Kerry's Inner Circle Expands
Campaign Team Encompasses a Growing Army of Policy Advisers
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 14, 2004; Page A01
From a tightknit group of experienced advisers, John F. Kerry's presidential campaign has grown exponentially in recent months to include a cast literally of thousands, making it difficult to manage an increasingly unwieldy policy apparatus.
The campaign now includes 37 separate domestic policy councils and 27 foreign policy groups, each with scores of members. The justice policy task force alone includes 195 members. The environmental group is roughly the same size, as is the agriculture and rural development council. Kerry counts more than 200 economists as his advisers.
In contrast, President Bush's campaign policy shop is a no-frills affair. Policy director Tim Adams directs about a dozen experts who make sure the campaign is in sync with the vast executive branch that is formulating policy. Adams's group also analyzes Kerry's proposals and voting record. Fewer than a dozen outside task forces, with five to 10 members, also help out on education, veterans' issues, the economy, and energy, environment and natural resources, said campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel.
Kerry's expanding universe has opened the campaign to a torrent of suggestions and second-guessing, useful or not. George A. Akerlof, a Nobel prize-winning economist and Kerry adviser, recently became so agitated about what he considered Kerry's muddled campaign message that he crafted an entire speech for him, straying far from his economic expertise to pit what he calls the Democratic Party's moral view of human nature against the sinister forces that Republicans see driving humanity. The campaign politely declined.
"I thought it would be useful to see if I could write a speech," the University of California at Berkeley economist mused. "It was just in me."
At the very least, it has become draining for campaign staff members to finance and coordinate all the conference calls and meetings. Sarah Bianchi, Kerry's domestic policy chief, said her justice policy coordinator, Sarah von der Lippe, orchestrates four conference calls a week for her group. One campaign aide, speaking only on condition of anonymity because he feared angering task force members, said even the team names have developed "their own microdynamics." One task force is still arguing whether it should be titled the council on babies, children and youth or just children and youth.
"We have a high-class problem on this campaign," Bianchi said. "People want a change -- a lot. There is an unprecedented amount of energy. That leads to a lot of people wanting to do everything they can."
It has also opened the campaign to Republican ridicule. Stanzel said the campaign's policy apparatus "demonstrates John Kerry's indecisiveness."
"Why is it that after 20 years in United States Senate, John Kerry needs that many people to tell him what he thinks?" Stanzel said.
But Kerry aides and advisers defended the structure. They said it has opened Kerry to a healthy blend of perspectives and yielded realistic policies that balance competing views.
"The mark of too many cooks would be drift," said Lael Brainard, a Kerry adviser and international economist at the Brookings Institution. "I don't see drift. I see decisions. That leads me to believe the big tent is bringing in a broad range of opinions and is bringing about well-crafted decisions."
In some sense, the Kerry campaign has come to represent traditional notions of the Democratic Party -- an eclectic, often unruly collection of interests and characters.
Brian Burke, who oversees the policy councils, said he has formulated an orderly process to get input, but he said Kerry does not want to stifle any voices in the party.
"That's how Democrats do it, generally," he said. "You don't want to think you know everything. You want to hear from a lot of people. [President Bush's operatives] have almost nobody looking at policy, yet they think they have all the answers."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company