There’s Nothing Bush League About Consultants’ Hobbies

Posted August 24, 2009 at 11:01pm

If campaigns are a gamble, then Republican pollster Tyler Harber is a true professional. During odd-numbered years, Harber uses his free time away from politics to play in professional poker tournaments. “It’s like table-top warfare,— Harber said. “For campaign professionals or hacks, we’re attracted to the warfare aspects of the campaign … anything that is highly competitive that pits you against someone else is highly attractive.— The vice president at Wilson Research Strategies said that while his poker playing is not very profitable, he makes enough to pay for his trips. What’s more, Harber said he has even procured some business playing poker in the same way that some professionals ink deals on the golf course. “I’ve definitely gotten work from the felt top, if you will, and probably just as much work as some people get on the green,— Harber said. “It’s just a different kind of green.— Harber is not the only consultant who is enjoying the off year in the campaign cycle. While campaigns are in low gear, consultants will often take advantage of the down time to pursue nonpolitical activities or investments. “Back among the first and second generation of political consultants, there was almost a tradition of doing interesting stuff, particularly in the odd-numbered year,— longtime Democratic media consultant Gary Nordlinger said.Nordlinger puts in between 750 and 1,250 hours each year as a volunteer in the Coast Guard, depending on whether he is in cycle. Nordlinger was on one of the many crews that manned the Potomac River in hypothermal gear during this year’s inauguration. Some of the most successful political consultants have picked choice investments, such as buying a stake in a minor league baseball team or funding a pet documentary film project. Democratic media consultant David Heller jointly owns the Quad Cities River Bandits minor league baseball team along the Illinois-Iowa border.“I spent a lot more time on it in the early part of an off than in an even year,— Heller said. Fortunately for Heller, his client Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.), represents the Quad Cities, and he recently landed Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Jackson’s (D) bid for Illinois Senate this cycle. “It was an attraction for Phil knowing that his media consultant is someone who reads the Rock Island Argus and the Quad City Times cover to cover,— Heller said. “It’s fair to say I know more about Phil’s district than any other media consultant ever would or ever could.—[IMGCAP(1)]Not surprisingly, Heller also produced award-winning advertisements for his team. And talk about a campaign gimmick: The franchise recently hosted a “mega candy drop— by releasing 100 pounds of candy from a helicopter over the baseball field for 1,000 children to collect and take home. “In minor league baseball, you are selling a fan experience,— Heller said. “It is far less important about whether the team wins or loses than it is the experience the fan has at the game. In politics, you’re in part selling the idea that you’re going to make the experience better under one candidate than it is under another.—What was supposed to be an off-year project for Duane Baughman has become a full-time obsession for the direct-mail firm president who is producing two controversial documentaries on events in Pakistan and Rwanda. Baughman started thinking about the film on his biannual post-election vacation in 2006, when he went “gorilla trekking in the highlands of Rwanda and Uganda.— Baughman, who runs the San Francisco-based Democratic mail firm Baughman Co., has poured almost $2 million of his own funds into the two projects — an activity that he calls “film-an-thropy.— “I work it in with my political business and because [the film projects are] international,— Baughman said. “When everybody is sleeping here, I’m working on their daytime schedule over there.— Baughman could not talk about the specifics of his two films because, he said, negotiations with networks and distributors were still in the works. But he plans to have a theatrical release in order to be considered for the Academy Awards. Other consultants have found a way to put their money where their mouth is. Brian Donahue and a couple of other consultants are partial investors in Hook, the high-end Georgetown seafood restaurant. Will Robinson, a veteran Democratic media consultant with the New Media Firm, has a stake in the wine bar Cork with a few other consultants. Millions watched Philadelphia Democratic media consultant Neil Oxman caddy for professional golfer Tom Watson this year at the British Open. Oxman said he was not available to comment for this story, but the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the two men have known each other since 1972, when Oxman was caddying to pay his way through law school. For Martin Hamburger and Kelly Gibson of the Hamburger Co., the campaign off season is, luckily, peak season for their moonlighting gigs. The two Democratic media consultants teach weekly ski lessons at Liberty Mountain in Pennsylvania from the end of December to the beginning of March. Hamburger jokingly confessed to looking for candidates running in states with great ski slopes, such as current client Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). “I definitely make an effort. I say we should really try to pitch the cold pointy states and stay away from the warm flat ones,— Hamburger said. “I pitched a client skiing in Washington state, and we got the race.— That’s probably a good thing, because Hamburger and Gibson aren’t in it for the money — they make a paltry $7 per hour teaching lessons on the slops. But Hamburger said he has run into Paul Begala and Doug Sosnick on the slopes, the latter of whom, he said, did a double-take before he recognized him in his full ski instructor uniform. It’s a situation that Hamburger knows well. One quiet evening at his Bethesda, Md., home a few years ago, Hamburger’s partner on Sen. Benjamin Cardin’s (D-Md.) 2006 campaign knocked on his door: Pollster Eily Hayes was on her own fundraising campaign. Hayes, a vice president for Global Strategy Group, was raising money for the all-volunteer Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad. “I’d been working with Martin all year for Ben Cardin,— Hayes said. “And then I knocked on his door in full rescue squad uniform driving an ambulance.— For the past five years, Hayes has responded to 911 medical emergencies such as car accidents on the Beltway, house fires and even driving an ambulance to the metro crash in June. But far from an off-year hobby, Hayes is required to work at least a dozen hours each week for the rescue crew. In the off years, Bill Fletcher said he likes to do interesting side projects to “keep me fresh.— The CEO of the Democratic media firm Fletcher Rowley Riddle managed the Eric Hamilton Band for several years in the 1990s. The band was signed to a record label and a talent agency, but the hallmark event for Fletcher was the campaign-style cross-country concert tour.“The band played 50 states in 50 days, which was a logistical nightmare but earned us some pretty significant coverage in Billboard Magazine,— Fletcher said.Nevertheless, Fletcher decided not to quit his day job. “It cost me a lot of money and then the band didn’t make it, but I got a nice leather jacket out of it with the band’s logo on it,— he said.