Iowa Republicans wince at Palin fee
A conservative Iowa group’s effort to lure Sarah Palin to its banquet next month has had an unintended effect: Rather than exciting conservatives about the prospect of a visit from the former Alaska governor, the group’s plan to raise a six-figure sum to bring her to the state has GOP activists recoiling at the thought of paying to land a politician's speaking appearance.
The Iowa Family Policy Center’s effort to cobble together $100,000 for Palin would represent a striking departure from customary practice in the first-in-the-nation state, these Republicans say, noting that a generation of White House hopefuls has paid their own way to boost their party and presidential ambitions.
Were Palin to appear in Iowa on November 21st, it would mark her first trip back to the state since she spoke to a handful of rallies there last fall as the GOP’s vice-presidential nominee. She would offer powerful counter-programming to another major political event that night: The Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner with Vice-President Joe Biden as the headliner.
But representatives from other Iowa-based political advocacy groups said they would never consider shelling out money for what many politicians see as a privilege: the opportunity to speak to a room full of sure-fire caucus-goers who often serve as precinct captains and can be instrumental to a presidential candidate’s success.
“If somebody tells me they want me to pay an appearance fee, it tells me they’re not very serious about running for president,” said Ed Failor, Jr., president of Iowans for Tax Relief and an influential GOP insider.
“I found it really, really odd,” Failor said.
He noted that his group had not and never would pay for a politician to speak—pointing out the obvious in-kind contribution any potential presidential hopeful receives by appearing in the state that kicks off the presidential nominating process.
“They come and show up here because they want to be relevant in Iowa,” he said.
Steve Scheffler, the president of the Iowa Christian Alliance and a longtime GOP activist, said his organization would also never ante up.
“We certainly wouldn’t do it, even if we had the money,” Scheffler said, adding that he wanted to keep his group “impartial” in the caucus process and that paying money to one prospective candidate could raise questions about such neutrality.
Tim Albrecht, spokesman for the conservative, Iowa-based American Future Fund, said his group “has a policy not to pay speakers to come to Iowa,” and, like Failor, hinted at what those guests get in return.
“We are proud to host conservative leaders from across the country, providing them an audience across the state and nation to share their conservative vision,” Albrecht said.
Like the other Iowa political hands, he could not recall a single instance where a potential candidate had been paid to speak.
At the request of the Iowa Family Policy Center, Team Sarah, a national pro-Palin organization not formally connected to the former governor, has begun raising money among its members in an effort to collect the $100,000.
Reached on his cell phone, Iowa Family Policy Center president Chuck Hurley said he had been expecting another call from the “202” area code and declined to answer questions, saying alternately that he was signing checks and in a meeting.
He passed his phone to Bryan English, a spokesman for the group, who initially said their effort to raise money was only to secure a venue, pay for lighting and promote the event.
But then he said he was “not personally aware of a speaker’s fee.”
“There may or may not be, I don’t know,” English said.
And he added: “Any details of arrangements between our speakers and our organization are between our speakers and our organization.”
But, money or not, it seems unlikely that Palin will appear for the event.
“This is one of more than a thousand requests for the governor's time,” said Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton. “This particular invitation arrived late last week. It is under consideration, as so many are, but will be incredibly difficult to attend with her tightly-scheduled book tour underway at that point.”
Palin’s book, “Going Rogue,” is to be released on November 17th, followed by a national book tour.
There is no indication that the former governor has requested a fee or that her decision whether to attend is being influenced by whether she’ll be paid.
Plainly, though, Hurley’s organization is trying to do all it can to get Palin to the banquet. In addition to working with the Team Sarah group to raise cash, the group issued a statement Tuesday promising an event “on a much larger scale” and touted their communications with the former governor “through both official and informal channels.”
Privately, Iowa Republicans are cringing at, not only the idea of pay-to-play, but also what they view as an amateurish effort to sell tickets for the dinner by floating Palin's name.
But English dismissed a question about the group’s tactics to secure a Palin visit.
“I don’t think anything about this process has to be part of a political tradition,” English said, observing that their only goal was to have a successful event.
Palin, it seems, is breaking the mold again.
Longtime Iowa strategists say the attempt to publicly dangle money before her is yet another reminder of Palin’s sui generis status on the political scene.
“She is a phenomenon,” said David Kochel, an Iowa GOP consultant, recalling the thousands Palin drew in her appearances in the state for the party ticket last fall.
“If she can draw a big enough crowd, it would put a spotlight on the organization,” Kochel added, noting that they could recoup the speaker’s fee if, as is being considered, they drew Palin and had the event at Des Moines’s Wells Fargo Arena. “They want to trade on her star power.”
Gordon Fischer, a former Iowa Democratic Party chairman and Des Moines lawyer, called the gambit “incredibly unusual.”
“It shows the incredible star power of Gov. Palin, at least in certain circles,” Fischer said.
The effort also underlines how Palin straddles the line between politician and political personality.
Failor, the anti-tax advocate, said the only other examples he could recall when a group paid for a political speech were with big-name talk show hosts such as Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.
But for Iowa political activists accustomed to high-profile politicians of both parties—Clintons, Kennedys and Bushs—descending on their state and spending hours in their homes, schools and churches, the idea of paying for the attention some see as their birthright is anathema.
“If it comes to pass, it's not a precedent Iowans will like,” said Ann Trimble-Ray, Chairwoman of the Sac County GOP. “We are spoiled -- and used to being paid attention to.”