Recall’s Riches

Consultants Paid Handsomely in Calif.

Posted October 10, 2003 at 6:13pm

Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t the only winner in last week’s special gubernatorial recall in California. A number of nationally known strategists and quite a few D.C.-based political consultants also reaped the rewards by claiming their share of the windfall from an unexpected $80 million political contest.

For less than two months’ work, pollsters, media firms, fundraisers and other hired guns made a small fortune working for a handful of losing candidates who dared to go up against “The Terminator,” an analysis of campaign finance records from the state of California show.

For instance, the Bonner Group — an Alexandria, Va.-based fundraising group — earned $20,280 from “Californians for Stability,” California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante’s (D) anti-recall committee. But with dozens of candidates in the mix, there was plenty of pie for other consultants.

State Sen. Tom McClintock (R) — the second runner-up behind Schwarzenegger and Bustamante — paid American Viewpoint, an Alexandria-based polling firm run by Linda DiVall, $44,000 for number crunching and survey research between August and September.

Public Opinion Strategies, another powerhouse polling firm that serves numerous Republicans in the House and Senate, made nearly twice that amount—$70,000 — polling for former Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who raised nearly $4 million for his failed independent bid and came in sixth in the recall contest after officially dropping out, with 22,267 votes.

Republican candidate Bill Simon, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and the son of former Treasury Secretary William Simon Sr., dropped out of the race in August but spent close to $500,000 on his campaign before calling it quits.

Johnson Clark Associates, a Sacramento-based firm that devised Simon’s media campaign, earned the bulk of those funds, drawing $141,000 from Simon’s coffers, but a few D.C.-based consultants also took away a chunk of change.

The Lukens Co., an Arlington, Va.-based direct-mail company, earned $20,000 for campaign literature and mailings it created for Simon, while Russo Marsh & Associates, a Sacramento-based media strategy company with offices in D.C., received slightly more than $12,000 for consulting advice.

In her book “How to Overthrow the Government,” one-time House spouse Arianna Huffington complained that “modern campaigns … are so thoroughly dominated by pollsters and consultants that there’s no oxygen left for ideas that might challenge the status quo.”

But campaign records show that even Huffington used her own fair share of hired guns for her independent gubernatorial bid.

Huffington paid Minnesota-based North Woods Advertising — a firm that handled media for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura (I) — $133,000 for television advertising.

Huffington paid Zimmerman & Markman, a Santa Monica-based consulting firm, approximately $30,000 for political consulting advice and services, and her campaign filings show she spent another $260,000 paying numerous individuals and firms simply described as “campaign consultants.”

Democrat Garrett Gruener — a self- described venture capitalist and well-known philanthropist in the San Francisco Bay area — didn’t garner as much attention as former child actor Gary Coleman or Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt did, but his campaign records show he did have some seasoned campaign professionals on his payroll.

Gruener chose a local firm, the San Francisco-based Baughman Co., for his direct-mail strategy, paying $12,500. And he selected the Alexandria-based firm Cooper & Secrest $32,000 for polling and research services.

Gruener — who urged Californians to vote “no” on the recall but “yes” for Bustamante after he realized his own campaign was going nowhere — ultimately placed 29th in the race with 2,182 votes.

Defeated California Gov. Gray Davis (D) employed the help of several major consulting firms to try to stave off his recall — but to no avail.

According to his campaign spending reports, the Santa Monica-based Fairbank Maslin and Maullin provided polling services and research valued at $74,000; D.C.-based Doak, Carrier & O’Donnell’s media production and other consulting costs totaled in excess of $46,000; and the Dewey Square Group, which has offices across the country, provided $35,600 worth of services.