Washington Post: Recruiting Candidates for Campaign Training; Magazines, Universities, PACs and Private Firms Jump on Bandwagon to Teach Tricks of the Trade

Snigdha Prakash

Jul 5, 1993

If you want to be anything from dogcatcher to senator these days, chances are good you'll need your own pollster, direct-mail expert and media consultant to get elected. With people willing to pay to learn those and other technical campaign skills, opportunities have been created for a small but growing Washington industry.

"Everyone who wants to be a player in politics has to know these things because they are the ABCs of politics. If you don't understand how to read a poll, and what lists to get so that you can phone bank, canvass and mail swing voters, it's no different than trying to get to Albuquerque on foot with no road map," said Jennifer Laszlo of Laszlo & Associates Inc., rattling off campaign lingo.

Political magazines, universities and a rising number of political action committees (PACs) are supplementing the training historically provided by the political parties with bipartisan training.

Earlier this year, Laszlo formed her own consulting firm, which derives half its revenue from teaching candidates, campaign managers and PACs. Congressional Quarterly, the Washington publishing firm, also entered the market by sponsoring a training conference organized by Laszlo's firm.

Campaigns & Elections, another Washington magazine, has had a training division for 10 years. Laszlo used to be director of that division, which organizes conferences for candidates and campaign professionals, as well as customized training for PACs and trade unions.

Programs at George Washington University and American University also offer campaign training for academic credit. Finally, groups such as the bipartisan National Women's Political Caucus in Washington offer extensive programs of their own, and often turn to Washington's political consultants to design and teach the courses.

Ron Faucheux, publisher and editor of Campaigns & Elections, said the training division has been profitable, but only because "we are using {the magazine's} existing overhead - sales and marketing, {and because we are already} in contact with political candidates and political professionals and academics" for the magazine. Faucheux said the division has revenue of "tens of thousands of dollars a year."

In June, the magazine signed an agreement with the American Association of Political Consultants to put on several joint training conferences a year around the country. Congressional Quarterly's Governing magazine and Laszlo & Associates split the costs to put on a conference last month that competed with Campaigns & Elections's annual conference. Held on the heels of the magazine's conference, it attracted 250 participants from around the country who paid an average of $550 to attend. The magazine's conference drew 270 participants at an average fee of $350.

Governing was drawn to the venture because "there was a fit" between the magazine's subscription base and the conference's target audience, said Peter A. Harkness, editor and publisher.

"About 30 percent of our subscribers are elected officials - governors, state legislators and city council people. Other subscribers work for teachers unions and environmental groups, and they have an interest in campaigns," he said.

Laszlo and Governing broke even on the conference this year, Laszlo said, and expect to make a profit next year, now that they have narrowed down their mailing list of 70,000 elected officials, lobbyists and academics to a smaller target group. Congressional Quarterly also will be more heavily involved in promoting next year's conference, Harkness said.

For political consultants who speak at training conferences, they can be a giant marketing opportunity.

"You are promoting, you are selling, you are pitching," said Buddy Gill, manager of grass-roots field operations at APCO Associates in the District, and a speaker at Congressional Quarterly's conference last month. "You are also saying, `I know how to do this better than other people. If you want to accomplish this, hire me.' " Large conferences that teach candidates, campaign managers and PAC representatives the latest in campaign technologies and techniques are only part of the training business. The other part is customized programs for individual PACs.

Both Laszlo & Associates and Campaigns & Elections target this market, and Faucheux said he sees it as a growth area.

PACs use campaign training to further their political agenda in many ways.

For example, the Maryland State Teachers Association PAC hired Laszlo & Associates to organize a two-day training seminar in mid- April. Seventy-five teachers were trained in skills including polling, canvassing and telephone banks, said Janis Hagey of the teachers group.

"We were basically trying to organize our teacher members in the Washington metropolitan area for the '94 {election} cycle. {There are a} variety of races in Maryland - county council races, county executive races, board of education races, governor's races. All of those policy makers influence education policy in the state," Hagey said. "We would like members to be activists in the election cycles for endorsed candidates."

The National Women's Political Caucus in Washington uses campaign training seminars around the country to encourage and help women run for political office. "{The} average citizen probably thinks politicians don't need to be trained. People don't think you need to learn how to run for political office," said Pat Reilly, director of communications at the bipartisan group.

But, Reilly said, training is "especially important to women, because women like to feel prepared for tasks that they take on. Often women feel left out of mentoring - in terms of choosing politics as a way to help their professional career, or choosing politics as a career."

Political consultants said that any campaign reform legislation would increase the demand for training from both campaigns and political action committees.

"If any sort of campaign reform does get through, unlikely as that seems, expect a lot more of these, because all of a sudden there are going to be new rules {and} a couple more loopholes," said Scott Berkowitz, former publisher of Campaigns & Elections.

"If there are spending restrictions, campaign money and {the} time {that can be spent} on field organizations is going to be reduced. So {there will be} more emphasis on {the} electronic media budget," he said.

"People are going to have to learn how to do that. They are going to have to know more about what is going on - oversee {their} budget, supervise consultants and make sure their limited funds are being spent beneficially," Berkowitz said.

Laszlo said that "once the PACs have more financial limits, {they} will start to give more in-kind contributions and grass-roots contributions. {The} answer, more and more often, is training your own volunteers," she said.

George Washington University and American University also offer courses in campaign management. The Graduate School of Political Management, an independent school on the George Washington University campus, offers a masters of politics program that has 75 students this year. Forty percent of those students specialize in campaign management, and pay up to $20,000 to attend.

American University offers two-week sessions in May and January, as well as weekend courses three times a year. The two-week, four- credit course costs about $2,080 and attracts undergraduates from American University and other area schools.

Campaign training is here to stay, say consultants and political observers.

"Some of our members say to hell with this {training.} You either have it in your blood or you don't," said Tom Edmonds, a Republican media consultant and president of the American Association of Political Consultants. "But I've noticed that those who used to say this two years ago now accept invitations to speak" at training conferences. "I think we benefit by training {the} next generation in our profession," Edmonds said. "They've refined these things as they go along. They are very structured ... They aren't just a bunch of old men telling war stories."

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