Tag Archives: Cyrus Patten

Evidence of Bruce Lisman’s appeal (hint: microscopic)

This week’s “Fair Game” column by Paul Heintz had some notable tidings near the end: Campaign for Vermont, the public policy nonprofit founded — and almost exclusively funded — by Bruce Lisman, appears to be on its last legs.

Now that Lisman is fully ensconced in his campaign — and has turned off the $1.35 million spigot that funded CFV — the organization appears to have fallen on tough times. Earlier this month, policy and operations manager Ben Kinsley decamped to the Lisman campaign. And now executive director Cyrus Patten says he’s on his way out the door.

According to Patten, who apparently isn’t averse to spilling bad news now that he’s out the door, CFV has a mere $40,000 left in the bank.

Lisman and Patten were constantly bragging about CFV’s alleged influence in the Statehouse and its progress in building an independent political movement, but there was precious little objective evidence to support their claims. After Lisman stopped writing the big checks, Patten claimed that an aggressive fundraising/membership campaign was starting to pay dividends.

Guess that was just a steamin’ pile of bullshit.

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Greshin redux: it gets worse

Earlier this week, State Rep. Adam Greshin spearheaded an effort to cut a planned funding increase for Efficiency Vermont. I noted the rather obvious conflict of interest: Greshin is co-owner of the Sugarbush ski resort, and higher EV funding would have meant higher utility rates.

Since then, two further developments. First, as multiple correspondents have pointed out, ski resorts got a massive handout from Efficiency Vermont last year:

A $5-million rebate program from Efficiency Vermont helped initiate a $15-million investment in high-efficiency snow guns at resorts around the state. The resorts say that the new snowmaking guns can create a lot more snow in less time, and can deliver piles of snow earlier in the season than the old-school snowguns.

The majority of resorts’ electricity use is in air compression for snowmaking. EV’s program was a smart way to target a significant energy sinkhole. But it took a lot of flack for a “giveaway” to a big business. Did that contribute to lawmakers’ willingness to give the agency a substantial trim? I can’t say, but it’s a fair inference.

Adam Greshin’s business got a huge boost from EV, and now that he’s gotten his benefit, he wants to minimize his outlay for the program. Isn’t that convenient?

Second development. In my previous post I asked if Campaign for Vermont would go after Rep. Greshin. After all, CFV issued a formal complaint last year about then-Democratic State Rep. Mike McCarthy’s alleged conflict of interest. All McCarthy did was vote for a measure that would have benefited his employer, SunCommon; Greshin led the charge for a bill that would dramatically cut his business expenses, which seems more egregious to me.

Initially, CFV director Cyrus Patten was on my side:

Well, the morning came, and…

Sorry, but that doesn’t hold water. By its own account, Sugarbush spends about $2 million a year on energy. That’s not exactly your typical ratepayer. Methinks the grizzled heads at CFV thought better of slamming Greshin, who’s not formally connected to CFV but as a business-friendly centrist, his political agenda matches theirs. Unlike, say, Mike McCarthy.

I’m sure Patten will write this off as more CFV-bashing by me, but I smell a double standard.

Look, I realize there’s a huge gray area when it comes to conflict of interest, especially in a state with a nonprofessional legislature. Most of these people have other jobs. You can’t ask Dr. George Till to recuse himself from anything to do with health care. You can’t ask Sen. Bill Doyle, a faculty member at Johnson State College, to abstain from higher eduction funding bills. You can’t ask Don Turner, fire chief of Milton, to not vote for public safety appropriations.

But Greshin’s case is different in two regards: (1) paying utility bills is a huge expense for his resort, so there’s a greater order of magnitude involved; and (2) he didn’t just vote on a bill — he championed the cause. If not for Adam Greshin, the Efficiency Vermont funding would have sailed through the House.

I think that’s a pretty clear case, and I believe the House Ethics Committee should look into it.

Advocacy Group Seeks Public-Sector Proxies

Campaign for Vermont, the Bruce Lisman-funded public policy organization, recently sent out an interesting email blast.

The missive, dated February 25, was sent to all of Vermont’s town clerks; it asked the clerks to use their public standing on behalf of CFV:

As a staple within your community, you have the unique vantage point to facilitate the exchange of ideas. Additionally, because of your role in local government, you have the chance to experience and therefore critique many policies. To this end, Campaign for Vermont (CFV) would like to share the attached economic position paper and our newly released economic indicators report.

Ah, the generosity of these folks, freely sharing the fruits of their labor. And what do they want the clerks to do in return?

…we are excited to have you read our ideas, use your community connections to evaluate the effectiveness and legitimacy of our proposals, as well as provide feedback to Campaign for Vermont. We encourage you to share this document with business leaders in your community.

Oh. Hm. So CFV wants our publicly-elected, publicly-paid clerks to become unpaid shills for its flackery.

I doubt that CFV will get much out of this; most clerks, I imagine, simply trashed the message. As they should; this smells a bit funny to me, asking an officeholder who is supposed to be an objective arbiter of elections to become an advocate. Even if the request comes from a “nonpartisan” group.

I asked Secretary of State Jim Condos for his reaction. “It’s not illegal but it may put a clerk in a difficult position,” he wrote in an email. “It’s not something we would recommend that the clerk do, in the interest of maintaining an appearance of impartiality.” He further suggested that such a request “would be better for selectboard and city council members.”

For all I know, CFV did send the same request to those officials. I happened to receive the clerks’ email.

So, not illegal but unwise. And, it seems to me, just a little bit desperate. CFV is trying to establish broad visibility without Lisman and ease its dependence on the mighty Lisman wallet. Its executive director Cyrus Patten has been busily roaming the halls of the Statehouse, which is good, but it looks like he may have taken a step too far in trying to connect with the general public.