After years of honing their media skills in the United States, political consultants are heading overseas — especially to countries with emerging democracies. Critics, including University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, are concerned about the implications of U.S. citizens swaying foreign elections. Sabato also speculates that hiring American political insiders could be a way to secure influence in this country. But James Carville, an architect of President Clinton’s 1992 victory and a veteran of Greek and Brazilian elections, downplays this: “I kind of look at foreign campaigns the way Winston Churchill looked at alcohol: ‘I’ve taken a lot more from alcohol than alcohol has taken from me.’ I’ve learned more from them than they’ve learned from me.”
In any case, at daily rates as high as $10,000, these consultants are certainly finding it hard to pass up overseas work, even when it places them in danger. “Unless you’re going to make some serious money, it’s not worth it,” says George Gorton, who worked on Boris Yeltsin’s campaign. “We thought maybe we were going to be killed some of the time. It’s the Wild West over there.” Some Washington insiders who’ve braved the wild ride include:
Paul Begala, James Carville, and Mary Matalin
This trio advised Greek Premier Constantine Mitsotakis (“Which Greece do you want?”) in his failed 1993 re-election bid. Working for a conservative was a new experience for Clintonites Begala and Carville. The Ragin’ Cajun, ever spinning, explains: “In most foreign campaigns, the party of the right is, like, twice as liberal as the Democratic Party.” Mitsotakis lost to Socialist Andreas Papandreou, who also used the services of an American: then-New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Chris Spirou.
George Gorton, Joe Shumate, and Richard Dresner
The American reporters who covered Yeltsin’s 1996 election were skeptical about the influence these Pete Wilson (“A strong voice for America”) veterans had on the Yeltsin (“I believe. I love. I hope. Boris Yeltsin”) campaign, but Hollywood took notice, and an HBO movie about them is slated for January 1998. If Gorton’s comments to the Sacramento Bee are any indication, it is sure to be dramatic: “Russia needs democracy…. I would be remiss in my duty to mankind if I didn’t use every political consulting trick I could think of to keep what I felt was a great evil from returning to mankind.” Maybe so, but his share of the $250,000 fee didn’t hurt.
Benjamin Netanyahu may lack Al D’Amato’s, um, charisma, but the Israeli prime minister and New York senator do have Arthur Finkelstein in common. The reclusive conservative helped the hawkish prime minister craft his campaign ads and refine his 1996 message: “Making a secure peace.” Finkelstein’s U.S. client roster also includes New York’s governor, George Pataki, whose “Too liberal for too long” slogan helped bring down Mario Cuomo in 1994.
Mellman braved the bullets of Bogota´, Colombia, to help Cesar Gaviria (“With Gaviria, there is a future”) win the presidency in 1990. In a country where three presidential candidates — including Gaviria’s mentor — had been assassinated, television became the safest venue for the campaign. The Beltway pollster’s other clients include Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), British Labor Party members, and various Yeltsin cronies.
Clinton adviser Greer aided Czech President Vaclav Havel in 1993 with the Czech Republic’s first democratic election. Greer then helped Nelson Mandela (“A better life for all”) make the transition from political prisoner to politician during South Africa’s first open elections in 1994. Greer told the Chicago Tribune: “Mandela wanted us because he perceived that Clinton ran a good, modern, clean campaign…. When I saw South Africans waiting 48 hours in line to vote, and having a 99 percent turnout, I knew we had not yet exported the cynicism created in this country.”