Less experience, more expense
Outsider candidates pay big bucks to campaign consultants
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.”
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.
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