Lisman: Vermont fails badly at transparency

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Bruce Lisman, the founder of Campaign for Vermont.

Campaign for Vermont was formed with the goal of creating a robust debate about Vermont’s future. We believe that state policymakers must pursue a vibrant and diversified economy above all else; one that creates more jobs than there are people and provides shared prosperity for all. We believe also that non-partisan and informed debate results in middle-of-the-road, common sense public policy. We aggressively promote transparency because without it, we are left with uninformed arguments and angry partisanship and a government lacking accountability to you — its citizens.

As citizens, we have the right to know how we are taxed, how our money is spent, where it is spent and how well it’s spent. Yet, in two recent national studies on governmental transparency and accountability, the best Vermont could do was a D+.

Transparency and accountability is the clear path that allows Vermonters to judge how well our government is doing. Is health care reform important? Of course it is. Yet politicians in Montpelier are “rocketing” us toward a new system without showing us its cost. The Legislature is pushing alternative energy legislation that increases the state’s renewable energy portfolio. Does this make sense? Maybe, but at what cost? Vermonters want a low-carbon energy portfolio. But, again, Montpelier politicians haven’t told us how much our electric bills will rise. As an example of the dramatic cost increase; we recently learned how this legislation will impact IBM — Chittenden County’s largest private employer. IBM’s cost projection, prepared by Green Mountain Power, shows the company’s electric bill rising by $5 million-$7 million per year. That’s a 16-20 percent increase. But most other businesses and citizens have no idea how this legislation will impact them. And our property tax bills, well that’s also another sorry story.

Last week, USPIRG and the Center for Public Policy Integrity offered their assessment of Vermont’s governmental transparency. USPIRG ranked Vermont at D- and the CPPI ranked us at D+. Here are just some of the highlights from the transparency ranking reports.

• USPIRG gave Vermont a D- in “On Line Access to Government Spending Data”

• CPPI gave Vermont an F for Legislative Accountability, Ethics Enforcement and Judicial Accountability

• CPPI gave Vermont a D- for Executive Accountability and D+ for Public Access to Information, State Insurance Commissions and State Civil Service Management

These failures in transparency and accountability must be addressed. Vermonters can’t hold their government accountable without it. With proposals before us that dramatically restructure our health care system, cost shift subsidies for alternative energy onto ratepayers, increase our property taxes even though the number of students in our schools is declining, and a state budget growing at twice the rate of inflation, Vermonters must be prepared to act.

Campaign for Vermont believes Vermonters should demand transparency and accountability. Only if you do will you get it. Demand it soon, or pay the price. Without it, Vermonters will watch their prosperity suffocated by higher taxes, higher health care bills and higher energy costs.

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  • Russell Aminzade

    Mr. Lisman appears to be the sole funder of “The Campaign for Vermont,” but he’s refused to say how much he was pumped into it or how much they have spent.

    If Mr. Lisman wants to “aggressively promote transparency,” perhaps he can start by practising what he is preaching.

  • walter carpenter

    “If Mr. Lisman wants to “aggressively promote transparency,” perhaps he can start by practising what he is preaching.”

    Good point, Russell. We should demand it of him.

  • Mr Lisman, are you aware that all of the committee meetings where they are discussing health care reform are free and ope to the public. Here is a link to guide you.
    All you do is click on the committee name that you are looking for and the schedule pops up. This week the Senate is taking up H559- mostly in Senate Health and Senate Finance.
    I’ve spent a lot of time in these committee hearings and I don’t think I have ever seen you there.
    The Green Mountain Care Board meetings are also free and open to the public. They allow questions from the public at the end of the meeting. If you happen to miss one, they are videotaped.
    Perhaps if you participated in your government, you would be less fearful of the process .

  • Tom Licata

    Campaign for Vermont should stop pussyfooting around and address the crux of Vermont’s problem head-on.
    Here’s a taste of our problems from something I wrote back on these pages on Dec. 11, 2011:

    “In his superb book, “The Battle,” Arthur C. Brooks outlines this war:

    “This is not a fight over guns, abortions, religion, and gays. Nor is it about Republicans versus Democrats. Rather, it is a struggle between two competing visions of America’s future. In one, America will continue to be a unique and exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise. In the other, America will move toward European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, increasing income redistribution, and government-controlled corporations. … This is about whether America will move toward social democracy (aka democratic socialism) like many other developed nations, or remain the America of entrepreneurs, individual opportunity, and limited government.”

    The necessary gradualism toward democratic socialism (think “fusion” progressive/democratic Chittenden County State Senator Tim Ashe) has been ongoing in Vermont for more than a decade, and its speed and intensity increased with the election of Peter Shumlin and an overwhelming democratic socialist legislature.

    Traditional democrats (think Grand Isle County State Senator Dick Mazza), whose values are in the free enterprise system, haven’t fully distinguished their values from their “fusion” progressive/democratic rivals, as traditional democratic party faithful continue to gullibly fuel the fire that is Montpelier’s socialist ruse. Electing “progressive” democrats over “free-enterprise” republicans, Vermont’s “traditional” democrats scratch their heads in bewilderment as they continue to vote party label over party values.

    In Vermont, this adult conversation of gradualism, from democratic capitalism to democratic socialism is often quickly extinguished as derisive; ridiculing anyone or any institution who dares to expose these political and economic realities.

    U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks volumes to these realities, this from his Wikipedia page: “Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist and has praised European social democracy.” Bernie, one of the three Presidential electors for the Socialist Workers Party ticket in 1980, is an influential standard-bearer to what is now Vermont’s “fusion” Progressive/Democratic Party.”

    This “culture war” I write of, if not aired out openly, will continue to leave a gullible public uneducated and ignorant as to what lies before them, and this is precisely what the Vermont progressive-democratic party would like – – – as well as our main-stream media, such as the Burlington Free Press and WCAX…two of the many enablers of this very dangerous and growing movement in Vermont.

    Campaign for Vermont and other like organizations MUST EDUCATE the public before our 2012 elections.

    Should Campaign for Vermont and other like organizations continue to either pretend these realities don’t exist or fear a back lash of ridicule for exposing these truths, will only play into the hands of their very ominous adversaries.

    Pussyfooting will no longer do.

    • Christian Noll

      Not too sure it would be the “Vermont progressive-democratic party” wanting to keep “The Truth” from the public Tom sorry.

      Interesting though you should side both the Burlington Free Press and WCAX in the same sentence. I wouldn’t even use them in the same sentence.

      WCAX doesn’t come close to printing, broadcasting, saying or touching what Sam Hemmingway alone has covered, ever.

      The bonds between WCAX and the Burlington police and other public entities in Burlington, binds them to turning away from Burlington corruption and covering other town’s misfortunes to try and make up for it or lead attention away. It is a media failure story in that it represents a one sided and misleading perspective on a subject which has given Vermont a HIGHEST IN THE NATION ranking in a most unsavory catagory.

      I’ve experienced this first hand, AS HAVE many other Vermonters.

      If there is pressure to cover a story on Police Misconduct, they will search for stories in other police departments thoughout the state before approaching the Burlington Police department. Marriage BINDS people, courtries, towns AND police departments, (especially if your married to Kristin Kelley.)

      Campaing for Vermont is Mr. Lisman’s bid to build a platform for some kind of political office.

      There is no “Information” there for the public other than informing the public that Mr. Lisman is running for some kind of political office.

      Please don’t call me “Progressive, Socialist” or try and catagorize me in any way just because I’ve voice a different experience. Private citizens have a responsibility to report, document and publish if need be public improprieties. THIS, is informing the public.

      Campaing for Vermont is really Campaing for Lisman.

  • james rice

    Russell has it exactly right. Mr. Lisman is just another wealthy man who, once he gets whatever it is he wants, will be as transparent as all of the other powerful conservatives who fund “grassroots” organizations and nonpartisan “think tanks.”

  • Doug Hoffer

    Misleading? Let us count the ways.

    1. “…politicians in Montpelier are ‘rocketing’ us toward a new system…”

    Actually, a new system won’t be possible for at least four or five years. That leaves plenty of time for analysis and debate. Does that sound like “rocketing”?

    2. “IBM’s cost projection…shows the company’s electric bill rising by $5 million-$7 million per year.”

    First, you cut the last part of the original sentence. It said that IBM’s bills are expected to rise by $5m – $7m by 2032. Not next year, but 20 years from now.

    That’s pretty important because it ignores the impacts of inflation. Are we to believe that IBM’s other costs will not increase over the next 20 years? Or that IBM’s revenues will not grow during that period?

    Furthermore, national electric rates for the industral sector increased 52% from 1997 to 2011. Did that put IBM out of business?

    3. “USPIRG gave Vermont a D- in On Line Access to Government Spending Data.”

    I wonder if Mr. Lisman bothered to read the full report and examine the methodology and scoring. Had he done so, he might not be so quick to cite theses findings without raising some questions.

    For example, Vermont received no points for checkbook level access to expenditures. USPIRG wanted to know if a citizen could Search by Vendor, Search by Keyword or Activity, and Search by Agency or Department. In fact, one can do all of these things using tools available on Finance & Management’s website.

    Finally, Mr. Lisman said that “Campaign for Vermont was formed with the goal of creating a robust debate about Vermont’s future.”

    What is actually happening is not a debate at all; it’s a public relations carpet bombing. When people point out errors or misleading information in the press releases, the Campaign for Vermont makes no effort to address or correct them. Repeating questionable sound bites is many things, but it’s not a robust debate.

  • Apparently the world gives Lisman an F- on transparency, and I agree. But then again Lisman has literally purchased his way into the conversation and sees nothing wrong with that.

    As the good doctor asks above: how many of those public meetings have you attended, Mr Lisman?

    It is because of people like Lisman that we need to redefine money as property and not speech.

  • @ Dr. Richter:

    I wrote this question last week but have heard no responses from health care for all advocates…maybe you can enlighten the public since you are championing this massive change?

    “Has anyone looked hard at the implications of GMC completely ruining the worker’s compensation coverage system in VT, which is in the property casualty side of the insurance market? Why would any PC company continue to insure just the disability side of a claim to pay lost wages when they cannot control the medical cost portion? I have already heard from PC carriers that they will no longer offer WC policies to cover just the disability portion of a worker’s comp claim. What is your answer to that issue when businesses can no longer get mandated WC coverage except from a high risk (and high priced) carrier because there is no market left for WC? Should we start thinking about creating another VT government program to help?

    The unintended consequences of this massive change are monstrous when you really begin to look at all the different ways that GMC/single payer will impact all of the other pieces of the economy and our lives. There is no doubt that some form of change is needed but the super majority, who are completely ideologically blinded at this point, are setting us all up for other major pitfalls. I guess that is ok to some, because we will have health care for all, and that is the answer to all the world’s complexities and problems.”

  • Patrick Cashman

    In the vein of transparency, it should probably be highlighted that Ms. Richter (comment above) is a registered lobbyist for and director of a single payer advocacy organization.

    • In the vein of transparency, it should definitely be highlighted that most (if not all) of us are very aware of all the good work Dr. Deb is involved in.

      Thanks for highlighting her good works, however.

  • Tom Licata

    In order to truly flourish, free enterprise requires a strong, vibrant and independent civil society that is free to interact with one another and separate from the coercive nature of an unlimited government.

    Hence, this requires government to be limited, enabling the free-will of its citizens to creatively interact among themselves.

    Limited government requires a representative form of government, for without such, the citizens in civil society would spend more of their time directing government than in the free exchange of ideas and commerce that make life enhancing and rewarding; leading to the pursuit of happiness.

    Finally, representative government requires and demands limited government for, without limited government or with a government so inculcated into civil society, the government wouldn’t have anything to represent, as a government-dependent civil society would no longer be “citizens” of their government but rather, claimants on it and ultimately on themselves.

    The United States of America needs a restoration of the principles that lie beneath the free enterprise system and these principles can be found in our Creator-endowed founding document, known as the Declaration of Independence.

    Free people interacting freely among themselves in a free enterprise system and separate from the coercive nature of an unlimited government will provide man the nearest assent possible to excellence and to the divinity of his Creator.

  • Walter Carpenter

    “I guess that is ok to some, because we will have health care for all, and that is the answer to all the world’s complexities and problems”

    Craig, exactly what is wrong with health care for all Vermonters? Do you believe that all Vermonters should have access to health care or that some should and others should not? If so, why? As for workers compensation, this is hardly the issue here with Mr.Lisman just assuming that there is little or no transparency — while his campaign is shrouded in secrecy. But with health care for all would not workers compensation be so much easier, since the employer, who pays for this, would not be on the hook for an employee’s health insurance as well? And I would argue that workers compensation should not be left to the markets, since, more often than not, it is just a scam for insurance companies.

  • G. Cross

    For the truth about the ratings Mr. Lisman has cherry-picked and rants about, read the original reports or read the excellent Jon Margolis article above. Lisman will go the way of other wealthy Republicans who have attempted to buy their way into Vermont politics.

  • Christian Noll

    We live in a state where public digital recordings of public meetings go missing.

    What more need one say?

  • Bruce Lisman’s “Campaign for Vermont” is sounding more like a campaign for Mr. Lisman’s political future than Vermont’s. If he truly interested in health care, for example,let him offer his own plan for our broken system and the 190,000 Vermonters that are uninsured or under-insured.
    As far as Dr. Richter’s advocacy for “single Payer” goes, if anyone has spent a modicum of time in Vermont over the last few years they would know of her involvement which is as transparent as it gets. She has also seen first hand how the current health care system, or lack of it, doesn’t meet the needs of many patients.

    • Patrick Cashman

      So we agree then? Ms. Richter is heavily invested in this issue, has staked out a particular position, and that should be taken into account when assessing her comment for bias.

  • Mike Kerin

    Where is Mr. Lisman from? Is he another carpetbagger? Is he the head of one of those SuperPacs? What is his agenda?

    • Craig Powers


      See Tom Licata’s first post above. Looks like he is offering an alternative to the socialist legislation from the Montpelier super majority.

  • Hod Palmer,

    The current Vt health care system was created by the Vt Legislature starting in the early 1990s when they started mandating community rating and expanded coverage. If the system is “broken” now, the Legislature broke it, with almost all the insurers fleeing the state when underwriting and pricing were denied them. So the Legislature is going to fix our broken system. Is there any reason we should have confidence in their ability to do so? I suspect that the will bankrupt the State within 10 years, or less. Yikes!

  • Christian Noll

    Seems like Campaign for Vermont is an attempt to build some kind of political platform.

  • Jim Mulligan

    I do not know Mr Lisman but based on a sampling of the comments which one might describe as being authored by less than dedicated subscribers, I guess it is within the realm of probability that he is “wealthy”. I am also persuaded that he is a native son and not a summer resident. And that while there are a myriad of activities he could pursue from athletics to zoology he has opted to wander onto the Goddess of Agricultures playing field where he finds that tran$parency has wandered toward Tran$ylvania.

    Being accepting of the foregoing or not – as I watch things unfold, I have begun to inch my way toward the opinion that he may be infected with a smidgen of masochism because every time he surfaces regardless of the forum, he is pelted from all sides. I have a favorite “speech” that starts with the line “I am reminded of the profound description of Socrates by a 12 year old boy who said -“Socrates was a Greek philosopher who went about giving people good advice … they poisoned him.

    Now let me stipulate that I am not assigning Socratic attributes to Mr Lisman and for all I know they might very well be embedded in the very make-up of contrarian Commenter’s amongst whom the writer is certainly not numbered. As I have offered on previous occasions, I am a “One Trick Pale Pony” with a checkbook mentality. I entered the arena in ’80 prompted by a deep and abiding generational concern about an approaching $1 trillion National Debt. I departed from the field of battle [with my shield] in ’96 when Steve Forbes’ Flat Tax was lampooned by the legions on either side of the Rubicon.

    I was so stupid, I thought ones revenue should at least match their outlays but, of course, I was not running for public office with perpetuity in mind. At the time, the National Debt was $5 trillion. It will burst out of the $16 trillion gate in the coming months continuing to race well ahead of our GDP, not to speak of the impost of a $500 billion fiscal year Interest tab a goodly portion of which we shall borrow. We have just booked our 41st consecutive monthly operational loss [aka Deficit] striking a record
    “gong” in February of ($231 billion).

    On the state level in 2000 we had a population of 608,000 and we spent $2.2 billion. In 2010 the census puts us at the 626,000 mark and we are pegging our expenditures at $5,1 billion?!? I hope others can empathize with the difficulty I have when trying to wrestle with these numbers. Keep uppermost in mind that I am of the singular school of thought that it is not the transparency afforded one looking out the windshield that will provide the answers – but, rather a dedicated hard look in the rear view mirror. And may I suggest you are not going to like what you see.

    I guess one should not contribute in this segment without taking some form of polite swipe at one of Mr Lisman’s excerpts to wit: Is health care reform important? Of course it is. Yet politicians in Montpelier are “rocketing” us toward a new system without showing us its cost. I hate to age myself but, the reformers are not aboard Flash Gordon’s rocketship! In ’93 I wrote in the BFP “I continue to read with wide eyed amazement the on-going saga as respects the Vermont healthcare plan. We are now being apprised of the particulars in terms of additional taxes.” At the time serious thought was being given to a payroll tax as high as 12.5%.

    Now almost 20 years later I have heard 14% mentioned. I am particularly hard pressed to see how 14% could conceivably come close to the mark considering the inflationary impact the past two decades have had on our medical delivery system. And let us add another dimension during this same period of time our population has only increased by 10%. Who knows – methodology and implementation – Lamont Cranston? It remains a mystery to me. As the close of another session approaches not disclosing the dollar particulars certainly comes as no surprise and sounds a pronounced annuity ring….but, alas if this were the only discipline.

  • Yes Patrick,Dr.Richter is invested in “single payer” health care reform due to her first hand knowledge in dealing with problems of our insurance based health care system. Your point?
    Meanwhile, Bruce Lisman, former Managing Director of investment bank Bear Stearns until 2008, says in his ads he is for health care reform, but he has yet to say what kind of reform!

  • Ron Pulcer

    Mr. Lisman, like everyone else, has every right to participate in the political process.

    As far as transparency, according to the Campaign For Vermont website, it states that Mr. Lisman retired from JP Morgan Chase & Co as Chairman of their Global Equities Division in 2009. That is true.

    However, to put this in full context, JP Morgan Chase purchased Bear Stearns for only $2 per share. This was announced on 3/17/2008, after the collapse of Bear Stearns. Before the JP Morgan Chase bargain purchase, Mr. Lisman was co-head of Bear Stearns’s Global Equities division”.

    Wall Street circa 2008 and prior, despite SEC filings and watered-down regulations and lax enforcement by SEC, is the antithesis of “transparency” given the 2008 financial collapse. The Wall Street mortgage-backed securities (including those peddled by Bear Stearns), and their associated (and suspect) AAA-ratings, would rate an FFF- “transparency grade” in my estimation. But what do I know, I’m just one of those small-time “Muppet” investors.

    Fear, Rumors Touched Off Fatal Run on Bear Stearns

    In this earlier VTDigger opinion piece, Mr. Lisman seems to suggest that because of Hurricane Irene, that Vermont moderates, slows down, or halts the ongoing Healthcare reform efforts.

    I would like to point out that Hurricane Irene was a “natural disaster”. On the other hand, Bear Stearns and the 2008 financial collapse were “man-made disasters”, which in part were caused by a lack of transparency between Wall Street & Washington DC and the American citizenry.

  • walter carpenter

    “which in part were caused by a lack of transparency between Wall Street & Washington DC and the American citizenry.”

    Thanks, Ron. I am sure that this lisman fellow was part of that lack of transparency.