How did you get interested in political fundraising?
I fell into it because no one else ever wanted to do it for campaigns. I started in 1979 on Ronald Reagan’s Kern County finance team, which a friend of my dad, Bob Carpee, was heading. He took me along as an apprentice. I got to see how some of their old-timers worked and it was great. I learned a lot from Bob and from the Reagan people in Kern County. From there, I started doing local campaigns and I fell into fundraising. So I’ve been doing it basically since 1979.
Do you prepare your clients for their “money phone calls”?
Yes. Definitely. The value added is that I’ve been doing this on and off since 1979, so I’ve heard good pitches, bad pitches and everything in between. I can tell somebody with quite a bit of confidence that what they’re saying will or will not work. Some of it is common sense and some of it is stuff I’ve picked up from years on end.
How has the fundraising business changed since the inception of term limits?
I think there’s more education that goes on. I do a lot, not just, “This is how you raise money, but, this is how you should act.” Prior to term limits, there were guys that had been there over 20 years, and you would sit the freshman with the veteran members and that was the person’s mentor. There really aren’t those veterans anymore so we think we kind of fill that gap. I’ve been very proud of my freshmen over the last 6-8 years and I think we’ve played a part in helping them climb the ladder.
How are fees structured?
There are two ways to charge in this business. One way is a retainer, which is what most of my clients are on, and the other is a set percentage of what you raise. Generally, most people are better going with the retainer. The people that tend to want you to do a percentage are people that aren’t in office and are not positive they can raise any money. We tend to shy away from that because there’s a lot of start-up time and we invest a lot of hours. If they’re not successful, which happens occasionally, then you can spend an enormous amount of resources and have nothing to show for it.
You have a pretty big list of Republican clients. But with all those elected Democrats, do you ever look in the mirror and say to yourself, “Maybe I should have been a Democrat?”
Yeah, every once in a while.
On your company Web site, you say that donors have to be “sold” on your client candidates. How do you “sell” them?
First and foremost, you have to determine whether they are viable and if they are going to win. If someone is not going to win, there’s really no point in investing there. The second question you have to ask is what the candidates believe in. If you’re running in a conservative Republican district and you’re a liberal Democrat, A) You’re not viable and B) You’re not compatible with the district. And the third reason is their likeability factor. Generally speaking, I’ve only represented one guy that was not very likeable and he had trouble raising money because of it. Most of the time, the last part is the easiest.
Run into any rude lobbyists in the course of doing your business?
The broader answer would be, in politics, you meet some of the most interesting, most educated and most fascinating people you will ever meet in your entire life. You’ll also meet some of the most interesting people for other reasons. Generally, I like the Third House because most of the people are professional and we treat them that way. You’ll also find more interesting people out in the district fundraising, more characters so to speak.
Do you have a particular event that stands out after all these years?
Yeah. We did the first Republican “Back to Session” bash. The leader at the time was Bill Leonard and he had just gotten elected and he wanted to do something similar to what the Democrats did in their “End of Session” bash. It was at the Hard Rock Cafe, which had just opened at the time. We had a line out the door to get in. We raised what at the time was a record amount of money and it was just a fantastic party, as well. We had the former speaker, Willie Brown, come as out special guest so it was a bipartisan kind of thing and we called it the “Return of the Blues Brothers.” Willie Brown and Bill Leonard got up and did a song with a Blues Brothers impersonation band and it was just a phenomenal event, very funny and very charismatic because the speaker was that way.