THE BLOG
11/05/2013 01:08 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Fundraisers: Sinking One Politician at a Time

One of the most challenging things I have to do in the course of my work is to stomach fundraisers. Despite the actual raising of funds; they are most often just an opportunity for a candidate to unravel. Granted it happens more in the early stages of a political campaign, but sometimes this is the point at which I enter, and I'm like the judge watching the twirler fumble the baton for the 8th, 9th, 10th time; agony to watch, but that's my job.

The murky waters are understandably difficult to navigate for even the seasoned speaker because one has the sense of being among friends; one is led through the nicest and most accomodating of homes, greeted by friends and supporters only to be told... "You're on kid." What generally follows is something either too corporate for the canapes and champagne, or worse; something far too casual for a room that wants to know what they are getting for their 2,600 bucks.

It's rare that a candidate I havent worked with surprises me and I wonder if the great orators of our time would fare as well in the salon, because it's a completely different skill set. And then I think of Leigh Steinberg played by Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire "...King of the housecalls, Master of the living Room", because people skills are more what's needed here. A perfect blend of intuition, salesmanship, showmanship and statesman and luckily for me, natural born statesmen are as common as landslide victories. But the real unravelling comes at the hands of friends, not enemies, and in this very confusing milleu-all bets are off. The result is generally far too much sharing, and "ease" with facts. And what is all too often revealed, is the very insecurity that propelled them to succeed in life. That very same insecurity is obvious to the trained observer and certain to be capitalized on by the opposition. Bingo.

Next is where the real damage is done, because among devotees every less than brilliant serve is returned with oohs and aahs and flutterings of applause, and only helps the already ego-laden candidate pick up on all the wrong cues. Points and phrases that wont possibly serve them in the real world let alone the hostile environment of a debate suddently seem like just the thing for a gig on Leno. In this way the comedian has a much easier path because he learns what wont work, whereas this ill-gotten praise only encourages the candidate to make make the same mistakes again. Its counter conditioning 101. Worse still are the well-intentioned supporters who bathe candidates with compliments disguised as questions, further lulling them into a false sense of security.

One surprisingly hot topic at fundraisers lately is campaign finance reform. Surprising to me because I can't imagine trying to make a sale and telling my customers that buying is itself a dangerous trend. This, like the majority of other fundraiser blunders, though, goes unnoticed, because a steady diet of spoon-fed compliments is where populace politics begins.

Most girls run from the cad who promises to leave his best girl for them on the obvious conclusion that he could just as easily do the same thing again. Therefore, I'll never understand why adults open their wallets to the candidate who badmouths Americans in general, or who curses the rich while reaching into their breast pockets and jeweled clutches. Maybe the Carla Powell's and the Pamela Harrimans of the world are the real power brokers, knowing how to create just the right ambiance so that no matter the behavior of their guest of honor, everyone will leave thinking the evening a complete success.

The very first fundraiser I ever attended was Diane Feinstein's unsuccessful bid for governor of California. She was good, and I agreed with every single word that came out of her mouth and made known my opinion to anyone who would listen to the political commentary of a teenager. In years to come I would find I disagreed with her, and those who had listened to me, didn't let me forget my earlier givings. But I stand firm in my impression that she was good; she was speaking to Republicans. She spoke honestly, about the select things that were of interest to this group. Mind you she didn't provide a complete picture of things ,but in hostile territory, perhaps the safest place for a politician...she thrived.

Once I have worked with a candidate, though, I become the biggest advocate of such soirees, where amid the soft lighting and sparkling crystal I am willing to exclaim them a fair and just proving ground for anyone who wishes to throw their hat in the ring. This doesn't stop me from a last minute teflon coating in the hostess' kitchen though, where really, if you cant take the heat...

Authored by Julianne Shinto