Campaigns & Elections

Jun 09

Will Weinergate Increase Controls on Candidate Tweets?

With the revelation of his ill-advised use of Twitter and other social media to flirt with female followers, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) has become just the latest in a line of politicians to discover that these new communications platforms have as much potential to win one embarrassment as support.
Before him, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) tweeted details about a February 2009 congressional delegation to Iraq that were supposed to be kept secret. In August 2010, the Twitter account of Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller emitted a tweet comparing his opponent, Lisa Murkowski, to a prostitute. And, last November, the Twitter feed of outgoing Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) inadvertently let loose with an expletive.
The question for candidates and campaigns is how to avoid embarrassment while taking advantage of the spontaneity and direct contact with the public made possible by social media. Ben Schaffer, president of Media Mezcla Campaign Engine, a New York City–based Democratic consulting firm, points out that it would be unfair to blame social media alone for Weiner’s missteps.
“There has been evidence for some time that people say weird things on Twitter, but they also say weird things in press conferences and in ads,” says Schaffer. “If you are someone who is likely to make mistakes, you are going to make a lot of them more quickly, but I don’t think there is anything inherent in Twitter that causes you to act like this.”
Steve Pearson, president of the Republican consulting firm CivicNext, observes that there has already been a trend away from candidates’ managing their own social media portals and predicts that more controls will be applied in the wake of the Weiner debacle. “They can’t be effective at what they are being tasked to do as well as narrating it while they are going along,” he says. “It’s like taking your own picture—it usually doesn’t turn out as well as when you have someone taking your picture for you.”
Still, Pearson acknowledges that a small number of politicians “really relish having their finger on the controls” of social media and that for some of them the connection they develop with their followers pays off and helps to humanize them. (It’s worth noting that Weiner was legendarily insistent on controlling his own Twitter stream, which hasn’t turned out so well for him.)
Insofar as there is a broader lesson to be learned from example of Weiner, says Pearson, it is that online interactions seem hidden and anonymous, but are in fact the opposite. “That is the irony of the whole situation,” he says. “People think they are out of sight, no one can watch them, and yet anything you do on the Internet is completely traceable and completely identifiable.”
And the chances that an unsavory or illicit interaction will be traced and identified are much higher for politicians than for the average person. After all, the New York Times reports that Weiner’s online indiscretions were sussed out by a Twitter group called the #bornfreecrew that kept track of the congressman’s followers and came to suspect that his interest in some of the women in their ranks was less than pure. On May 27, when Weiner sent the famous photo of his crotch publicly rather than privately via Twitter, the group’s leader snatched it up before it could be deleted—and the rest is history.
“Any candidate, any politician is under scrutiny,” says Pearson. “That’s something that every politician from the most outspoken and most visible to the lowest guy on the ballot has to be aware of.”
Daniel Weiss is the managing editor of C&E.


Jun 07

Former Secret Serviceman to Run for Senate in Maryland

Last Tuesday, Daniel Bongino, a thirty-six-year-old former Secret Service agent, announced his intention to run for U.S. Senate in Maryland in 2012, against first-term Sen. Ben Cardin.

Bongino, who is also a former New York City police officer, has long ties to the area and, as a former government employee, can relate to many inhabitants of the state who work for the federal government. However, Maryland is a particularly blue state, which gave incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski 62 percent of the vote and incumbent Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley 56 percent of the vote in 2010, despite the nationwide Republican wave. In 2006, Cardin defeated former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (who went on to gain renown as RNC chair) by 10 points.

Bongino, who served in President Obama’s protective detail, is running as a Republican. “We did nothing wrong, Government FAILED US,” reads his website. In launching his campaign, Bongino breaks the unspoken code among Secret Servicemen to stay out of politics. Those affiliated with the agency reportedly look poorly on former agents who use their association with the official security agency to advance political causes. Since resigning from the Secret Service earlier this year, Bongino has started his own security consulting firm and founded a mixed martial arts company.

Brian Murphy, a former Republican primary candidate for Maryland governor, will serve as chairman on Bongino’s campaign. “I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Daniel over the past few years, and it’s an honor to support him,” said Murphy in a statement released by the Bongino campaign on May 31. “I’m looking forward to rallying Republicans, fiscally concerned Democrats, and Independents behind this campaign.”

The state Republican Party did not look favorably on Murphy’s 2010 primary challenge to former Republican governor, Bob Ehrlich. Murphy says that, in the case of the upcoming Senate campaign, it would be inappropriate for the party to weigh in “pre primary.” Murphy adds that, due to Bongino’s status as an active Secret Service agent, he was unable to field a campaign committee until now and has not taken on any messaging, fundraising, or strategy consultants, though he intends to do so soon.

As for the roughly three-to-one registration advantage enjoyed by Democrats over Republicans in Maryland, Murphy predicts that the state’s voters will be receptive to a message that emphasizes fiscal conservatism and the need to fix what he argues is a malfunctioning system. “They know they were sold a bill of goods by the governing party, which has been the Democratic Party,” says Murphy.

The last Republican to represent Maryland in the U.S. Senate was Charles Mathias, who left office in 1987 after three terms. Mathias, who was considered a moderate Republican, nearly lost his party’s nomination in 1980 due to persistent conflicts with the national party.

Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. E-mail him at


Jun 06

Campaigns & Elections Names 2011 Class of Rising Stars

Campaigns & Elections magazine today named its 2011 Rising Stars. One of the most prestigious honors in politics, the award goes to a select group of operatives age 35 and under who have an established track record of achievement in political consulting or advocacy and the promise to achieve greatness. From many worthy nominations, the magazine has selected 15 Republicans, 15 Democrats, and 10 nonpartisan or international operatives.

“The caliber of this year’s nominees was incredibly high, and choosing the winners was a real challenge,” said Shane Greer, publisher of Campaigns & Elections. “To make this list is an honor, but to be the custodians of the list is an honor that all of us at C&E recognize and feel humbled by.”

Rising Stars were first recognized in 1988 and have gone on to serve in the highest levels of government and political consulting. Past honorees include David Axelrod, Donna Brazile, James Carville, Alex Castellanos, Rahm Emanuel, Ben Ginsberg, Ed Goeas, Mike Murphy, Bill McInturff, and George Stephanopoulos. (Click here for the complete Rising Stars alumni list.)

The 2011 Rising Stars will be honored on June 17 at an event during our annual training seminar, The Art of Political Campaigning.

The Rising Stars of 2011 are:


Rory Cooper, 34, is director of communications at the Heritage Foundation, where he has played a key role in expanding and sharpening the think tank’s use of social media and helped shape debates over policy ranging from healthcare reform to the economy.

Nick Everhart, 31, is founder and president of Strategic Media Placement, Inc., the media-buying arm of the Strategy Group for Media. He is expert at squeezing out the most message in exchange for the fewest dollars on behalf of the firm’s clients.

Mark Harris, 26, is the managing partner of Cold Spark Media. In 2010, he earned plaudits for running an extremely effective operation as campaign manager on Pat Toomey’s Pennsylvania Senate bid.

Rachel Hillerman, 23, is vice president of political affairs at LVH Consulting. Last year, she took over as lead fundraiser on Kelly Ayotte’s New Hampshire U.S. Senate campaign just a few months after starting as an assistant.

Bob Honold, 31, is president of Honold Communications and a partner at Revolution Agency. During the 2010 cycle, as New York State director for the NRCC, he helped Republicans flip six House seats, more than in any other state.

Jackie Huelbig, 27, is senior director at Connell Donatelli, Inc., where she has run online advertising campaigns for an extensive list of marquee clients, including the 2008 McCain presidential campaign and Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s write-in re-election campaign.

Matt Mackowiak, 31, is pres ident of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC. He managed the 2010 congressional campaign of Bill Flores, who defeated ten-term incumbent Texas Congressman Chet Edwards by an impressive 25 points.

Brock McCleary, 35, is deputy political director at the National Republican Congressional Committee, where he served as Northeast political director for the 2010 cycle and oversaw the pickup of fourteen U.S. House seats across the region.

Josh Robinson, 29, is political director for the Republican Governors Association. He launched his career as an operative in high school and has since worked for John McCain’s presidential campaign and the NRCC.

Bryan Sanders, 27, is a partner at Dresner Wickers Barber Sanders. A specialist in polling, focus group research, and media production and placement, he worked on the 2010 primary and general election campaigns of Alabama Governor Robert Bentley.

Scott Schweitzer, 35, is a partner with the Strategy Group for Media, where he oversees all post-production. He also writes, shoots, directs, and produces ads and supervises message strategy for several of the firm’s clients.

Jen Stolp, 29, is vice president of fundraising at Campaign Solutions, where she has posted impressive online fundraising numbers for clients such as Rep. Michele Bachmann, Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, and John McCain’s presidential campaign.

Erik Telford, 27, is director of membership and online strategy at Americans for Prosperity, where he has helped the right catch up with the left in terms of online activism and helped lay the groundwork for the emergence of the Tea Party

Nicholas Thompson, 32, is vice president at the Tarrance Group, where he works with campaign consultants nationwide to refine messaging and fine-tune targeting. In 2010, he helped defeat Blanche Lincoln in the Arkansas U.S. Senate race.

Trebor Worthen, 31, is the managing partner of Majority Designs, a direct mail consulting firm that he started while serving as an Oklahoma state representative. He has since retired from elected office to work as a consultant full time.


Robert Burkes, 28, is principal and director of operations at Zata|3, where he manages the database system and oversees operations to ensure that every calling program is executed according to plan.

Colin Campbell, 23, is an associate with Bill Lynch Associates. He managed Larry Hanley’s upset campaign in the first successfully challenged election for Amalgamated Transit Union international president in twenty-nine years.

Scott Dworkin, 28, is founder and CEO of Bulldog Finance Group. He has established himself at the forefront of a new generation of Democratic fundraisers, with a smart, innovative approach to bringing in campaign cash.

Jamie Emmons, 30, is chief of staff for Lexington, Kentucky Mayor Jim Gray. In 2010, he managed Gray’s successful runoff campaign, helping him win election as an openly gay candidate in a conservative state.

Natalie LeBlanc, 32, is California managing director at the Pivot Group. She has made a name for herself producing effective, eye-catching mail that draws on rigorous testing and analysis.

Kathie Legg, 28, is senior social media and mobile manager for the DNC’s Organizing for America, where she has helped the Democratic Party surpass the Republican Party in Facebook fans and Twitter followers.

Rachel Napear, 34, is president of RMS, LLC. Having developed an early focus on Web design for political campaigns, she has become a recognized expert on new media in integrated political and marketing campaigns.

Ben Nuckels, 32, is vice president at Joe Slade White & Company. After taking over as campaign manager for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn in May 2010, he helped turn around a dysfunctional operation and lead the governor to a narrow victory.

Bill Redding, 32, is an account executive at Catalist. After years of work on the East Coast, he spent six months in 2010 as statewide coordinated field director for the Arizona Democratic Party, where he won high marks for setting up a sophisticated field operation.

Colin Rogero, 33, is president of Revolution Media. After starting out in commercial advertising, he has applied his talents to efforts ranging from U.S. Senate independent expenditures to public affairs campaigns on behalf of immigrants.

Scott Simpson, 35, is a senior associate at Gumbinner & Davies Communications, where he has helped eke out an impressive string of wins in Virginia state legislative races over the last few years even as Democratic fortunes there have generally gone south.

Rory Steele, 33, is a partner at Argo Strategies. He played a key role in five states on the 2008 Obama campaign and served as direct mail consultant on a 2009 referendum effort that preserved Washington State’s domestic partnership law.

Dr. Aaron Strauss, 30, is senior analyst and director of decision analytics at the Mellman Group. He has done extensive groundbreaking work to put the power of computers, analysis, and experimentation to work for Democrats and progressives.

Matthew E. Weaver, 31, is a principal and co-founder of Bronstein & Weaver, Inc., where he brings a combination of analysis-driven microtargeting and fierce competitiveness to his work as a direct mail consultant.

Isaac Wright, 31, is CEO of Wright Strategies LLC. He has made a specialty of electing Democrats in unfriendly territory—helping Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon win election by 17 points in 2008 and Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe win by 31 points in 2010.


Jorge Domingo Gerez, 35, is partner and executive director of Quintella Gerez Branding Ltd., a firm he founded with the aim of connecting candidates with voters, despite the inconsistent reach of television signals in many parts of Latin America.

Bruno Hoffmann, 27, is founder and CEO of HoffGroup. A native of Brazil, he amassed years of schooling and experience in the United States before returning to pioneer online campaigning in his home country.

Oliver Jones, 25, is a property communications manager for ASDA Walmart. During the 2005 general election, he was an aide to U.K. Conservative prime ministerial candidate Michael Howard, and in 2010 he managed a successful campaign for parliament.

Daniel Marquez, 31, is director of Marketing Politico en la Red, a Spanish-language blog for political consultants and students throughout Latin America and Spain interested in the art of political marketing.

David L. Mowery, 33, is founder and president of Mowery Consulting Group, LLC, where he helps Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike win elections in Alabama.

Candice Osborne, 32, is founder of C&S Strategies, which offers a suite of mobile applications that allow campaigns to apply the latest in technology to help them use GOTV resources efficiently, monitor volunteers, and make the most of voter file data.

Cesar Omar Martínez Salazar, 34, is director of public opinion research at Cartello Group, where he has developed a new model of GOTV organization that uses social media to gauge the effectiveness of publicity campaigns.

Aleix Sanmartìn, 31, is CEO of SanmartìnGroup, a Mexico City–based firm whose focus is working with progressive and anti-poverty organizations and candidates throughout Latin America.

Aron Shaviv, 32, is CEO of Shaviv Strategy and Campaigns Ltd. Based in Israel, he specializes in helping run research-driven campaigns for center-right candidates in Central and Eastern Europe.

Leo Wallach, 31, is vice president at Winner & Mandabach Campaigns, a California firm that works exclusively on ballot propositions. He has worked on successful campaigns involving global warming legislation, Native American gaming, and eminent domain.

Filmmaker to Palin Critics: It’s My Turn Now

A soon-to-be-released documentary on former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s political rise paints an ugly picture of her opponents on the left, but saves some of its harshest criticism for Palin’s Republican detractors.

The Undefeated, which is set for release next month in Iowa, chronicles Palin’s rise from mayor of Wasilla to the number two spot on the 2008 GOP presidential ticket. And even though it doesn’t single out specific GOP critics such as strategist Steve Schmidt, filmmaker Stephen K. Bannon argues the film effectively negates their post-election portrayal of the former governor.    

“All of the nasty things that Steve Schmidt and some others said—I heard it all,” said Bannon. “They got their shot. I got mine.”

Schmidt, the top strategist for Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) ‘08 race, has proven to be the most vocal of the campaign’s former staffers when it comes to criticizing Palin. In the fall of 2009, the man who was once tasked with shepherding Palin to the vice presidency, warned that Republicans would be in for a “catastrophic” election in 2012 if she were selected as the party’s nominee.

In an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes early last year, Schmidt went further, telling the network that Palin wasn’t exactly fond of the truth, resulting in more than one headache for the McCain campaign.  

“There were numerous instances that she said things that were not accurate that ultimately the campaign had to deal with,” Schmidt said at the time.    

In the bestselling book Game Change, Palin’s behavior behind the scenes of the ‘08 campaign was described as erratic and disengaged by authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. It was a portrait rejected by close Palin allies, including former spokeswoman Meg Stapleton, who plays a central role in Bannon’s film.  

The nearly two hour documentary relies almost entirely on Palin confidantes such as Stapleton and prominent conservatives like Andrew Breitbart, Mark Levin, and Tammy Bruce to tell the story of Palin’s political ascent. The film spends a considerable amount of time on Palin’s accomplishments during her first eighteen months as Alaska governor, while steering clear of any Palin controversies.   

Near the end of the film, Breitbart offers a stinging critique of the GOP establishment and assails men within the ranks of the party who haven’t come to Palin’s defense in the face of persistent attacks.  

“I see eunuchs,” Breitbart declared, adding, “Men no longer have a sense of chivalry.”

Levin laments what he calls the weak leadership of the GOP establishment as images of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) flash on screen.

While the former Alaska governor and potential 2012 presidential hopeful had no direct involvement in the film, Bannon said the idea came after he was contacted by Palin aides Rebecca Mansour and Tim Crawford, who helped with access to some key players in Alaska.

At an early press screening of the film last week, Bannon offered up what he referred to as an “X-rated version”—a nod to its inclusion of a litany of uncensored and expletive-laden attacks from Palin detractors. Palin herself saw the unexpurgated version, according to Bannon, though he says the film will be dialed back before it hits theaters to achieve a more family-friendly PG-13 rating.

Bannon told C&E the pic will offer Palin “the hearing she is due” with the public, declaring it the “most controversial film of the year.”

Shane D’Aprile is the editor of C&E.


Jun 03

Attack of the Parody Campaign Sites: Protecting a Candidate’s Online Identity

Given that voters frequently turn to the Internet for political information, a strong Web presence is a must for high-profile candidates and can be a boost to local campaigns as well. However, increasingly common mock campaign websites, which appear to be associated with a candidate but are actually designed to undermine them, pose a new hurdle to online branding and messaging.
A number of these sites have recently received press attention. Perhaps chief among them is, whose URL could easily lead one to believe that it is the official site of likely presidential candidate and former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. The site, apparently aimed at Republican primary voters, prominently features a (genuine) handwritten note from Huntsman to President Obama thanking him for the ambassadorial appointment and praising the president’s leadership skills. In case you missed the point, the note is ringed with pink hearts.
Jane Corwin, the Republican candidate in last week’s special election in New York 26th congressional district, had to contend with the opposition site At first glance, the site looks official, but a closer perusal reveals a vicious parody of Corwin’s positions, illustrated with mocking photos of her from the campaign trail.
The mock site is becoming extremely common. Tim Kaine, the former Democratic National Committee chair and 2012 Virginia Senate candidate, must contend with, which redirects visitors to the “Join Us” page of the Communist Party of the United States. For his part, former House Speaker and current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is saddled with the farcical, which features faux-supportive (though grammatically challenged) statements such as: “Americans are tired of seeing billionaires forced to share their some of their money with the poor and middle classes [sic].” And, while he was running for mayor of Chicago earlier this year, Rahm Emanuel was parodied on Twitter by a foul-mouthed impersonator who received significant press attention.  
Candidates in earlier cycles have, of course, been subjected to online mockery as well. In 2008, presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson were all discussed in online forums in which “supporters” posted spoof positioning statements. The Republican National Committee even got into the game in 2008, creating the site, which highlighted then-candidate Obama’s friendship with former Weather Underground organizer Bill Ayers and indicted developer Tony Rezko. The underlying principle of the mock site is to undermine the candidate by posing as a supporter while promoting positions, supposedly also espoused by the candidate, that are far outside the mainstream.
Brian Hanf, president of Trail Blazer, a nonpartisan website and political database management firm, says that the best defense against parody sites is a good offense. “If you are thinking about running for office, go out and purchase as many domains and URLs as you can,” he says. “When new technology comes out, like Twitter or Facebook, make sure you get out there early.”
Kurt Luidhardt, vice president of the Republican online strategy firm the Prosper Group, agrees that early domain registry is the best way to protect one’s brand and identity. “In the past, I’ve bought thirty to fifty domains, including misspellings if you have a hard-to-pronounce last name,” he says. “[Domain names] are cheap; you can buy them for about ten dollars apiece.” Luidhardt suggests buying every version of the candidate’s name with every extension (.org, .com, .tv, .us, .asia, etc.) as well as common monikers and phrases, like,, and
On the other hand, if you are looking to parody an opponent, Luidhardt points to the Corwin and Huntsman parody sites as the model. The Tim Kaine redirected URL is not nearly as effective, he says, dismissing it as a “schoolyard prank.” “I don’t think it does anything against Tim Kaine,” says Luidhardt. Furthermore, Luidhardt suggests registering parody domains through a proxy-registration service located abroad in order to secure confidentiality—, for instance, is registered in Quebec.
Once a campaign is targeted by a parody site, there is not much that can be done about it. Both Luidhardt and Hanf suggest that the best option is to ignore it; any attempt to have a site taken down or acquire its license will only bring more attention to the parody. “Getting the name back would probably put a bad taste in people’s minds,” says Hanf, adding that doing so would highlight the campaign’s lack of preparedness in failing to acquire relevant domain names prior to the campaign.
In addition, Hanf says, taking legal action to take over a URL can open the candidate up to accusations of hypocrisy. In any case, it is next to impossible to win control of a URL that is being actively used by another party. Hanf cites one high-profile case in which the recording artist Madonna was able to win possession of, which was capitalizing on her name to serve pornography—an extraordinary set of circumstances.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. E-mail him at


Jun 02

Campaign Funds Seizure Decision Could Have Broader Implications

Campaign funds may not be as independent from the candidate as you think.

Last year, Georgia state Representative Jill Chambers faced a tough re-election campaign. Her electoral prospects became even worse when her business folded and her financial troubles forced a split with her husband. Two weeks before Election Day, she filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Unsurprisingly, she was one of a handful of Georgia Republicans to lose in 2010.

During bankruptcy proceedings, Wachovia Bank (which is now owned by Wells Fargo) froze an account in Chambers’s name that contained $60,000 in campaign contributions. On May 9, a Georgia bankruptcy court upheld the freeze and directed the account’s funds to be delivered to Miami Circle LLC, the landlord of Chambers’s former business location, to whom she owed approximately $140,000.

“The law is rather clear here,” says Marc Hershovitz, the attorney representing Miami Circle, who was also general counsel to former Georgia Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes. “Politicians filing for bankruptcy doesn’t happen all the time. It is not a good election strategy.”

Hershovitz says that the “anti-alienation” provision of the bankruptcy code is at issue here, and that the provision requires all assets in a debtor’s name to be brought into a bankruptcy estate—including campaign funds. Had Chambers organized her campaign as a corporation, however, Hershovitz says that it would have been far more difficult to seize the funds.

In the case brief, Hershovitz regularly cited Denton v. U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee Seals, a case in which former Texas state Rep. Betty Denton encountered a similar situation. Like Chambers, Denton had filed for bankruptcy, had campaign funds in her name, and had not incorporated her campaign. In response, Michael Rethinger, Chambers’s lawyer, argued unsuccessfully that Georgia’s bankruptcy law differs from Texas’s enough for the court to reach a different verdict.

Cleta Mitchell, a campaign finance attorney for the Washington, D.C.–based firm Foley & Lardner LLP, is not surprised by the circumstances of this case and says she frequently encounters candidates who handle their campaign finances carelessly. “I’m always shocked by how people wouldn’t dream of opening a multimillion dollar business and not hire a lawyer, but people enter the political arena daily, set up accounts and committees, and run hundreds of thousands and even millions into accounts and don’t think they need a lawyer or an accountant,” she says.

Nonetheless, Mitchell takes issue with the judge’s decision in this case. “Yes, [Chambers’s campaign] should have been incorporated,” she says. “But I’m not sure how that would have impacted this case.” Mitchell argues that the process of opening a campaign account, registering a campaign committee as a political organization, and getting the identification necessary to start fundraising creates a de facto distinct campaign identity that is separate from the candidate as a person.

“A campaign is a separate legal entity,” she says. “It has a separate tax ID number. It files a different tax return. It is a whole different legal entity. I don’t know how just incorporating it would have made a difference in this case.”

Mitchell believes that Chambers did not have the resources to educate the court on the nature of campaign finances and that the judge made a decision based on the compelling nature of Hershovitz’s arguments. “Happens every day,” says Mitchell. “One side makes a bad argument, and the judge makes a bad decision.”

“With all due respect, it would have been a completely different situation [had Chambers incorporated],” contends Hershovitz. “There is no more fundamental difference than a corporation, which has a completely separate legal existence than its shareholders.”

Regardless of the validity of the Georgia court’s decision, J.J. Balaban, a principal consultant with the Democratic firm the Campaign Group, believes that it is unlikely that this issue will be repeated often enough to be instructive for political professionals.

“The implications are probably limited,” he says. “If you declare bankruptcy [while running for office], having your campaign funds taken by your creditors is only one of several of your problems.”

Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. E-mail him at

Jun 01

New Mexico’s Open 2012 Senate Contest Already in Full Swing

Despite winning his first Senate election in 2006 with more than 70 percent of the vote, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) announced in February that he would not run for a second term. The race to replace him has rapidly attracted candidates.

Declared Democratic candidates include 1st district Congressman Martin Heinrich, state Auditor Hector Balderas, and progressive activist Andres Valdez. Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Diane Denish have indicated that they may join the race as well.

On the Republican side, newly elected Lt. Gov. John Sanchez and former 1st district Rep. Heather Wilson are running along with local businessmen William English and Greg Sowards. 2nd district Rep. Steve Pearce, who defeated incumbent Democrat Harry Teague in 2010, may run as well.

So far, most of the drama has taken place on the Republican side. Wilson, the state party’s preferred candidate, had hoped to lock in endorsements early and raise enough money to scare off potential challengers. The candidacy of Lt. Gov. Sanchez, who has staked out positions to Wilson’s right, has complicated things.

In a recently released television ad, Sanchez attempted to turn Wilson’s Washington experience against her. “We don’t want to return people back to Washington, D.C, who got us into the mess in the first place,” the lieutenant governor said in the ad, which was backed up with a $25,000 buy. “It’s time for a new voice. I can be one of those leaders who will stand up for principled conservative values.” Wilson’s team shot back with a statement accusing Sanchez of running on an “invented” record of conservatism.

Sanchez, who announced his candidacy last Tuesday, received what is being interpreted as a rebuke the same day from his erstwhile running mate, Gov. Susana Martinez. The governor said n a statement that she would make no endorsement in the race at this point and added: “To prevent this race from becoming a distraction, Lt. Governor Sanchez will not be given responsibilities in my administration beyond the select few provided for in the state Constitution.”

The Wilson campaign didn’t hesitate to pile on. On Tuesday, it released a statement from Clint Harden, a state senator, calling on Sanchez to resign his position as lieutenant governor because of the influence it offers him over redistricting. The next day, National Journal reports, the Wilson campaign posted images of herself with Gov. Martinez, who is the state’s highest-profile and perhaps most popular Republican figure.

At this point, according to Lonna Atkeson, director of the Center for Democracy at the University of New Mexico, the race is less about courting voters and more about fundraising. “That is going to be important for Sanchez,” she says. “There is only so much money in this state or in the surrounding area. If Martinez doesn’t come out and say, ‘He is my guy,’ the money is not going to flow for him. Wilson is ahead of the game.”

The Democratic Senate primary has been far quieter, leading to a situation that is reminiscent of 2008, when a bloody Republican Senate primary between Wilson and Steve Pearce left the Democratic nominee, Tom Udall, plenty of time to accumulate support and donations.

Balderas, who sources say is working closely with former state Democratic Party Chairman Brian Colon on his campaign, has a slight advantage in terms of name recognition among Hispanic voters. However, several experts agree that the Hispanic vote can be difficult for candidates to pin down.

Gabriel Ramon Sanchez, an assistant professor of political science at the University of New Mexico, points out that Valdez could easily drain Balderas’s Hispanic support. “[Valdez is] much more of a social activist who does not have much of a shot at the nomination, but could divide that voting bloc if he runs a decent campaign,” says Sanchez.

Atkeson agrees, pointing out that while Hispanics make up about half of the state’s registered Democrats, they turn out at relatively low rates. In 2010, for instance, 31 percent of registered Latinos voted, compared with nearly half of registered white voters.

New Mexico has been trending Democratic on the federal level for several decades, but the race to replace Bingaman is nonetheless described as competitive by most political handicappers.

Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. E-mail him at

May 31

The 2012 Fundraising Race Is Well Underway

Presidential candidates—declared and tentative alike—are busy scrambling to raise money as a means of demonstrating their viability for next year’s campaign.

President Obama’s re-election team is reportedly aiming to mount the first-ever “billion-dollar campaign.” Since formally announcing that he would run for re-election in early April, the president has attended multiple fundraisers on the coasts and in major urban centers, courting high-profile Democratic donors and grassroots activists alike.

In 2008, Obama raised a record-setting $745 million, $656 million of which came from individual donors. In mid-May, the Obama campaign reported that it expected to bring in a “moderate” amount of money in the second quarter of 2011.

Scott Dworkin, founder and CEO of the Democratic fundraising firm Bulldog Finance Group, says that despite what is likely to be a disappointing quarter, Obama still has a good chance of reaching the billion-dollar mark. “It is very clear that the president, like most presidents, is going to outraise anyone that is challenging him,” says Dworkin.

Indeed, it would be difficult for Obama to have a worse fundraising quarter than Republican presidential candidate and former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, whose American Solutions PAC took in just $1,040 in April. Gingrich has been embroiled in controversy since he criticized House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare on Meet the Press two weeks ago. However, his PAC’s anemic fundraising suggest that his campaign suffered from a severe lack of enthusiasm well before the highly publicized flap.

Jeff Roe, president of Axiom Strategies, a Kansas City–based Republican consulting firm, says such measly fundraising numbers will make Gingrich’s path to the nomination exceedingly difficult. “We are going to see very quickly if he is built for the trials and tribulations of a presidential campaign,” says Roe. “The one thing that can sustain him in this dark time, which every candidate will go through in some form or fashion, is his fundraising.” 

When asked to pass judgment on the future of Gingrich’s presidential campaign, Roe opines that “he’ll be out by Labor Day. He is too smart a guy to put himself through that. These missteps and his current inability to correct them make [his poor fundraising totals] a double whammy.”

In fundraising terms, Mitt Romney is the candidate to beat on the Republican side. He recently made news with a single-day haul of more than $10 million in contributions and commitments from phone calls alone. In addition, Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC took in $1.9 million in the first quarter of the year on top of $9.1 million for all of 2010, during which it also formed five state affiliates, which took in an additional $2 million.

Some rival candidates have all but ceded the title of fundraising king to Romney. “We are not going to be the money champion,” Tim Pawlenty said on the Today Show last Monday. “Mitt Romney will be the front-runner in that regard.” Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC raised $3.3 million in 2010, but ended the year with less than $155,000 on hand.

Beyond the top tier of candidates are those who elicit devotion—and donations—from a particular portion of the Republican base. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, for instance. Her PAC, despite an ungainly name—Many Individual Conservatives Helping Elect Leaders Everywhere PAC (MichelePAC)—raised an impressive $13 million for candidates in 2010, but ended the year with less than $200,000 in the bank. As a presidential candidate, she has not demonstrated the fundraising traction that she had as a conduit for funds for other congressional candidates. (For instance, a Bachmann money bomb last week fell far short of its goal of bringing in $250,000 in twenty-four hours.)

Roe argues that it is Bachmann’s ideological rigor, not her fundraising abilities, that appeals to her supporters. “Money is not her measurement,” he says. “That is why Romney’s numbers are significant; his frontrunner status is measured by funds. Michele is one of the only women that occupy the space she does. Money is less of a barrier for her than others.”

Dworkin confirms this sentiment. “Romney has done okay, but hasn’t been able to break away from the pack yet,” he says. “Whoever gets to a half billion dollars will be the nominee for the party.”

Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. E-mail him at

May 24

Survey Names Aristotle Software Tops for PAC and Grassroots Pros

Participants in a Public Affairs Council survey gauging user satisfaction with various brands of public affairs software have judged Aristotle the best in the business for the second consecutive year.

The non-scientific survey, which was distributed among political and advocacy professionals at the council’s January grassroots and February PAC conferences, has been conducted annually since 1995. In all, 166 participants shared feedback on software that they use to assist with compliance and grassroots organization, with Aristotle’s performance rated by thirty respondents. Among the other firms whose software was assessed by more than twenty participants were Vocus and DDC Advocacy.

The survey participants rated Aristotle highest in terms of satisfaction with data management, training and maintenance, and cost of installation and upkeep.

Aristotle’s CEO John Philips says the various software packages that his firm makes available are scalable for both “heavy hitters” in advocacy or lobbying as well as single-issue organizations or candidates. “This is ground zero for software lists and consulting services,” says Philips.

Philips says that the biggest area of growth for data management firms moving forward will be issue and advocacy campaigns, “especially now with Citizens United and all the money flowing into advocacy advertising.”

Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. E-mail him at

May 23

Republican National Committee to Outsource Voter File

The Republican National Committee is following the lead of the Democratic National Committee in quietly proceeding with a plan to share its voter file with independent groups that agree in return to modernize and augment the precious list.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has led the charge to allow outside groups access to the voter file, despite the objections of several RNC members who have spoken to the press. Politico quotes some members saying that once the list leaves the building, the data will no longer be proprietary. The fear is that RNC voter data could fall into the hands of those that do not have the party’s interests at heart or be used by groups that are traditionally allied with Republicans but occasionally endorse and assist Democrats, such as the National Rifle Association.

An additional fear is that the outsourcing of the voter file will further dilute the power of the deeply indebted RNC. According to this logic, outsourcing will make the party a secondary destination for candidates and donors behind independent, non-party groups such as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Republican lawyer James Bopp’s newly formed Republican Super PAC.

Roll Call has reported that several prominent Republicans started the ball rolling towards sharing the voter file as early as March. Among the Republicans pushing for the new arrangement are Rove, former RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, and Barry Jackson, a chief aide to House Speaker John Boehner.

Voter lists are a key resource for both parties, but they have handled them somewhat differently in recent years. The DNC began to incorporate the work of outside entities, in particular the Democratic data management firm Catalist, in the process of modernizing its voter list after the re-election of President Bush in 2004. Catalist’s database was originally compiled by the pro-Democratic group Americans Coming Together, while NGP VAN provides the management software for Catalist’s database. 

Debra Deshong Reed, a spokesperson for Catalist, declined to discuss the details of the firm’s arrangement with Democratic committees and progressive groups, but said that the idea that the DNC voter list has been “outsourced” is a bit misleading. “We compiled our own voter file from publically available records across the country,” says Reed. “We have never had access to the DNC file. We have sold them our database files to supplement their capabilities.”

Reed adds that Catalist’s arrangement with the DNC has had no impact on the relevance of the party as the definitive Democratic brand or as a fundraising organization. “The DNC serves a very important and vital function,” says Reed. “There is absolutely a role for everyone in servicing both candidates and the progressive community.”

Roger Alan Stone, the CEO of Advocacy Data, a D.C.-based nonpartisan e-mail marketing and political data firm, believes that regardless of what the RNC does, the era of the two parties having a monopoly on good voter file information is over.

“The genie will not go back in the bottle in part because of the Help America Vote Act, which is the federal law requiring states to standardize, computerize, and centralize their voter information,” says Stone. “It is not the era of thirty years ago where everything was on paper in each county and someone had to Xerox that and keep it on hand.”

Stone also rejects the concern that sharing voter file data with outside groups will hasten the RNC’s slide into irrelevance. “Their influence will not depend on the voter file as much as restoring their reputation for competence and the ability to handle money,” he says.

Multiple sources, who declined to be identified, confirmed to C&E that Republican consulting firms have been engaged by the RNC to work on the preliminary stages of the voter list modernization effort. While it is possible that the project may not go forward, it is clearly in the early stages of development.

Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. E-mail him at