"I spent alot of years doing things for love," Edward J. Rollins, the manager of the Reagan-Bush '84 campaign, said during his last day as chief political officer of the White House. "Now, I'm going to do things for money." At 42, Rollins has worked on campaigns or in government for all his adult life, never being paid more than $75,000 a year.
This month, he left his job at the White House to become a partner in the firm of Russo, Watts & Rollins, where he will serve as a consultant to campaigns and as a lobbyist.
In the process, his income will grow at least tenfold, by his estimate: "I think I can make between three-quarters and a million dollars. The bottom line is that they Russo-Watts had enough to guarantee about $700,000. Whatever I bring in as new clients will bring it up, and they will add some more."
As a lobbyist/consultant, Rollins joins the growing ranks of what are known in the trade as "double-dippers": specialists who get paid huge fees to help elect members of the House and Senate, and then get huge fees to lobby the members they helped elect on behalf of corporations and trade associations.
Rollins said such action raises "a legitimate ethical question," adding, "I don't know what the response is." But then, with a laugh, he said: "Actually, I guess I do: I'm going to continue lobbying anyone I can."
Rollins pointed out that lobbyists for years have increased their leverage with members of Congress by contributing money and holding fund-raisers, although he noted that a campaign consultant would have better access and clout than a contributor.
Rollins brings to his work golden credentials: He managed one of the most successful presidential campaigns in this century. At the same time, he is on the cutting edge of a surge in Republican strength, which can translate into huge sums of cash.
Lyn Nofziger, who left the same post as chief White House political operative after the 1982 elections to form the firm of Nofziger-Bragg Communicators, "had a goal when he left here to put away one or two million dollars in a couple of years. He told me he's ready to retire," Rollins said.
In his new role in the private sector, Rollins will function not only as a lobbyist and political consultant to campaigns, but also as the chief adviser to political action committees (PACs).
Rollins is negotiating to run political action committees for the Teamsters union and Marion (Pat) Robertson, the television evangelist. Robertson plans to set up his PAC to channel cash to conservative candidates in preparation for a possible bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988. Rollins said he will work for the Robertson PAC at no charge.
"There is no question that if I can get those two PACs, I would have control of a lot of money," Rollins said.
In the case of the prospective PAC for Robertson, who is the host of the "700 Club" on his own Christian Broadcast Network, Rollins claimed that a reasonable fund-raising target would be to get $5 from a significant percentage of the 2.5 million current donors to Robertson's organization, or $2 million to $3 million annually.
Teamsters president Jackie Presser, who heads one of the few unions to endorse President Reagan's reelection bid last year, has even more ambitious goals, Rollins said. Presser has set a target of raising $1 a week from a substantial percentage of the union's 2 million members. If half the membership reached the target level, it would produce $52 million, a sum unequaled by any PAC except those run by the Republican Party.
As a PAC manager, Rollins said, "What they buy in me is [that] for five years now, I've watched 435 congressional seats, I've watched 100 Senate seats, together with the governors' races. I pretty much know who the players and candidates are, where you are wasting your money, where you've got some viable candidates."
Rollins declined to identify any of his corporate lobbying clients except Tenneco Inc. and Norfolk Southern Corp. railroad.
Describing his credentials, Rollins said: "I know all the Cabinet officers, and I know all the under secretaries, and I know all the assistant secretaries. What I think I'll do more of is provide assistance and guidance on how to deal with the administration, not much Capitol Hill stuff."
In his role as a political consultant, Rollins said he plans to handle three statewide races (governor or Senate) in 1986. His basic fee for campaigns is $10,000 a month, plus 15 percent of the media budget. Media budgets range from $1 million to $5 million, he said.
Among the candidates Rollins and his partners are expected to handle in 1986 are former Texas governor Bill Clements, who is seeking to regain his post; Reps. W. Henson Moore (R-La.), Ken Kramer (R-Colo.) and California Republican Chairman Mike Antonovich, all of whom are running for the Senate, and California Gov. George Deukmejian (R), who is seeking reelection.
"There is an awful lot of money out there," he said during an interview on his last day of work in the West Wing of the White House. "What I want to do is spend about two to three years doing this and then be financially independent and do whatever I want to do."