Politics & Policy

Terry McAuliffe, in His Own Words

No, Virginia, you’ve never had a gubernatorial candidate like this one.

My fellow Virginians,

We have a rare opportunity before us this November. For as long as any can remember, when contemplating our choice for governor — an office occupied by Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe — our candidates, their résumés, and their life experiences have been . . . normal: Former attorneys general. State legislators. Congressmen.

This year, we have a distinctly . . . abnormal option in Terry McAuliffe, the most successful political fundraiser in American history.

In McAuliffe — a man never elected to any public office at any level — we have a rare combination of skills and experience, detailed at great length, and with great humility, in his 2007 autobiography, What a Party! My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators, and Other Wild Animals.

Within these pages, with McAuliffe’s own words — or the words of his co-author, Steve Kettman — we see that indeed, in this candidate, we have a man to fit the moment.

It’s time for this commonwealth to have a governor who has had a wacky caricature of himself framed upon the wall at The Palm since 1980, marking his influence and stature among the lobbyists and power brokers who meet for steaks and martinis. It’s time for a governor who has spent his adult life rubbing shoulders with the powerful at Pamela Harriman’s house in Georgetown, and who has a regular table at Café Milano. It’s time for a governor who can tell the best stories about Walter Mondale and about the hookers at Walter Shorenstein’s mansion in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Let the candidate explain, in his own words, the role of a governor: “Let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to raise money for a governor. They have all kinds of business to hand out, road contracts, construction jobs, you name it.”

As he proudly boasts when discussing the time a casino owner demanded he go up and sing on a stage for a donation, “For $500,000 I don’t mind humiliating myself for five minutes.”

You see, Virginians? Standards.

You see, Terry McAuliffe worked his first fundraiser at the age of six. He’s proven to be a groundbreaking innovator in the world of raising money, not merely by writing the infamous White House memo that set up Bill Clinton’s coffees with donors at the White House, but by shooting a commercial on the QVC home-shopping channel in front of the Pennsylvania Avenue reviewing stand, selling Inauguration memorabilia.

You see, Virginians? Class.


A menu from his fundraiser on May 24, 2000, was put into the Smithsonian Institution, after he raised $26.3 million in one night.

Inexperience? Pshaw. Terry McAuliffe has turned down jobs that would have looked quite impressive to Virginia’s electorate. In 2000, at a late-night card-playing session at the White House, his wife suggested to President Clinton that McAuliffe would make an excellent Secretary of Commerce, a position Bill Daley had recently departed. But John Podesta, the president’s chief of staff, expressed worries about “sending the President’s buddy and biggest fund-raiser in the party though a confirmation hearing right before the 2000 presidential election.”

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.”

Of course, McAuliffe’s life story is not merely one of asking wealthy people for donations to political figures. It is also one of extensive business dealings with those wealthy people and those political figures. As he summarized it to the Washington Post in 2009, “I’ve done business with people I’ve met in politics, who I went to law school with, who I grew up with . . . Who do you do business with? People you meet in life.”

Just imagine how many business partners he could meet as governor! He might even be able to hire some people at those businesses. Last time he ran, McAuliffe boasted that he launched five businesses in Virginia, and some of his rivals had the audacity to complain that all five were investment partnerships, with no employees, registered to his home address in McLean.

Never mind the governorship; Terry McAuliffe is a man who knows the pressure of the presidency like few others: he’s gone golfing with Bill Clinton countless times. As he tells it, “Sometimes the Secret Service would help us out by parking all of their SUVs right next to the 18th, a par three, and shining their bright lights out towards the green so we would have a target to shoot toward.”

That other candidate, the state attorney general, might claim to be the better choice because of his familiarity with the law. Au contraire.

Has Ken Cuccinelli ever gone before a justice of the peace in Delaware at 3 a.m. to help a bar-owner buddy’s bouncer beat a disorderly-conduct charge? Has he ever dodged the issue of his lack of a law license in that state by bragging to the justice of the peace that he’s licensed to practice before the United States Supreme Court? (McAuliffe never argued before the Supreme Court, nor did he practice any type of criminal law at the time.) Has his rival ever won a case in the middle of the night after having had “more than a few” beers? Unlikely.

But this is no stuffy lawyer. This man knows the ways of Virginia’s sportsmen, having been boar hunting in Hungary with Prince Andrew, and wild-bird hunting with King Juan Carlos in Spain.

You may hear complaints that McAuliffe has no real connections to the state other than living in the Washington suburbs for 21 years, and four years ago, one of his Democratic-primary rivals inconveniently asserted, “Before the last six months, he’s had little — if any — involvement not only in Virginia politics but in Virginia governance.” Pish-posh!

We know McAuliffe is of Virginia, because as he tells us, “I’m not really of Washington.” And that’s precisely the philosophy he’s taken with him as the former finance chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as former finance chairman for the Dick Gephardt for President 1988 campaign, as former national finance chairman and then national co-chairman of the Clinton-Gore campaign, and as former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Oh, and his work on the board of Federal City National Bank in Washington, D.C., in the 1980s.

He’s not really of Washington. As he puts it, he merely “spent more time with Al Gore than with my own wife in 1993” as chairman of the DNC’s Business Leadership Forum.

You see, my fellow Virginians, if there’s anything we need in the governor’s mansion starting in January 2014, it is self-awareness, someone who looks past the glitz and the glamour and the sizzle. A man who looks beyond the surface, and knows himself, and is honest about his strengths and weaknesses.

McAuliffe summarizes this philosophy well, declaring early in his autobiography, “I have always been oblivious to celebrity,” and it’s clear he kept that attitude throughout his career as he mentions and details his encounters with Paul Simon, Meat Loaf, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Robin Williams, John McEnroe, Donald Trump, Jack Nicholson, Quincy Jones, Will Smith, Sofia Loren, Slash from Guns N’ Roses, Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Wonder, LeAnn Rimes, Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish, the Black-Eyed Peas, Sheryl Crow, Lance Armstrong, Jon Bon Jovi, and Oscar de la Renta, and mentions his stay at Julio Iglesias’s “spectacular oceanfront estate.”

Virginians . . . look upon the life’s work of Terry McAuliffe, and ask yourself, “how could anyone be a better, more qualified, more experienced, more serious or thoughtful choice than this man?”

Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot at NRO.


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