He seems like such a nice young man

Last week, I had a cup of coffee with the new guy at Campaign for Vermont: former Howard Center program exec Cyrus Patten, now Executive Director of Bruce Lisman’s Playhouse.

Aw, heck, I shouldn’t be so cynical… just because the Wall Street millionaire founded the organization two and a half years ago, poured over a million bucks into it, and made himself the conspicuous front man for all things CFV. Well, he did until recently, when he stepped back from the microphone even as he started giving generous contributions to Republican causes and floated a trial balloon about a candidacy for Governor.

Ahem, well, I guess that’s a lot to be cynical about. But the 31-year-old Patten insists I’ve got it wrong. He paints Lisman as a native Vermonter who is “deeply concerned about the state.  …If you had millions of dollars, would you invest in Vermont in a way that would help? I think a lot of us would.”

Yes, if I had a big pile of money, I hope I’d invest some of it in positive change. I wouldn’t necessarily launch a public-policy organization and put my face and name all over it; I’d maybe think more along the lines of charity or education. But that’s just me.

Oh, there I go being cynical again. Patten struck me as an honest, articulate guy who cares about building the organization. With his close-cropped hair, crisp bowtie and handsome spring jacket with an embroidered CFV logo*, he comes across as a slightly preppier version of the endlessly energetic young folks who cycle through the VPIRG office. And I don’t envy him the task that lies ahead. In some ways, CFV is an established presence; but in many ways it’s a shell of a “grassroots” outfit, since no financial commitment is required for membership. Until now, it’s depended entirely on the image, connections, and bank account of Bruce Lisman. You could argue that CFV is starting from scratch; and Cyrus Patten doesn’t bring the same assets to the table as Lisman.

*Possible thank-you gift for future CFV donors, hmmm?

He describes CFV as a “centrist” organization, despite its largely conservative membership rolls and its consistently heavy criticism of the Democratic majority. “We can only demonstrate that we are nonpartisan, that we don’t subscribe to a particular party or side of the political spectrum. …We have to show that we are nonpartisan through our policies, through our communications and our actions, and I intend to do that.”

Beginning steps: black-hat lobbyist Shaun Shouldice no longer flacks for CFV. And (as you may have noticed) Tom Pelham has cut way back on his endless drumbeating for Challenges for Change, the failed Douglas Administration initiative. And to be fair, CFV’s big push for ethics reform is not at all a partisan issue.

After the jump: Disengaging from Lisman’s wallet.

Patten continued, “A lot of people are disenchanted with politics as usual, and they are coming to the centrist place where they are finding Campaign for Vermont.” The right-heavy membership, he says, is a natural consequence of the Democrats being in power: if the Republicans were in charge, CFV’s membership would tilt the other way.

As for CFV’s financial dependence on Lisman’s fortune, that’s still true — at least for now. “He has made a commitment to ensure that the organization is successful. That means bridging us until others step up and we can find other funding sources.”

Patten will soon launch a paid-membership model, although the option of unpaid membership will remain available. And CFV’s website now features a list of donors. It’s just a list of names, with no dollar figures, so it’s impossible to assess the relative weight of individual contributions. A suggestion: If CFV doesn’t want to list exact amounts, it could provide ranges, as many nonprofits do. Say, $1-100, 100-1000, and 1000+. That’d give us a sense of who’s giving the big bucks.

As of today, the list includes 44 names for 2014 so far, and only 13 for 2013. That’s a long way from its claimed membership of over 1,000. So we haven’t begun to answer the core question: Are those “members” dedicated enough to make a financial commitment to CFV?

Patten’s tough task would become even tougher if Lisman launches a candidacy for Governor, or otherwise injects himself into partisan politics. Say, by kickstarting a Heidi Scheuermann campaign with a big fat check. Patten has had numerous conversations with the man he comfortably refers to as “Bruce,” and he’s gotten no indication that Lisman plans such a move. “I can tell you that if he is inserting himself into partisan politics, he has not told me about it. That’s the honest truth.”

Although, he adds, the idea of a Lisman candidacy might not be such a bad thing. “I have to say, he’s in touch. I actually think he is connected to Vermonters on a number of issues and where they stand on those issues. So that wouldn’t be a horrible thing if he changed the conversation on the political stage in some way.”

But Patten acknowledges that it would make his job more challenging: “We would have to work harder to demonstrate that that’s not what this was about from the very beginning.”

His goal: Creating “a self-sustaining, viable grassroots organization by continuing to connect with mainstream Vermonters, tapping into their opinions on issues that affect them.”

Or as I would put it, turning the rhetoric of Lisman’s Campaign for Vermont into a real, honest, beholden-to-no-one nonpartisan public policy organization. Despite my cynicism, the new guy deserves the benefit of the doubt. I think the odds are against him, but he ain’t Bruce Lisman, and I’ll judge him by his own actions.  

5 thoughts on “He seems like such a nice young man

  1. And according to at least 40 years of history, they’re always lying. I wouldn’t give any of them the benefit of the doubt. This is just an attempt to appeal to younger Vermonters. Combine it with the upcoming “farm team” political training planned for next weekend, and it appears they’re finally trying to professionalize the right wing in VT.  

  2. difficult to maintain snarky sarcasm when one is confronted with a possibly semi-honest individual, esp if they’re kinda nice. Having BTDT more than once, misty-eyed no longer (well, Ron Paul was my last misty-eyed, so not too far down the road). Nice job JV.

    However because Lisman chooses a sweet young thing as human shield simply elevates his reprehensibleness in my dryish eyes.  

    There are few if any who could share “Mr Smith” cred & Lisman ain’t one of them. And, this newbie tasked with rehabbing Mr. Lisman is a strategy — designed to begin a new chapter. Can’t be done imo as the die has been cast & template cannot be changed at this point, he’s too far down the road following a path which is, or should be, highly suspect even to the casual observer.

    Task at hand is “proving” he is not just another in the long line of wealthy carpetbaggers, er, “successors” to the throne of governorship whose mission is to “save” VT. Can’t be done this way as he & predecessors follow an illegitimate path of failing to come up through the ranks demonstrating what they can & will do for VT (think Bernie authenticity – another original) demonstrating a proven ability of having a rapport with those who actually vote rather than motivated by exchanging one fifth-floor office for another.

    Avoiding like the plague the reaching out to Vermonters, rubbing elbows with the unwashed, taking his plans directly to the “rabble” using media (Vermont is op-ed paradise) & such frivolities as running for lower offices coming up through the ranks. He he has already proven his distaste for & absence of commonality with Vermonters. This is why I do not accept him as having the heart of a Vermonter which is the essence thereof.

    Jim Jeffords, no matter where he was or what he was doing, lawyer, Vermont appointments, legislator, then ascending to congress always walked & talked like a small-town farmer who made good & used his good for the good of & to better VT, even suited-up, never a mere suit. Other half was exiting an office, as he was walking out Jeffords/congressman was walking in, said hello Jim, Jim extended his hand immediately w/no gap or looking in askance attempting to determine the “helloers” importance, just said hello & paused momentarily as if to answer a question or hear from a common citizen.  And, he’s an original. Howard Dean though coming from downcountry made clear his committment to VT despite his imperfections.  Authenticity cannot be manufactured or conjured. Lisman-style phonies stick out like a sore thumb in VT.

    By choosing venues where he cannot be questioned by the people or press — interviews are suspect as they can include clauses re what will be discussed — and then insulating as well as isolating himself from the press & masses by “hiring” consultants & staffers (Pelham) who give the veneer of successful bipartisanship but who pump out op-eds w/regularity shows Lisman is politically in the puckerbrush & tall grass, not ready for primetime & obviously does not know what the hell he is doing. On-the-job-training with the steep learning curve this guy has revealed himself to have, ain’t gonna pass the muster.

    All of these carefully crafted interchanges,  advisor-assembled props, travelling w/an entourage, another stunt to give the appearance as an officeholder before even taking office as well as the aforementioned gaping holes in his resume are very telling — is anyone asking what they’re telling, or do we need Toto to figure this out for us. The man clearly wants his hands upon the levers & nothing more as evidenced by the aforementioned, all mere vehicles transporting him to desired destination.

    Clueless persona, lackluster performance when engaged with anyone make him look chocolate-on-the-face guilty. Now the batting-eyes-behind-Jaypan fan & former protestations of having “no plans” to run for guv & his supposed spending of millions to “start a conversation” although some of us were never fooled & still aren’t makes for another high-drama once again in VT, show him to be as dishonest as he is disingenuous.

    Bipartisan my ass.    


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