Bruce Lisman says his $10,000 donation to the Vermont Republican Party last month doesn’t reflect a partisan bent at the advocacy organization he founded in late 2011.
“Progress ahead of partisanship” has become a sort of motto at Campaign for Vermont, a group that bills itself as “the state’s fastest-growing statewide advocacy organization.” Lisman says Campaign for Vermont remains nonpartisan, his own political donations notwithstanding.
“It’s nothing to do with Campaign for Vermont,” Lisman said Monday of the $10,000 donation.
Newly updated filings at the Federal Elections Commission show that Lisman, a retired Wall Street executive, contributed $10,000 to the Vermont GOP on Jan. 6. That’s in addition to the $16,000 Lisman gave to the Vermont Republican Party between Aug. 13 of 2010 and Dec. 8 of 2011.
The $26,000 in contributions since 2010 make Lisman one of the party’s top individual donors during the past three election cycles. There are no records of contributions from Lisman to the Vermont Democratic Party.
As for the donations in 2010 and 2011 – they arrived in three installments of $5,000 and one of $1,000 – Lisman said, “I don’t remember them.”
Lisman he's chosen to give the party financial support in recent years, because, “I think somebody probably asked me for help and I gave it to them.”
“That’s usually how it works,” he added.
And Lisman said he doesn't think his contributions to the Vermont GOP undermine the nonpartisan image he’s strived to maintain at Campaign for Vermont.
“I hadn’t considered it that way,” he said.
Lisman said the sole motivation behind his most recent contribution was to hear New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speak at a GOP event in Essex in December.
“I was curious about the man and what he had to say,” Lisman said.
Tickets to the event were available for as little as $50. Lisman said he got a table, which cost $10,000.
“I would say that was price of admission,” he said.
Lisman is one of four individuals to donate $10,000 to the Vermont GOP during this election cycle; the others are real estate developer Bobby Miller, Sugarbush Resort co-owner Win Smith, and Tom Evslin, a former appointee in the Douglas administration who now runs a compressed natural gas start-up business.
Together they account for one quarter of the $159,000 the federal arm of the Vermont GOP has raised since Jan. 1 of 2013.
According to a campaign finance database at VTDigger.org, Lisman’s only contributions to statewide candidates during the last cycle went to Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott ($2,000) and Republican candidate for state auditor Vince Illuzzi ($1,000).
Lisman’s only other political contributions since 2010 went to Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy ($2,000), Democratic Rep. Peter Welch ($500), and David Robert Malpass ($500), a candidate in the New York’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.
Lisman in the past has been a more equal opportunity giver. Between 1997 and 2009, according to federal records, he gave $31,100 to candidates ranging from Republicans Orrin Hatch and Rick Lazio to Democrats Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton.
Since almost the beginning of Campaign for Vermont, Lisman has faced criticism from Democratic operatives who say he’s using the organization to advance a conservative agenda.
Campaign for Vermont’s issues include limiting the rate of growth in the state budget, amending a 2011 law that set the state on a path toward single-payer health care, and overhauling the state’s education funding system.
The Vermont Democratic Party in 2012 accused Lisman of violating the state’s campaign finance laws by using his nonprofit Campaign for Vermont to encourage residents to vote Republican.
The Attorney General Bill Sorrell dismissed the complaint, but the Democrats’ attack against Lisman and his group has continued off and on ever since.
Lisman has repeatedly denied holding any political ambitions himself, and has said that accusations of partisanship at Campaign for Vermont are unfounded and untrue. Lisman has put more than $1 million of his own money into the venture since its launch in Nov. of 2011.
“We’re not connected to a party on the left or a party on the right,” Lisman told WCAX last January. “We don’t support or oppose any political candidate. We try not to get in the mud and argue about small things.”