Anatomy of a Successful Political Fundraiser
Private practice physical therapists from Oregon and Washington gathered in Portland to meet with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, the new chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
By Clem Eischen, PT, and Diana Godwin, Esq
August 8, 2014
On May 31, more than 35 private practice physical therapists from Oregon and Washington gathered at a café in downtown Portland, Oregon, to meet and have brunch with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D. Oregon), the new chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
The agenda included a discussion by the Senator of the issues and challenges ahead as Congress works to revise health care financing, particularly proposed Medicare reforms. The Senate Finance Committee has jurisdiction over changes in the Medicare laws and will decide on the reforms for which we have been advocating in recent years.
The Senator was gracious in soliciting and listening to the concerns of our private practice members, as well as responding to questions. After the more “formal” part of the event, Senator Wyden sat down with us to share a buffet brunch and later stayed for a round of picture taking—lots of arms around shoulders. Jerome Connolly, PPS lobbyist, and Mandy Frohlich, APTA lobbyist, also attended the event.
How did the chair of one of the most powerful committees in the U.S. Senate come to spend almost two hours breaking bread and discussing issues with private practice physical therapists on a Saturday morning?
In March, shortly after Wyden was appointed as chair of Senate Finance, Diana and I flew to Washington, D.C., to meet with him and other key staff in his Senate offices. Tom DiAngelis, PPS president, Jerome Connolly, and Mandy Frohlich accompanied us. Although meetings with the new chairman were in high demand, we were able to meet with him because we both had long-standing relationships with him. Clem—now retired—had a private practice in Portland for many years and hosted meetings at his clinic with Wyden and other physical therapists, and he had supported Wyden in his early campaigns for the House and then the Senate. Clem worked on a committee on national health insurance for Wyden and arranged for Wyden to be a guest speaker at a Sports Medicine Seminar, which Clem co-sponsored when the U.S. Olympic Dream Team played its first exhibition game in Portland in 1992. Diana went to law school with Wyden in the 1970s and had hosted a fundraiser for him in her home during his last Senate race.
A couple of weeks before our scheduled March meeting with the Senator, we started kicking around the idea of hosting a fundraiser for the Senator when he was back here in Oregon during a Congressional break. In late February, Diana contacted Senator Wyden’s campaign staff to discuss potential dates, logistics, a fundraising target to which we would commit, and Federal Election rules. We quickly formed a small task force to coordinate our efforts: Connolly, Mike Matlack, and Frohlich, DiAngelis. We would be the local team on the ground.
The Wyden campaign had a date available in early April when the Senator would be home. We realized this was too soon to get everything organized—particularly since we committed to raise a minimum of $20,000 at the event—so we went back to the campaign staff and settled on the date of May 31.
The next step was to design the invitation that the APTA PAC would “snail mail” to all members of the PAC and email to all PPS members. Diana would also send the invitation to the clinics that she represents in Oregon and Washington. Before we could complete the invitation, we had to locate a venue. We needed a good location, one that had a private meeting space and could serve a nice brunch at a reasonable price. (Practical tip: While you will want to do something nice, you also want to minimize costs so that more of the money raised can go to the legislator or candidate.)
The Wyden campaign had a line on a space they had used for previous fundraisers, but unfortunately, after booking, the venue backed out and we had to start over. Diana phoned and emailed 10 or so other possible venues before locating the magic combination of location, menu, and price. Once we booked the new venue, we could finalize the invitation. (Practical tip: Start working on the invite as soon as possible. The campaign staff has to approve the wording of the invitation to ensure it includes caveats regarding federal rules on contributions (no corporate donations—personal donations only; the correct information on how to make donations online; where to mail checks and to whom the checks should be paid. Plus, we wanted to include a photo of the Senator, so we had to get that from the campaign staff, all of which takes time.)
Once the invitation was ready, we crafted an accompanying letter to inform our PPS members across the country about how important this event was to our national objectives and urge them to contribute toward our fundraising goal. That done, the task force kept track of donations from around the country, answered questions, and thanked the PPS members who sent emails telling us they had donated. Diana stayed in touch with the campaign staff to discuss details and monitor the contributions that were coming in by check or online to the campaign website.
(Practical Tip: Always maintain good communication with the local campaign staff and respond promptly to whatever they need. They will be delivering the legislator to your event and will be keeping him or her apprised of your efforts and progress. Also, do the organizing work yourself rather than rely on the campaign staff. On the morning of our event, one of the campaign staffers who accompanied the Senator told Diana that they had never before participated in a fundraiser where they did not have to do any work—and they specifically made sure the Senator knew that we had handled everything.)
Less than two weeks away from the date of the event, we found ourselves short of our fundraising goal, so the team got back to work. Tom DiAngelis sent out another plea for support to PPS members, Clem made personal phone calls to his key contacts around the country, and Diana urged her Oregon and Washington physical therapists to come through. We also enlisted the help of a private practice business group headquartered in California and they sent out the word to all their contacts. (Practical Tip: Having a small, hard-working team dedicated to hosting a successful event is key.)
Diana kept track of the physical therapists who had responded that they would be attending in person and had her staff prepare name tags the day before and up to the last minute for late responders. Three days before the event, we checked in with the café to let them know the final head count and finalize the menu. Diana arranged for a no-host bar to be available for those who wanted libations stronger than coffee or juice. (Practical Tip: Alcohol is typically welcomed by attendees at these events.) The day before the event, the campaign staff requested short bios of the hosts and the issues that the physical therapists would like to discuss so the Senator would be fully prepared. Diana scrambled to complete and email these to the staff.
By the morning of the event, all was in place and everyone had a good time. All the wonderful private practice physical therapists who attended and those who contributed money made the event a tremendous success—we raised over $45,000! According to his staff, Senator Wyden was thoroughly impressed.
Thank you all.