Instead McAuliffe was considered for another distinguished position: “How about becoming ambassador to England or France?”
McAuliffe writes his response: “All right, John, let’s do England.”
Stop scoffing, doubters; McAuliffe passed the FBI background check. It was only when Al Gore called shortly thereafter, lamenting “real problems” with the fundraising for the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, that McAuliffe abandoned his dream of being ambassador to the Court of St. James’s.
This man knows how to make the tough calls in the moment of crisis. Listen as he discusses the white-knuckle tension during one of the key moments of Bill Clinton’s presidency — one I’m sure we all remember for its historic importance — the planning for the June 22, 1995, fundraiser at the Garden State Convention Center in Somerset, New Jersey:
Another key rule of fund-raising is: Always use a smaller room than you think you need because you want your event to look crowded. We knew there would be several hundred reporters at this event, all of them ready to bury us if it did not go well, and we were taking a big gamble with the aggressive strategy I had laid out. The Clinton presidency was on the line. But if you risk nothing, you win nothing . . .
You should have seen it when the President and First Lady walked into that old cavernous hall in New Jersey on June 22 and the place was absolutely jammed — a total sellout. The Vice President was there with Tipper, and seeing all of that Democratic firepower lined up onstage together for only the second time since the 1993 Inauguration had everyone jacked up.
If you need to pause for a moment to catch your breath, please do so.
Then there was the Millennial Celebration, when McAuliffe saved Hillary Clinton’s plan for “the greatest party ever on the Mall and at the White House and staged a national televised celebration of the Millennium that we would all remember to the ends of our days.”
I can tell you that in twenty-five years of fund-raising, this was the toughest sell ever. We were running into brick walls at every turn because there just wasn’t any excitement out there about the idea of traveling to Washington for the Millennium. People were worried enough about some kind of catastrophe at midnight, December 31, even if they stayed at home hiding in their basements with stockpiles of bottled water and beef jerky. Traveling to a potential terrorist target like the Washington Mall was not high on anyone’s list. In the rare cases where people did work up a little excitement, they felt like they’d already given enough to other causes and shouldn’t have to pay for this, too. Corporations, which you would normally expect to line up to back a celebration of America, had already committed all of their charitable gift money for the year by August.
But thankfully, McAuliffe helped raise $17 million, including a $2 million donation from Vin Gupta, who in 2010 paid more than $6 million to settle with the Securities and Exchange Commission on charges that he “fraudulently used corporate funds to pay almost $9.5 million in personal expenses to support his lavish lifestyle.”