive in all three areas. He’s puzzled why so many of his fellow Republicans are against wind.

        But that’s beside the point, which is: there’s no basis for your claim of an illegal bribe. I agree with the AG’s office on that.

    1. johngreenberg

      Joe Benning:

      I’ll take the bait, since this issue has attracted a good deal of attention among the anti-wind folks.

      A large part of the problem, it seems to me, is in the description of the offer, so let’s take a closer look.

      Prior to the recent controversy, Iberdrola was offering to make payments to the towns over and above those required under the tax laws. Many developers and non-profits have done this in a wide variety of cases, and, to my knowledge, no one has ever suggested that they are “bribing” anyone. Clearly, it’s ok to make payments to a town which reduce the payments that taxpayers would otherwise have to make. Since that’s the case, then why is it NOT ok to make payments to residents directly?

      I can see two differences. The first is that payments which reduce taxes do not actually flow to taxpayers as cash, but rather as avoided expenses. Frankly, this appears to me a difference without a distinction.

      The more important difference – the one which DOES make a difference – is that the first benefit is proportioned to a person’s share of taxes, so that those whose tax burden is greater benefit more, whereas the second is distributed per capita, and eliminates this advantage. But if the first payment is legally acceptable and not a bribe – as clearly appears to be the case at least historically – then why would the change in HOW the benefit is shared turn the second instance into a bribe?

      The argument that the payments are somehow a quid pro quo for support of the project doesn’t bear much weigh either. Clearly, payments in lieu of taxes or payments to towns over and above what is legally required are contingent on projects being allowed in the first place: no project, no payment. Is the objection here that Iberdrola made explicit what was hitherto totally obvious, but not articulated?

      Similarly, the arguments about influencing the vote make little sense. Since Buckley v Valeo, it’s been US legal doctrine that expenditures in support of political campaigns are free speech, protected by the 1st Amendment. Hence, there is nothing any more untoward about Iberdrola using money to influence the outcome of a vote than about Bruce Lisman contributing $4,000 to CSLPAC (which provoked this discussion) or the RGA’s spending $2+M to support Phil Scott’s candidacy. Isn’t the whole point of these latter efforts to influence voters and thus affect the outcome of the vote?

      Under existing law, is there anything preventing you or the Koch brothers from promising voters that you will provide each resident of the town with a sum of money if the TOWN (not the individual voter) votes down the Stile Brook project? Is there a difference in principle between the bidding war you describe and our political campaigns as currently financed?

      The only difference I can see is that spending on political advertising is not CONTINGENT on the outcome of the vote, whereas non-tax expenditures of the type Iberdrola is proposing are. But again, this is a difference which doesn’t appear to me to make any difference at all; the intent is the same in both cases.

      Since those opposing the projects will receive the payments if the project is accepted as will those who supported them, it’s hard to see how this difference makes one a bribe while the other isn’t. The missing element — the element which WOULD turn a legal and permissible offer into a crime – is that these situations all involve payments to EVERYONE regardless of how an individual votes. Bribery requires that receipt of the money be contingent on HOW one votes. If the recipient of a bribe votes as the briber wishes, the money flows; if not, tough luck Charley.

      Since that is NOT the case here, it seems to me that the AG office’s finding is correct: there is no bribe here.

      Reply
  3. walter h moses

    Thanks Senator Benning for your reply.
    Of course Walters doesn’t see your point. Therefore his flippant reply to you.
    My grandmother would say “flippant” , to which my grandfather would say, “nah, he is just a rude jerk”.

    Reply
  4. Sen. Joe Benning

    John: You should read the statute. My comment did not suggest it was a “bribe.” The statute reads: A person who attempts by bribery, threats, or any undue influence to dictate, control, or alter the vote of a freeman or freewoman about to be given at a local, primary, or general elections shall be fined not more than $200.00.

    Michael Duane “tossed out” (your words) the claim that Iberdrola’s offer of a direct payment to voters because he felt it was not “undue influence.” (I have his email to Representative Carolyn Partridge, who prompted the question to Duane through SOS Jim Condos.)

    Pretend this has nothing to do with the current wind debate, or better yet pretend that the Koch brothers came along and offered to match Iberdrola’s offer and up it by a barrel of rum. How could anybody in their right mind NOT call this an attempt to “influence” the vote? After that, the only remaining question is whether it is “undue.” This decision effectively removes the ability to prosecute anyone under this statute for undue influence. To me, this terrible precedent is a more direct threat to our elections than Citizen’s United. But I guess that’s just me.

    Reply
    1. johngreenberg

      Joe Benning:

      Of course, Iberdrola’s offer is an attempt to “influence” the vote. But as you note, that’s not what the statute says. After all, a political advertisement is also an attempt to “influence” the vote. So is a politician saying to a constituent “please vote for me.”

      “After that, the only remaining question is whether it is “undue.”” That’s a question you pose but do not answer. So, in your estimation, what makes influence “undue?” It’s the core of the issue here, which I attempted to analyze above. If you actually tried to answer it yourself, instead of implying that the answer is obvious, you just might see why you’re wrong about this.

      Reply

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