Members Put New Meaning Into ‘Face Time’

Posted September 12, 2003 at 6:17pm

Massaging campaign donors is a way of life for Members of Congress, but some female Republicans are taking the notion quite literally by holding fundraising events with a day spa theme.

While their male counterparts continue to court contributors on the golf course and at traditional smoke-filled steakhouse fundraisers, a growing number of Republican Congresswomen are turning to terrycloth robes and facial treatments to help fill their campaign coffers.

This afternoon, for instance, freshman Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) will hold a “Spa Day” fundraiser at a Capitol Hill townhouse, where guests will be treated to two and a half hours of pampering and politics in exchange, of course, for a $500 or $1,000 campaign contribution.

Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.) has been a big fan of spa fundraisers ever since a friend suggested she hold one a couple of years ago. Dunn finds them a welcome relief from the more typical rubber-chicken dinners or cocktail receptions that proliferate on Capitol Hill — and believes her donors do, too.

“First of all, you look forward to them,” said Dunn, who commutes coast to coast on a weekly basis when Congress is in session.

And who wouldn’t? Those who’ve participated say that for a typical day spa fundraiser, the campaign takes over the salon for a period of time — allowing their contributors to indulge in massages, facials, manicures and pedicures, all while getting some valuable face time with the candidate they support.

Others say they prefer to bring the salon to them and pay for manicurists and other spa employees to pamper their guests in a more private, personal setting.

“I think this is the newest twist on fundraising,” said Republican fundraiser Carolyn Machado. “I do a lot of the NASCAR race and sporting event [fundraisers for Members], and we do have a lot of women coming to those.”

But Machado said the spa events are particularly interesting for women because it’s something they can get excited about “as opposed to your stand-up, stuffed-meatballs reception. People get really tired of those.”

Susan Hirschmann, a prominent GOP lobbyist and former top aide to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), has organized many spa events and said they are a natural phenomenon in an ever-changing political environment.

“Now there’s more women who control the purse strings of corporations and organizations, including the political action committees, and fundraisers are adapting to the new reality,” Hirschmann explained. “It’s not all golf, guns and fishing anymore — not that I have anything against golf, guns and fishing.”

Like golf outings, skeet-shooting contests or football games that have always been popular fundraising venues, Dunn explained that the spa fundraisers allow contributors to “do something they enjoy” while making a contribution to a candidate they support.

Legislators and lobbyists luxuriating in each other’s company, others say, is a win-win situation.

“They’re great,” said one woman who has attended several of the events. “Everyone just sits around and chats and gets their manicures and pedicures … it’s definitely a girl thing.”

Dunn added that the spa experience provides a relaxing environment where lawmakers can escape for a while from the demands of Capitol Hill and mingle more easily with their supporters.

“It’s a wonderful time to sit and talk, get to know each other, but also to talk about issues on a more intimate level than you can do at a big cocktail party reception,” Dunn said. “That’s the biggest joy I take from it.”

Her colleagues couldn’t seem to agree more.

Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio) is a devoted convert to the spa experience — holding both spa and manicure sessions for her contributors.

Her Value in Electing Women Political Action Committee paid Tammy Nails, a Capitol Hill nail salon, $1,850 for a manicuring fundraiser two years ago, campaign records show.

Pryce’s re-election committee also held a spa fundraiser last September, while her leadership political action committee, Promoting Republicans You Can Elect Project (Pryce Project), held a similar event in July.

Pryce, Dunn and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) have all chosen Georgetown’s swanky Ilo Day Spa to pamper their donors at past events. The chic salon is a favorite among many of Washington’s rich and famous.

The cost of renting out a spa for such an event varies, but campaign records indicate that an afternoon fundraiser at Ilo costs anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000.

With donations flowing in at as much as $1,000 per contributor — and a typical spa event drawing 10 to 20 ladies — the events can be quite lucrative for campaigns.

Naturally, the events seem to draw more women than men. One event planner said that while she gets plenty of male volunteers, she only permits women to the spa events.

Others say they’re all for equal opportunity. “It’s all female so far,” Dunn said. “But men are welcome.”

Moreover, the spa events appear so far to be a mostly Republican phenomenon — a fact that neither side could quite explain.

“Foremost in fundraising events, unless it’s a sit-down dinner, it’s a hit-and-run operation,” theorized on prominent Democratic fundraiser, who said he had never heard of such a thing as a spa fundraiser. “You come in and grab your club soda, get your picture taken and you’re on to the next event.

“There are very few people in Washington, very few lobbyists, who have the luxury of spending an hour or two at any one event,” he said, adding (perhaps half-jokingly) that he planned to look into spa investment opportunities in the near future.