Campaign Politics Unfiltered

Former D.C. Insider Draws on Experiences for Novel

Posted March 3, 2008 at 4:52pm

If you have ever worked on the campaign trail or on Capitol Hill with Rick Robinson, be warned: You might see yourself and your juiciest stories in print in his first novel, “The Maximum Contribution.”

Robinson, a former Hill staffer and campaign manager, drew from his own experiences in politics to pen “Contribution,” the story of a young Congressional candidate who faces corruption and scandal on his way to Washington.

While the storyline is fictional, Robinson manages to work in real people and places. He sets one scene at a restaurant familiar to fellow Kentuckians, and he “accidentally” names a stripper after a dear friend’s wife.

“I wrote the book based upon the 30 years I spent in politics,” Robinson said last week during a stop on the Hill to sign copies of the book, published in the fall. He added that he wanted to give an accurate and unfiltered portrayal of “what it feels like on the campaign trail.”

Robinson was bit by the political bug after working on a campaign for state Senate in Northern Kentucky, where his candidate lost by a mere 16 votes. After running a winning race for the same candidate in the next election cycle, Robinson went on to work for then-Rep. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.). Robinson also ran for Congress himself in 1998.

So many of Robinson’s former colleagues gathered at last week’s book signing at Trover Shop, 221 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, that the store was left with fewer than five copies of the novel by day’s end.

Robinson and friends joked that some of the patrons were looking for more than a good read.

“Who is here? All the people who are still seeking benefits from the checks they wrote for Robinson for Congress,” one friend cracked.

Writing his first novel has been an ongoing endeavor for Robinson, who is an attorney by day. For years, he attempted to complete a coming-of-age novel.

“I truly believe that everyone has one book in them, and for 20 years, I tried to write the wrong book,” he said.

Robinson, an avid reader of political nonfiction, decided to set aside his coming-of-age project and pen a different sort of story after reading Tim Green’s thriller “The First 48.” While discussing the book with a client, he decided to see if he could do a better job of exposing the underbelly of Washington politics.

Former colleagues at the signing were confident that Robinson’s understanding of politics would come through in the text.

“He’s got a lot of insight,” said David Young, a former Bunning staffer and the current chief of staff for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). “He’s been in politics a long time.”

Once Robinson sat down, the stories poured out: He filled 150 pages in 30 days.

“Once it starts flowing, it’s just a blast,” he said of weaving old characters and tales from his life into the storyline.

Robinson is mostly finished with the book’s sequel, in which the newly elected Congressman faces his first big challenge. The plot involves a steroid scandal in professional sports, which Robinson said he cooked up before Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens was named in the Mitchell Report in December.

Robinson hopes the book will be more than just a page-turner. The candidate and the campaign manager, both of whom are modeled on Robinson, are meant to serve as a litmus test by which readers can re-examine their own political ideology.

“All the people who call themselves a conservative, are they really conservative on a [Barry] Goldwater scale?” he asked.

The author interjects his own humorous brand of political theory into his storylines, making references to some of his favorite things, including rock musician Meat Loaf and the movie classic “The Godfather.”

Robinson, who also has created a three-hour presentation about campaigns called “Everything I Ever Wanted to Know About Politics, I Learned From Watching ‘The Godfather,’” hopes the entertainment factor of “The Maximum Contribution” will attract a range of readers. “I think anybody who has any interest in politics will like this book,” he said.

For friends and former colleagues, having many of Robinson’s legendary tales in one book is half the fun.

“Rick is a favorite of many. He’s got a legion of fans,” Robinson’s longtime friend Mac Riley said as he presented a stack of books to be signed. “He has so many [stories], you don’t hear them twice. So I’m excited to get a few more in here.”