2005 – “Can I Keep This?”

As we prepared to say goodbye to 700 East Pleasant Street, the CHQ team cleared the first round of boxes out of the building, including boxes in my handwriting that said random things, such as, “2005 receipts, some contracts.” Not a filing system David Allen would be proud of. Looking at these boxes, it occurred to me that some years are full of pivotal moments, and others are not.

2003 was a momentous year. A year defined by one Hail Mary after another, where every play felt like fourth and long.

Chuck Larson was re-elected as State Party chairman. Marlys De Witt Popma left as Executive Director. Gentry Collins was appointed as the new Executive Director.

At this point, I had two employees, a few State Rep clients, and a piddly state party contract. Yes, it was piddly even after Mark Havlicek renegotiated for me.

At 700 East Pleasant, we kept most of the offices closed and the heating vents shut. I wore the same sweatshirt most days that winter. Around this time, I drafted the talking points for what I would say to those two remaining employees on our final day of operation.

Back in 2003, Iowa had five Congressmen, not four. King and Latham quickly signed up with the other firm.

The fifth seat was held by Democrat Leonard Boswell. The 2002 nominee, Stan Thompson, had been a Capitol Resources client in 2002, and raised just over $900K. I would remind you that Pre-McCain Feingold, the limit was $1,000 per person, per election. I assumed Thompson for Congress 2004 would sign up with Capitol Resources again.

He did not.

That left Jim Nussle and Jim Leach.

It was clear I would need to land at least one, if not both, of the two remaining Congressmen to survive. So the battle was on.

As a fundraiser, I believe the donor is your boss, not the candidate. Campaigns, campaign managers, and even candidates come and go. And let’s face it, sometimes they do stupid things. But the donor and the fundraiser endure together.

And when my back was up against a wall, it was a donor who came through for me.

Jim Nepola called Congressman Jim Leach and told him that he needed a fundraiser, and not only that, he needed ME. The Nipper negotiated the entire deal, and called me back. He said the start date would be April 1. I just needed to hang on until then.

jim leach nicole schlinger
Photo courtesy of https://law.uiowa.edu/jim_leach

In March, rumors started that Jim Nussle was going to run for Governor in 2006. So he wanted to run a super aggressive statewide fundraising campaign in 2004 to be ready. That meant he was looking for a fundraiser now.

Unlike some of the backroom deals that seemed to hit me out of nowhere, Jim wanted to meet with both my competitors and me before making a decision.

Friends – the way I saw it – this meeting was the last play of the game. If Nussle picked me, I would survive. If he didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this now.

I wrote a 20+ page finance plan detailing every aspect of every letter, phone call, meeting, and event it would take to reach his fundraising goals. I worked on nothing else for two days, and then drove four copies of the finished product to Des Moines to be spiral bound at Kinko’s.

jim nussle nicole schlinger
Photo courtesy of https://www.upi.com/topic/Jim_Nussle/

Jim, his wife Karen , his campaign manager, and I sat around a table. I passed out the copies, and summarily went through and read every detail on every page, head down the entire time. I was not then, and am not now, a good extemporaneous speaker. I believe in the script.

Jim thanked me for the “extremely detailed” presentation and asked if he could keep his copy of the finance plan.

Well – THAT question wasn’t in my script! And I said, “YES.”

I know what you’re thinking. How dumb can you be? Why would you give someone a copy of your entire plan when they are about to get in their car and drive to a meeting with your competitor?

It turns out, Jim thought anyone who would leave a copy of their finance plan must so confident in their ability to deliver, that it wouldn’t matter if you gave it to a competitor.

The message he heard was “I’m sure you won’t be able to achieve this plan without me.” A few weeks later, we were planning a house party in Monticello, Iowa.

The verdict was in. Capitol Resources would not die in 2003.

You might think that was the most important thing that happened in 2003.But it was not. The most meaningful decision of 2003 was yet to come.