By ANNA PRIOR
1. We handle CEO-worthy budgets...
While it's been growing for decades, campaign spending is set to reach new heights this year. In 2000, President George W. Bush broke records, raising $100 million before the primaries. But that's a drop in the bucket compared with the hefty $1.8 billion spent between the Republicans and Democrats in preparation for the 2008 presidential election -- not to mention the $1 billion plus that former Federal Election Commission Chairman Michael Toner predicts will go into President Obama's reelection campaign alone.
Although in presidential campaigns there's a team of 20 to 40 people -- accountants, lawyers and others -- charged with handling financial issues (and there's often even a fund-raising chairman in each state), the responsibility of budgeting still falls largely on the campaign manager's shoulders, pros say. Essentially, says Candice Nelson, director of American University's Campaign Management Institute, they're running small businesses. And in politics, as in business, good managers control the money, says Steve Schmidt, who ran Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2006 reelection campaign for California governor and was a top aide on John McCain's 2008 presidential bid. "It's a fundamental line of demarcation" between those who are effective and those who aren't, he says. "Political maneuvering gets the attention, but it's all nonsense if you don't have the resources to apply it."
2. ...but we never took Accounting 101.
Few campaign managers have a business background, yet some admit that, given their dual CEO COO roles, they could use a crash course in accounting, at the very least: "It's something, in retrospect, I wish I had done," says David Kanevsky, who ran the 2010 campaign of Rep. Charlie Bass (R N.H.). The reason many don't? Besides the fact that it's often not among the required courses for poli-sci majors, there's little incentive to pursue financial training, much less a degree. After all, you move up the ranks based on what you learn on the job, who you know and how often you win, says Kanevsky. Well-known pundit James Carville, for one, worked as a litigator, high school teacher and military service member before running President Clinton's winning 1992 campaign. "It's a street-smart business," says Schmidt, McCain's aide.
3. The Do Not Call Registry can't touch us.
The nonpartisan Pew Research Center reports that 47 percent of registered voters received automated calls about the 2008 presidential campaign, and a whopping 69 percent received them during the 2010 midterms. Coming from most businesses, this kind of harassment is against the law -- but the law doesn't apply to candidates. When the National Do Not Call Registry was created in 2003, lawmakers exempted them, arguing a right to free speech. But critics like Shaun Dakin, founder of the nonprofit Citizens for Civil Discourse, say the law only benefits lawmakers. Now, every campaign "from dogcatcher to president" uses robocalls, he says. Voters can register with Dakin's National Political Do Not Contact Registry at StopPoliticalCalls.org. Better yet, he suggests: Don't put a number on the voter-registration form.
4. We'd rather not discuss our pasts.
Unlike candidates, campaign managers are expected to stay out of the spotlight. But as a candidate gets closer to being elected, senior staffers may find it increasingly difficult (and crucial) to keep to the shadows. The campaign of former Republican presidential primary candidate Herman Cain, for instance, was well under way when it came to light that Mark Block, his chief of staff, had faced a lawsuit from the Wisconsin Elections Board (the suit was settled; Block denies any wrongdoing and tells SmartMoney that the accusations were politically motivated and that "politics is a blood sport.") And Dick Morris, the strategist on President Clinton's 1996 campaign, resigned when tabloid reports of infidelity with a prostitute surfaced. "The more the news talks about the campaign, the less they're talking about why a candidate should be elected," says Dan Kelly, who ran the 2010 campaign for Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, a Democrat.
5. We did well in the polls? We made the polls.
Things aren't as rosy as they appear. If you watch an ad or read that a candidate is doing well in the polls, there's a good chance that the favorable number came from the candidate's campaign (unless otherwise noted). Roughly 10 percent of a campaign's budget goes to research, which includes public polling and digging up dirt on the competitor ("opposition research"), and if the numbers come back in the candidates' favor, campaign managers will trumpet them, or find a way to spin negative numbers into something more positive. That's not to say that polling data isn't accurate, say experts, but voters should always take numbers with a grain of salt. Polling data is often used to persuade voters to not just vote for a candidate, but to also open up their wallets. "It's great for fund-raising," says American University's Nelson. "They'll say, we're up 10 points since last month -- now you should contribute!"
6. We like winning...cash bonuses.
Of course, many managers talk about wanting their candidate to win for the sake of the public good, but there's a much less noble concern at play: cold hard cash. Win bonuses are often negotiated at the start of a campaign manager's stint, says Holly Robichaud, a political consultant in Massachusetts who's managed local, state and federal campaigns. Losers may be out of luck, but the prize for winning can be an additional one or two months' salary (salaries can run $2,000 to $15,000 a month, or around $100,000 a year, depending on the candidate and the size of the race), say experts. Plus, some candidates will pick up the tab on health insurance and cell phone bills. It's a way to incentivize people, say experts, to put in the grueling hours the job demands. But in the end, says McCain's aide Schmidt, it's more about the game than anything else: "It's so competitive and there's so much pressure -- winning for the sake of winning becomes the superior instinct."
7. The money you send doesn't reach us.
Before you write that check to a candidate, know that there's a chance your donation could end up in someone else's pocket. While TV, print and Web ads, along with administrative costs, eat up the majority of the budget, a percentage goes to the candidate's party or to other candidates. In the 2008 presidential election, the Obama campaign doled out nearly $46 million, or 6 percent of its total spending, to those groups, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. People who wish to contribute, experts say, should note the difference between donating to a campaign and giving money to a leadership political action committee, or PAC: Most of the former's budget is spent on the campaign; the latter funnels money to other campaigns and politicians.
8. We'll work for (almost) anyone.
While managers rarely jump from party to party, it's not uncommon to see some intraparty switching of support. Barely a month after Jon Huntsman formally began his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, for instance, his campaign manager, Susie Wiles, resigned and several months later endorsed team Mitt Romney (she decided he would "be best at running against Barack Obama," she says). Often, there are some litmus tests that managers use in picking a candidate, say experts, especially around hot-button issues like abortion or gun rights. But ultimately, it comes down to who has the best chance of winning: "It was [conservative activist] William Buckley who said to go with the most electable conservative in a Republican presidential primary," says Kanevsky, Bass's former manager.
9. This job is a stepping-stone -- to stardom.
Turn on the TV and you'll likely see a onetime manager sharing his or her insights. With cushy salaries and reasonable workweeks, professional punditry is nice work if you can get it. Bob Beckel, cohost of "The Five" on Fox News, who ran Walter Mondale's presidential campaign in 1984, says he doesn't know of anyone getting out of politics who isn't hoping to get into TV (Fox News, like SmartMoney, is owned by News Corp.). Of course, the dearth of TV jobs means many former campaign managers end up working as highly paid political consultants or lobbyists instead, or they leave politics altogether, say insiders. "Campaigns are a young man's game," says Beckel. "If you stay, you'll die prematurely."
10. Sometimes we play dirty...very dirty.
The win-at-all-costs mentality of campaigns can wreak havoc with ethics. Recently, Paul Schurick, who in 2010 ran the campaign for former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, was convicted on four counts related to campaign robocalls, which prosecutors said were intended to discourage black voters from hitting the polls. (Schurick's lawyer declined to make his client available for comment prior to sentencing, though he said they plan to appeal the ruling.) More common are tactics that may be legal but not honest. One trick, says Kelly, the 2010 manager for Connecticut governor Malloy, is to make a negative ad saying that an incumbent mayor did something controversial, like hiring a felon. Even if the governor didn't vet the hire, he would have had to sign off on it. "There's enough truth to the ad that it won't be pulled, but it's a stretch," say Kelly.
Additional reporting by Kate Poole,