Less ex­pe­ri­ence, more ex­pense

Out­sider can­di­dates pay big bucks to cam­paign con­sul­tants

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Ken Dixon

The can­di­dates for gover­nor with po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence are de­pend­ing on the kind­ness of con­tacts built up over the course of their pub­lic ca­reers.

The out­sider can­di­dates, whose ex­pe­ri­ence is in busi­ness in­stead of govern­ment, are in­vest­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars with na­tion­ally known,

par­ti­san con­sul­tants to bulk up their re­sumes, as they run out­side the state’s tra­di­tional process for po­lit­i­cal pri­maries.

Long­time Dan­bury May- or Mark Boughton, the GOP- en­dorsed can­di­date, has spent only a few thou­sand dol­lars on a Vir­ginia polling and me­dia group that was af­fil­i­ated with the 1984 pres­i­den­tial vic­tory of Ron­ald Rea­gan. Boughton’s largest ex­pense was $ 17,600 to rent party spa­ces last month dur­ing the Repub­li­can State Con­ven­tion in Fox­woods Re­sort & Casino.

With a du­bi­ous state rep­u­ta­tion based on his seven years in prison on pub­lic cor­rup­tion charges,

“These are novices at the po­lit­i­cal game and they’re an easy sell for con­sul­tants to say their work will el­e­vate your pro­file.”

Rich Hanley

sec­ond- time- around Bridge­port Mayor Joe Ganim only spent around $ 11,000 for out- of- state con­sul­tants dur­ing the first quar­ter of 2018, ac­cord­ing to cam­paign fil­ings with the State Elec­tions En­force­ment Com­mis­sion.

That’s only slightly more than than the $ 10,000 the en­dorsed Demo­cratic can­di­date, Ned La­mont, of Green­wich, paid for the Washington- based Len­zner Firm, me­dia han­dlers of na­tional Democrats. Dur­ing the same first quar­ter, La­mont, who is not par­tic­i­pat­ing in the vol­un­tary pub­lic-fi­nanc­ing pro­gram, gave the re­search and polling firm headed by U. S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s hus­band, Stan Green­berg — a long­time con­trac­tor for Democrats in­clud­ing Bill Clin­ton — nearly $ 56,000.

Rais­ing the ante, po­lit­i­cal new­comer David Ste­mer­man, of Green­wich, who closed his multi- bil­lion­dol­lar hedge fund last year to seek the GOP nom­i­na­tion for gover­nor, spent over $ 200,000 with the Hol­ly­wood- based Strate­gic Per­cep­tion Inc. for me­dia pro­duc­tion and mar­ket­ing costs for his nascent ca­reer in elec­toral pol­i­tics. He also paid more than $ 40,000 to the Vir­ginia- based Pre­ci­sion Cam­paign Group, which re­cently had a contract with Roy Moore, the con­tro­ver­sial for­mer Alabama Supreme Court jus­tice who lost a bid for U. S. Se­nate amid sex­ual abuse al­le­ga­tions.

Not to be out­done, Bob Ste­fanowski of Madi­son, an­other busi­ness­man with a first run for elec­tive of­fice, spent well over $ 140,000 with McLaugh­lin and As­so­ci­ates of Blau­velt, N. Y., which was af­fil­i­ated with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s suc­cess­ful 2016 cam­paign. He’s also paid thou­sands to Arthur Laf­fer, a con­ser­va­tive econ­o­mist cred­ited with cre­at­ing the “trick­le­down eco­nom­ics” the­ory for Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan.

Un­like most can­di­dates, who pri­mar­ily use lo­cal print­ers for mail­ers and other cam­paign lit­er­a­ture, Ste­fanowski has spent nearly $ 25,000 with a Rich­mond, Va.- based print­ing com­pany.

Rich Hanley, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of jour­nal­ism at Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity and a for­mer Emmy- nom­i­nated TV doc­u­men­tar­ian, said wealthy new­com­ers such as Ste­mer­man and Ste­fanowski may use their busi­ness acu­men to plot their po­lit­i­cal strate­gies, but they end up sub­mit­ting to cookie- cut­ter me­dia cam­paigns from big, na­tional firms that might not know Con­necti­cut.

“These are novices at the po­lit­i­cal game and they’re an easy sell for con­sul­tants to say their work will el­e­vate your pro­file,” Hanley said. “It’s not that dif­fi­cult to con­vince a new­bie to the po­lit­i­cal game with a lot of money that you have a track record to get them to the top. Vet­er­ans know what the value for the money is. I’m not sure whether a busi­ness per­son who is a novice to pol­i­tics would have that knowl­edge.”

Hanley said that in the case of Laf­fer, whose the­ory of trickle- down eco­nom­ics was adopted in Ok­la­homa and Kansas, re­sult­ing in ma­jor eco­nomic down­turns af­ter law­mak­ers slashed taxes in those states, Ste­fanowski should find that it doesn’t ex­cite savvy Con­necti­cut vot­ers.

“They’re try­ing to buy their way to the ta­ble,” Hanley said, not­ing that Ste­mer­man’s six- fig­ure TV bud­get got him what any other well- heeled can­di­date gets through­out the coun­try.

“It’s a nicely lit com­mer­cial with high pro­duc­tion val­ues that tell vot­ers than only a busi­ness per­son can run the state like a busi­ness,” Hanley said. “The con­sul­tants just go to the file, print out a shoot­ing script, and use it for a new can­di­date.”

Scott McLean, a pro­fes­sor of pol­i­tics at Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity, calls it a “strat­egy of ex­trav­a­gance” that re­sults in flawed, vul­ner­a­ble, self- fund­ing can­di­dates who don’t of­ten suc­ceed. In Con­necti­cut it dates back to Linda McMa­hon’s failed cam­paigns for U. S. Se­nate in 2010 and 2012, he said, and was a fea­ture of Tom Fo­ley of Green­wich’s two un­suc­cess­ful runs for gover­nor in 2010 and 2014.

“It’s pre­cisely be­cause they don’t have the record is why they need a con­sul­tant to make them sound like

they know pub­lic pol­icy,” McLean said .

Demo­crat Guy Smith, an­other Green­wich busi­ness­man who hope to pe­ti­tion his way onto the Au­gust 14 party pri­mary, wrote checks to­tal­ing $ 200,000 for his first cam­paign for elec­tive of­fice, spent $ 30,000 for the ad­vice of Michael Halle of Des Moines, IA. Halle was a se­nior ad­viser to for­mer Vir­ginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, had a se­nior role in the Hil­lary Clin­ton cam­paign for pres­i­dent and was Barack Obama’s Iowa di­rec­tor in 2008.

But Tim Herbst, the for­mer Trum­bull first se­lect­man, who ran a close- but-los­ing statewide cam­paign against now- re­tir­ing State Trea­surer Denise Nap­pier in 2014, is more- ju­di­cious in his con­sul­tant spend­ing. Dur­ing the first quar­ter of 2018, he paid Ma­jor­ity Strate­gies of Jack­sonville, Fla. about $ 11,000 to help with with so- called in­flu­ence mar­ket­ing. One of that firm’s lead­ers is Ja­son McBride, who in 2012 was se­nior strate­gist for Mitt Romney’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

The cam­paign who paid con­sul­tants the least was Shel­ton Mayor Mark Lau­retti, who like Ste­fanowski and Ste­mer­man, is try­ing to pe­ti­tion his way onto the pri­mary bal­lot. He paid a com­pany called Red Hill Strate­gies of Portland Maine $ 3,000. Lance Dut­son, one of Red Hill Strate­gies prin­ci­pals, was the com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor of U. S. Sen. Susan Collin’s suc­cess­ful 2014 re- elec­tion.

Steve Ob­sit­nik of West­port, a suc­cess­ful tech en­tre­pre­neur who is par­tic­i­pat­ing in the state’s pub­lic-fi­nance pro­gram, has spent a few thou­sand dol­lars with the New Jersey- based Tusk Pro­duc­tions, LLC, a fundrais­ing spe­cial­ist whose prin­ci­pal, Alexan­dra Stien­stra worked for Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and even raised $ 1.2 mil­lion for Ob­sit­nik’s un­suc­cess­ful run against U. S. Rep. Jim Himes in 2012.

Brad Hor­ri­gan / Hart­ford Courant via As­so­ci­ated Press

Gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­dates who will ap­pear on the pri­mary bal­lot, from left, Steve Ob­sit­nik, Ned La­mont, Tim Herbst and Mark Boughton stand on stage dur­ing a walk- through prior to a Gover­nor’s Fo­rum Thurs­day at the Univer­sity of Hart­ford's Lin­coln The­ater in West Hart­ford. Ganim Smith




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