It Could Get Ugly, Or So They Hope
Opponents Seek Gaffes in Financial Filings

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Opposition researchers plowed into the latest presidential filings yesterday, hunting for a nugget that might have the same impact on an opponent as the two $400 haircuts discovered in former senator John Edwards's last expense report.

Virtually every major campaign was scouring the newly filed campaign spending reports for potential bombshells and distributing discreetly -- "off the record" -- what they turned up to reporters around the country. "These researchers are hoping for inconsistencies in position. Flip-flops," said Mike Berman, who was a campaign adviser to Walter Mondale. "They also look for the cute stuff -- something that can be a little embarrassing and maybe throw a campaign off its stride. Will it endure? Who's to say?"

Knowing what might capture the public's fascination is no more predictable than figuring which videos will take off on YouTube, he said. But every once in a while there is a "macaca" moment.

What made the cut was a blend of hypocrisy, personal indulgence and, in some cases, simple irony.

There was, for instance, the discovery that on the same day Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was telling union officials that he "won't shop" at Wal-Mart, members of his staff were in a Wal-Mart in Bedford, N.H., buying $182 worth of office equipment.

Or that the Edwards campaign bought items from Harris Teeter at the same time labor in North Carolina was staging a nationwide protest of the grocery chain -- with Edwards's backing -- because of its relationship with the anti-union Smithfield Packing Co.

Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani's campaign got tagged for paying $15,215 to the candidate's own consulting firm, Giuliani Partners -- for "rent."

There was little likely to alter the course of the campaign, but there was some Hollywood flash. Obama got $2,300 from former "Grey's Anatomy" star Isaiah Washington -- who was accused by a co-star of using a homophobic slur and went on Larry King's show to apologize. It's no coincidence that Democrats will be attending early next month a debate sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign that will be centered on issues important to the gay community.

-- Matthew Mosk

For McCain, Cool Rules

Even when his presidential campaign had money, few people would accuse John McCain of being on the cutting edge of hip.

But according to his fundraising reports released Sunday, McCain held fundraisers at two of the hottest nightclubs in the country. Let's be clear: These are not your father's nightclubs.

In April, McCainiacs gathered at the TabĂș Ultra Lounge in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. His finance reports say that he paid the club $18,735 for "Equip Rental/Catering." The nightclub's Web site describes it this way: "Interactive projections mesmerize with sensual images. Internationally renowned DJs conjure a cool and casual vibe that put it on everyone's list of Las Vegas nightclubs. Stunning models/servers tempt with nouveau classic cocktails. This is the forbidden world of TabĂș, where only one rule applies: anything goes. Are you ready for a nightspot that's too hot to touch?"

Clearly, not too hot for McCain.

On May 17, it was Tenjune, a club in New York City, for a Young Professionals cocktail reception hosted by his daughter Meghan. McCain paid the club $6,669 twice, for "Catering/Personnel SVC/Equip."

The invitation for the event lists former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger -- known as a great fan of the nightlife in his day -- and former Navy secretary John F. Lehman Jr. as "Honorary Chairmen" of the event. The club's Web site features a picture of two women in a sensuous embrace.

"As you descend the main stairway, you enter the middle section with its soft, velvet seating and wood flooring," the site says. "Behind the bar, a marble wall twinkles with points of light. Overhead, wooden waves undulate across the ceiling with soft light spilling out between the ripples that continue into the dance room."

You can just picture McCain coming down that stairway, can't you?

-- Michael D. Shear

Big Talent, Big Salaries

The top two Democratic presidential candidates raised and spent tens of millions in the second quarter of the fiscal year -- with much of the outbound money going to the individual talent running their headquarters, media, polling and field operations.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) paid $2.6 million in salary between April and June, shelling out hundreds of thousands more to her top consultants. Obama spent even more -- $3.3 million -- on his staff.

Both Obama and Clinton raced to gather data and build up offices as well. Obama paid more than $500,000 to four pollsters, roughly equivalent to what Clinton spent (or promised, through convoluted debt notices, to spend) on polling in the three-month span.

But Obama greatly outspent Clinton on phone services -- used to track down potential donors and voters -- and telemarketing. The goal, Obama adviser Robert Gibbs acknowledged, was "to grow small donors" rather than simply save all the money Obama has raked in.

Gibbs also said that Obama is spending liberally in Iowa and New Hampshire, with 29 field offices across several primary states.

According to the disclosure forms, Gibbs is taking in about $3,900 every two weeks in salary. His rough equivalent in the Clinton campaign, communications director Howard Wolfson, was paid $50,000 -- about double what Gibbs is making -- over the three-month period through his consulting firm, Gotham Acme. In the battle of the campaign managers, Clinton's is winning hands down as well: Patti Solis Doyle is getting a bimonthly paycheck of about $5,800, whereas in the Obama campaign David Plouffe is taking in $3,900 every two weeks. (Plouffe, unlike Doyle, had to pack up and move out of Washington for his current job at the Obama headquarters in Chicago.)

Mandy Grunwald, the media adviser to Team Clinton, drew $92,908 in the second quarter for her productions, including reimbursements for travel. Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates -- whose lead partner, Mark Penn, is Clinton's chief strategist -- took in $277,147, much of it payment for polls on the candidate's behalf. Penn is owed an additional $421,873.65, according to the debt schedule that Clinton filed. And the Clinton campaign owes $30,000 to the polling firm run by Sergio Bendixen, a specialist in the Hispanic electorate. The Dewey Square Group got $46,387 from the Clinton campaign; one of the firm's partners is Clinton confidante Minyon Moore.

-- Anne E. Kornblut

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