Cash in Hand, Forbes Reaches to Right
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 1, 1999; Page A1
Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes decided early on that he wanted Steve Grubbs on his side should he make another run for president.
So last August on a stormy summer day, Forbes flew Grubbs -- then chairman of the Iowa Republican Party -- and his wife to Boston, where the multimillionaire publisher's 133-foot yacht, The Highlander, lingered offshore. There the couple wined and dined with 150 of Forbes's closest friends. Among them: former first lady Nancy Reagan and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who vouched for Forbes as a "Reagan-Thatcher conservative."
Today, Grubbs is on board -- the Forbes campaign, that is. Forbes's effort to recruit him was part of a larger strategy to address the central weaknesses of his failed 1996 bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Then, Forbes spent $37 million of his own money on a media campaign that faded because he had no organization on the ground and he alienated supporters of the Christian right, who were skeptical of the depth of his conviction on their issues.
This time, he is not making the same mistakes. While the large field of other Republican candidates scrambled to pull in contributions for the first quarter of the year, which ended yesterday, Forbes already comes armed with potentially the biggest bankroll of any -- his own checking account. And he has set out to use it to maximum political advantage, strategically spending to buy a grass-roots campaign and endear himself to the party's conservative wing.
Along with retooling his message to focus on social issues, Forbes has opened his checkbook to hire the best messengers. He has put key conservative consultants on the payroll, lured Christian Coalition leaders in critical states with attractive financial offers and contributed heavily to conservative groups.
Forbes, who is worth about a half-billion dollars, has at least 11 "consultants" under contract, generally making from $10,000 to $20,000 a month. Several other campaigns said they now have from one to five consultants in that pay range. The only candidate close is Texas Gov. George W. Bush, with 10 consultants in that salary range.
Campaign manager William Dal Col, who would not divulge his own salary in a recent interview, said Forbes is simply using the resources he has to compete with "professional politicians" such as Bush, who will be able to raise tens of millions of dollars because of his and his family's national political network.
"We are not going to give out budget numbers, [but] I can tell you, it will be whatever it takes to get the message out," Dal Col said. "I will put together a competitive organization, and I will be competitive with any other campaign."
Forbes has signed on the former chairmen of the Christian Coalition in California, Iowa, Georgia and Louisiana, and has made bids for coalition leaders in South Carolina and New Hampshire. "The social conservative movement supports many candidates," Dal Col declared. "We will have our fair share."
He also has hired other political operatives in Iowa, New Hampshire and California -- key caucus and primary states, a marked departure from the last election. In addition, he has acquired a network of Washington consultants with ties to the conservative movement, including publicist Craig Shirley; public relations operative Greg Mueller, a former top aide to Patrick J. Buchanan; and strategist Don Devine.
Mueller, who counts the Christian Coalition among his many clients, insisted that it is Forbes's message, not his money, that conservatives find attractive. The right wing "is not for sale, that's clear," said Mueller, whose firm, Creative Response Concepts, has a contract with Forbes for $20,000 a month. "They have to be in line with the vision and the philosophy of the candidate, or they're not going to do it."
Forbes has not limited his spending to hiring people.
A Forbes family foundation and a political action committee that Forbes set up two years ago -- Americans for Hope, Growth and Opportunity -- have donated large sums to key organizations, including $100,000 to the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, $10,000 to the Catholic Alliance, $10,000 to the Center for Effective Compassion, chaired by conservative columnist Arianna Huffington, and $10,000 to the Library and Archives of New Hampshire's Political Tradition at the University of New Hampshire.
These expenditures may not buy support, but they can certainly make the life of a candidate trying to claim conservative credentials easier.
For instance, Thatcher, a longtime Forbes family friend and a beloved symbol of international conservatism, not only helped recruit Grubbs, but accompanied Forbes to Iowa for a GOP-sponsored event for 400 people billed as the "Forbes Luncheon" in August. The event helped the state party raise $500,000 and helped boost a candidate criticized in 1996 for having done little to build the party.
When former New Hampshire governor Hugh Gregg (R), the father of Sen. Judd Gregg (R), came calling, Forbes answered with a $10,000 donation to the New Hampshire library. Neither Gregg nor his son has formally endorsed anyone, but Hugh Gregg had kind things to say about Forbes, calling him "one of the principal leading candidates."
Gregg said he could not remember if any of the other potential candidates had given money to the library, which celebrates the state's political history. "It was not a political contribution," said Gregg, chairman of the nonprofit facility. "We asked him because he has a great interest in politics, as you know. We thought it was a natural fit."
So far, Forbes's efforts to defuse opposition from the right have been more than successful -- even with those not on his payroll. He no longer faces criticism from these quarters, and a number of social conservatives have publicly praised the focus he is now placing on their core issues.
"I told him I was looking to support him," said Morton Blackwell, a social conservative activist and client of Mueller's. "I was not looking for a job. There's nothing I'm interested in in terms of employment. I just felt he should be our party's nominee."
In an interview this week, Forbes offered this explanation of his success in attracting conservative operatives to his cause: "Being of Scottish descent, I make sure we pay what we have to, not a penny more. These people are on not because of the money, but because of the principles. It's the message and ultimately the messenger that's going to win or lose this campaign."
Even though other candidates -- Buchanan, former vice president Dan Quayle, Gary Bauer, for example -- have promoted the message longer, more forcefully and more consistently, Forbes is drawing social conservatives who are attracted by his ability to fund a campaign for the long term.
New Hampshire Christian Coalition chairwoman Shelly Uscinski said she is considering working for Forbes for that reason. Forbes is one of four Republicans trying to recruit her to help their campaigns in that crucial state. She said she believes Forbes has always been a conservative and that she and others are attracted by his ability to go the distance.
In an interview, Uscinski said she has not decided for whom she will work. And she declined to say how much she was being offered by the individual candidates. But when asked who was offering the most, she replied, chuckling, "Who has the most money?" in reference to Forbes.
Jerry Keen, former Georgia Christian Coalition chairman, who has already signed on to the campaign, said "I don't discuss compensation." But it was enough, he confirmed, to temporarily quit his insurance business to work for Forbes full time.
"For me, it was a fairly easy decision," said Keen, who will serve as a consultant helping to build nationwide coalitions among the religious right for Forbes. "It came down to two issues, compatibility and viability. I found he was compatible on all the issues that conservatives are concerned about."
Other campaigns snipe at how Forbes is trying to buy his way to the presidency, as they see it. "Steve Forbes has money, and he's going to use it to his advantage," said Jonathan Baron, a spokesman for Quayle. "We can sit around and whine about it or go out and win the campaign. We intend to do the latter, not the former."
Not if Grubbs can help it. He plans to use his bulging Rolodex and intricate knowledge of Iowa politics to help deliver the key caucus state to Forbes next February.
"Nobody is going to sign on with someone because you were on their yacht," he said. "But when Margaret Thatcher and Nancy Reagan are there, that has some significance to any Republican."
Staff researchers Nathan Abse and Ben White contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company