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Women Bisnow
June 24, 2008


This issue of Washington Women is presented by
Reznick Group:
"Building Business Value"


By Karin Tanabe for Bisnow on Business

Come July 1, there may be a gaggle of Washington fundraisers with a book in hand and mouths agape. The book, by former top GOP fundraiser Nicole Sexton, is Party Favors (Globe Pequot Press), a novel about bringing in political money. It's pure fiction, with a basis in personal experience. "The characters are compilations of people. My first goal was to make the book entertaining. Second, I wanted to cast a realistic light on the fundraising industry," says Sexton.


The New Orleans native came to Washington as an intern and quickly caught a case of Potomac fever. Sexton worked on Indiana Republican Steve Goldsmith's gubernatorial race and Steve Forbes's presidential bids before serving as Director of Finance for the National Republican Senatorial Committee from 2002-05. Then she moved to the ONE Campaign, brainchild of U2 frontman Bono, which raises awareness of AIDS and poverty.

The fundraiser-cum-author admits to being na?ve when starting in the numbers-driven profession. "I'm not a red-meat Republican. I was a firm supporter of a conservative economic agenda, but the conservative social agenda became very pronounced. When you're working for a party committee you have to embrace it all, you're working to put butts in the seats, you're not allowed the luxury of your opinions." Increasingly, Sexton's opinion was that there was something very wrong in the world of campaign finance.


Sexton tells us that in a Missouri Senate campaign, which can cost $15 million, the fundraiser will walk away with $1.5 million, with a move toward 15 percent off the top rather than 10. She says  candidate schedules, particularly in Congress, are 85% filled with fundraisers and 15% activities not for financial gain.

"The amount of money that goes into consulting fees and the low level of accountability are shocking," says Sexton, who left fundraising after playing a large hand in keeping a GOP majority in the Senate. "It's easy to get caught up—the power and the town are intoxicating. A fundraiser can decide who sits with the President of the United States while a lobbyist works incredibly hard to get five minutes. Your ability to manage relationships can challenge your integrity. I don't think the people I worked with thought that much about it."


Sexton in the ONE campaign's office on Eye Street, which sports Bono's signature in the corner of the lobby. "It's a big change but I'm still using the same skill set."

Sexton is not without solutions to the problems she highlights in her novel. "Campaigns should be limited to six months of fundraising and three months on air. There's no reason we should have been seeing ads for Hillary two years ago. No wonder she went through $54 million." As for the novel, is she worried about a backlash? "I don't doubt that there will be those who will be livid," says Sexton, who tells us that people seldom leave the world of political fundraising. But Sexton did, and as an author, she's about to find out whether the pen proves mightier than the . . . telephone.

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