When Dallas Thompson signed on as Hillary Clinton’s director of operations in North Carolina in 2016, she quickly recognized that she had a lot to learn about human resources.
Thompson, who had previously worked as a fundraiser, discovered campaigns needed a more sustained human resources infrastructure, including training and services.
And that was before the #MeToo movement that saw sexual harassment on campaigns grab headlines. Political staffers, particularly women, spoke out about the lack of anti-harassment policies and enforcement.
Samantha Register, who was harassed by former Nevada Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen, left politics altogether after her experience.
“I worked on eight different campaigns before I decided to quit, and none of them had either an HR department or any system in place for filing complaints,” she wrote in an op-ed in the Nevada Independent in January.
Human resources isn’t always a top priority for turbulent political campaigns, which can involve lots of stress, long hours, constant turnover and finite resources. Thompson noted there was no pipeline for campaign human resources officers because smaller campaigns typically don’t have one.
So this week, Thompson launched Bright Compass, a firm that helps Democratic campaigns with develop and implement human resources policies, particularly to prevent harassment and discrimination.
“Staff are demanding something different,” she said in a phone interview. “And I just think that the old ‘It is what it is’ [attitude] isn’t going to cut it.”
Ally Coll, a lawyer and campaign operative who co-founded the Purple Campaign to address workplace sexual harassment, and consultant Dan Kanninen both serve as advisers to Bright Compass. The firm offers a number of services, including a review of a campaigns’ policies and in-person training for campaign staff.
Bright Compass had a “soft launch” last year, testing out their training program for Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine’s re-election campaign in Virginia. The firm also held a sexual harassment training at the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting in February.
Thompson said she has so far received a positive response from campaigns and is hoping to work with party organizations as well.
Party committees, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, do provide guidance for campaigns that are developing workplace policies.
The DCCC requires campaigns of candidates named to its Red to Blue program to establish a sexual harassment policy. These candidates and their staff participate in an online sexual harassment training. And the committee also provides in-person training for campaign managers on handling sexual harassment and assault.
While the campaign committees are taking their own steps, Thompson said Bright Compass can provide further assistance because it is singularly focused on workplace issues. In contrast, a campaign committee has “a million balls in the air,” she said.
The next challenge for Thompson is convincing campaigns to spend some of their limited time and resources on workplace policies and training. Such an investment is worth it, she said, because a political campaign depends on a motivated and effective staff.
“I think that for a long, long time, politics has just been really, really brutal for the people who work in it,” Thompson said. “And the excuse has always been about the mission. … And ultimately, I just believe that you can’t have a winning campaign when your staff is losing.”
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