“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is one of the best movies of the 1980s, and not only because it featured Ruprecht the Monkey Boy. As you may recall, it involves two hucksters who prey on rich, single, and gullible women to swindle them out of their cash. Michael Caine is brilliant as Dr. Emil Shüffhausen (from the Shüffhausen Clinic in Lichtenstein), who attempts to pry fifty thousand dollars away from a supposedly naïve heiress.
Dr. Emil Shüffhausen, meet Dave Magnum.
Magnum, a wealthy Republican from Portage, was recruited in 2004 by the Republican Party to run against uber-liberal but popular Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin in the Dane County area. Unfortunately for Magnum, his race highlights the dark side of politics. When political operatives saw Magnum, they began licking their chops, much like my dog does when I eat popcorn.
There are many races around the state that simply aren’t winnable. Just because a race can’t be won, however, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a tidy profit to be made by running one of those races. Political consultants often descend on naïve wealthy people, pitch their candidacy, and rake in the consulting fees as the campaign goes up in flames. Generally, the only people telling these people that they can win are the ones that directly profit from the campaign.
In 2000, John Sharpless came close to beating Baldwin, but the district borders changed by the time 2002 rolled around. In the 2002 election, Baldwin disemboweled firefighter Ron Greer, beating him 66% to 34%. Greer, the sworn arch-enemy of the left wing who may be just to the right of Rasputin, didn’t spend much money and never really had a chance. Make no mistake – Greer\’s 34% is the base Republican vote in the district. Courtney Love could run on the GOP ticket and get 34% (and she killed Kurt).
Enter Dave Magnum, a radio station owner with a lot of money, no political experience, and no name identification. Knowing what a challenge it is to raise money in the 2nd Congressional District, Magnum was a perfect target for the Republican Party – he was more moderate than Greer, had boatloads of cash, and was willing to spend it as a candidate.
Magnum’s federal campaign finance reports show a badly mismanaged, top-heavy campaign that shelled out nearly $117,000 in consulting fees and staff salaries – almost as much as Ron Greer spent in his entire 2002 campaign. Magnum used four different consulting firms. His reports show that he either contributed personally or lent his campaign $349,000 of his own money, which comprised 52% of all the funds raised by his campaign (his FEC filings are sloppy and incomplete, for which he has been warned seven times by the feds).
The most valuable expenditure a campaign can make is one that directly contacts a voter – whether it’s via TV ad, radio ad, literature mailing, yard sign, or phone call. To his credit, Magnum did spend plenty in these categories – including a $268,000 television ad buy (some of his TV ads featured him longingly staring at a picture of his deceased wife, which shows you the quality of consulting he was getting).
When you go item by item through the campaigns’ expenditures, however, it reveals a campaign that either didn’t know what it was doing or a campaign that never really expected to win.
For instance, Magnum paid $1700 a month to rent a campaign headquarters ($6800 total), and nearly $12,800 to furnish it, including furniture, computers, supplies, internet access, campaign software, and cable TV (cable TV!) Anyone that has run a campaign will tell you that there are always friendly business owners that will give you a great deal on a headquarters, usually in a public right of way. You just have to do a little digging.
The Magnum campaign also clearly liked to eat. His campaign spent $2,500 on food for staff over a 4 month period. Magnum’s campaign also spent over $3,500 on cell phones for his staff. Details on how either of those expenditures convinces voters to vote for Dave Magnum are unavailable.
Magnum\’s campaign also suffered from Magnum himself. His calm, cool demeanor and slow, deliberate radio voice euthanized exciting political events. His rehearsed radio voice is enough to make NPR seem like Def Comedy Jam. Local pickpockets figured out they could walk out of a 15 minute Magnum speech on Social Security with 100 wallets. Bland and uninspiring, he never provided a single reason to elect him. He never laid out a consistent message, which is suprising given how much advice he was paying for.
You probably already know what happened in November. Magnum was trounced by Baldwin, losing 63% to 37%. On election night, he said \”I\’m an optimist. I was going to feel like I won either way tonight.\” Ummm…. yeah. I think Enron might be looking for a new auditor with just that type of can-do rosy outlook.
I opened the Wisconsin State Journal editorial section the other day to a column written by Dave Magnum, where he took the highly controversial position of being tough on sex offenders. To me, this was about as welcome as a recurring rash after a spring break trip to Tijuana. Wispolitics.com followed up several days later with a report than Magnum was considering another run for Congress, and was being courted by – you guessed it – a consulting firm.
Magnum might be a great guy, and this column contains quite a bit of tough love. I’d like to see a Republican win this seat as much as anyone, but it will take the right candidate receiving the right advice. Spending almost $700,000 to get 2% more of the vote than the clearly unelectable Ron Greer is simply not acceptable.
I saw a depressing sign at a Brewer game the other night that said \”Brewers! – Let\’s get to .500!\” It\’s a sign of low expectations when the most you can hope for is to win 50% of your games. My suggestion for the next Magnum campaign slogan – \”Dave Magnum – 36% with a bullet!\”
In 2006, the consultants will be lining up to take a whack at the Magnum Money Pinata, hoping his personal wealth falls to them. My only advice – don’t answer a call from Dr. Emil Shüffhausen.
Rejected possible title for this post: Magnum Pee-Yoo!