In For A Penny …

Campaign Consultants Are Not Big Donors to Party, Candidates

Posted April 30, 2003 at 5:02pm

The rise of political consultants from back-room toilers to high-profile — and well-paid — strategists over the past decade has not corresponded with an increase in giving to candidate and party committees by these powerful individuals, according to a survey of donations by some of the biggest names in the profession.

A number of political consultants interviewed for this story cited a variety of reasons for the dearth of giving from potential conflicts of interest to their desire to give to causes outside of politics.

“My policy is above all not to give to candidates and certainly not the candidates we work for,” said Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster and partner in Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

Greenberg noted that he does contribute to people who are family or close friends — he is married to Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) — but said that donating to every client or every candidate in a competitive race is an “impossible situation.”

It creates questions of “why do you give more or less to certain candidates,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg has made only one contribution — $1,250 to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund — in the past three cycles.

Another pollster who spoke on the condition of anonymity cited an unwillingness to donate heavily to candidates who in many cases fail to pay their bills when the race ends.

“I still have clients who owe me tens of thousands of dollars from the past,” the pollster said.

Even those consultants who have made significant personal donations defended their colleagues’ decision not to give heavily.

Democratic direct-mail consultant Jim Crounse, who has contributed more than $20,000 to candidates since 2000, said his donations were “a way of my giving back” and “saying to clients, ‘I believe in you.’”

Crounse has donated $3,500 to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) — his former boss — and Baucus’ leadership political action committee. He also donated $1,000 to Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign and $1,000 to Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), a former senior aide in the Clinton administration.

David Axelrod, a Democratic media consultant based in Chicago, said the work that political operatives do is sign enough of their commitment.

“Most of the people in this business devote most of their hours to electing Democrats or Republicans, depending on their thinking, and work for causes that they believe in,” said Axelrod. “It’s not as if they are indifferent.”

As for his own donations, Axelrod said there is “an impetus for me to support people and causes who reflect [my] point of view.”

Axelrod had made 18 contributions for a total of $13,500 since the 2000 cycle.

Axelrod handed out $2,000 to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and $1,000 checks to Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) and Rebecca Yanisch (D), who lost a 2000 Minnesota Senate primary. He also donated $2,500 to New York Senate 2000, a joint fundraising committee devoted to the successful candidacy of now-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). [IMGCAP(1)]

The most generous donor since 2000 among the major consultants was Michael Whouley, a principal in the Dewey Square Group. He chipped in better than $47,000 to candidates and party committees. Whouley dished out $1,000 donations to then-Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) and to Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), as well as $2,000 to Clinton. He also gave to unsuccessful House candidates John Norris (D) in Iowa and Fred DuVal (D) in Arizona, among others.

Greg Stevens of the GOP media firm Stevens Reed Curcio has donated more than $18,000, primarily to Maine candidates including GOP Sens. Susan Collins ($2,000) and Olympia Snowe ($1,000) as well as unsuccessful 2002 2nd district candidate Tim Woodcock. He also donated $5,000 to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) Straight Talk America PAC and $3,000 to McCain’s presidential effort.

Other consultants point out that they donate heavily to charitable organizations and simply choose not to devote their excess resources to political campaigns.

Greenberg cited his firm’s work on behalf of Democracy Corps, a nonprofit organization founded by Greenberg and fellow consultants Bob Shrum ($1,250 in contributions) and James Carville ($6,000) in 1999 as evidence of his commitment to furthering party ideals.

“We donate our time and are not compensated for it,” said Greenberg.

“I don’t feel like I have to put all my giving eggs in one basket,” said one Democratic consultant, who added, “I don’t feel bad in any way, shape or form” about not giving more to campaigns.

Most consultants say that regardless of the level of their giving, they are rarely solicited by either individual candidates or party committees for funds.

The only real attempt to target the consultant community for donations came during Frost’s tenure as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Frost, who headed the organization in the 1996 and 1998 cycles, said that during his second two years “we made a concerted effort to get consultants to contribute.”

“They do a lot of work for Democratic candidates and committees and make a lot of money from them,” said Frost. “We felt it was appropriate for them to give.”

The primary vehicle to solicit consultant contributions came in the form of “New Majority Jams,” designed to attract small-dollar contributions from younger donors. Consultants were offered slots on the host committees of these events in exchange for a contribution.

A Democratic aide familiar with the events estimated that $100,000 was raised from consultants.

“It is not a very large pool of donors,” the aide noted.

In the 2000 and 2002 cycle consultants were again asked for contributions to little result, according to one Democratic strategist.

However, a spokeswoman for the committee said that no formal appeal had been made to consultants in the most recent cycle and none would likely be made in 2004.

Republicans have never attempted to raise money from political consultants, according to spokesmen for the party’s House and Senate campaign committees.

The low level of giving has led to some grumbling among lobbyists, who traditionally have donated large sums to Members from their own pockets.

“It seems to me [consultants] have an obligation as people who benefit from the party,” said one Democratic strategist, who said the lack of giving was “appalling.”

One Democratic consultant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, retorted: “Lobbyists are giving to get. They are giving money because they want to trade on those relationships.”