Leaked RNC Document Mocks Donors, Plays on 'Fear'
by Ben Smith
POLITICO.COM | Mar. 3, 2010
The Republican National Committee plans to raise money this election cycle through an aggressive campaign capitalizing on “fear” of President Barack Obama and a promise to “save the country from trending toward socialism.”
The strategy was detailed in a confidential party fundraising presentation, obtained by POLITICO, which also outlines how “ego-driven” wealthy donors can be tapped with offers of access and “tchochkes.”
The presentation was delivered by RNC Finance Director Rob Bickhart to top donors and fundraisers at a party retreat in Boca Grande, Florida on February 18, a source at the gathering said.
In neat PowerPoint pages, it lifts the curtain on the often-cynical terms of political marketing, displaying an air of disdain for the party’s donors that is usually confined to the barroom conversations of political operatives.
The presentation explains the Republican fundraising in simple terms.
“What can you sell when you do not have the White House, the House, or the Senate…?” it asks.
The answer: “Save the country from trending toward Socialism!”
Manipulating donors with crude caricatures and playing on their fears is hardly unique to Republicans or to the RNC – Democrats raised millions off George W. Bush in similar terms – but rarely is it practiced in such cartoonish terms.
One page, headed “The Evil Empire,” pictures Obama as the Joker from Batman, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leaders Harry Reid are depicted as Cruella DeVille and Scooby Doo, respectively.
The document, which two Republican sources said was prepared by the party’s finance staff, comes as Chairman Michael Steele struggles to retain the trust and allegiance of major donors, who can give as much as $30,400 a year to the party.
Under Steele, the RNC has shifted toward a reliance on small donors, but the document reveals extensive, confidential details of the strategy for luring wealthy checkwriters, which range from luxury retreats in California wine country to tickets to a professional fight in Las Vegas.
The 72-page document was provided to POLITICO by a Democrat, who said a hard copy had been left in the hotel hosting the $2,500-a-head retreat, the Gasparilla Inn & Club. Sources at the event said the presentation was delivered by Bickhart and by the RNC Finance Chairman, Peter Terpeluk, a former ambassador to Luxembourg under President George W. Bush.
The RNC reacted with alarm to a question about it Thursday, emailing major donors to warn them of a reporter’s question, and distancing Steele from its contents.
“The document was used for a fundraising presentation Chairman Steele did not attend, nor had he seen the document,” RNC Communications Director Doug Heye said in an email. “Fundraising documents are often controversial.
“Obviously, the Chairman disagrees with the language and finds the use of such imagery to be unacceptable. It will not be used by the Republican National Committee – in any capacity – in the future,” Heye said.
The most unusual section of the presentation is a set of six slides headed “RNC Marketing 101.” The presentation divides fundraising into two traditional categories, direct marketing and major donors, and lays out the details of how to approach each group.
The small donors who are the targets of direct marketing are described under the heading “Visceral Giving.” Their motivations are listed as “fear;” “Extreme negative feelings toward existing Administration;” and “Reactionary.”
Major donors, by contrast, are treated in a column headed “Calculated Giving.”
Their motivations include: “Peer to Peer Pressure”; “access”; and “Ego-Driven.” The slide also allows that donors may have more honorable motives, including “Patriotic Duty.”
A major Republican donor described the state of the RNC’s relationship with major donors as “disastrous,” with veteran givers beginning to abandon the committee, which is becoming increasingly reliant on small donors. The party’s average contribution in 2009, according to the document, was just $40, and the shift toward a financial reliance on the grassroots may help explain Steele’s increasingly strident tone toward the Obama Administration.
While the crude portrayal of Obama may be – as Steele ‘s spokesman put it – “unacceptable,” other elements of the presentation may be of equal interest to close political observers.
The RNC plans to raise $8.6 million from major donors alone in 2010, an ambitious goal totaling more than it raised from all donors combined in 2009.
The center of that plan is an extensive, and colorful, schedule of events. Along with traditional fundraisers with conservative luminaries including Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes, the party plans to raise $80,000 for a trip to London to meet David Cameron, the British Conservative Party leader, on September 17.
The RNC’s “Young Eagles” – younger major donors and the only group, according to a major donor, continuing to pull its weight financially – are invited to a “professional bull riding event” in October, expected to raise $50,000, and to a no-holds-barred Ultimate Fighting Championship fight in Las Vegas the same month, expected to raise $60,000.
The RNC’s aim, according to one section of the document: “Putting the Fun Back in FUNdraising.”
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