Transcription – Chris LaCivita Interview

Q: The Republican convention, you all make a huge buy during that convention. Am I right?

LACIVITA: It was over a million dollars, and I know we put half a million of it on Fox News nationally. So we bought network.

Q: Why wouldn’t that be a time to let the Republican Party, the Bush campaign, tell its own story? Why isn’t that a week that instead of buying heavily, you stepped back?

LACIVITA: We actually thought long and hard about that. We didn’t want to do anything to step all over, you know, what the president wanted to push at the convention. But Admiral Hoffmann made it perfectly clear to all of us that [01:09:00] this had nothing to do with George Bush. I mean, Admiral Hoffmann was the boss, at the end of the day. And they still called him admiral. And we kind of — we would always chuckle at, you know, the four foot eight admiral, but everyone was scared to death of him. I mean, he has a commanding presence, and still did in 2004. And every single one of those men respected him and paid him his deference, and the respect that the rank commanded, even in retirement 30 years later. So, he wanted — he had to keep it going. The other thing is, we had to keep it going in order to keep the news from being stale. And then at that point in time, we were receiving such an overwhelming response from people, we couldn’t keep up with the donations, and [01:10:00] every time we filed a new TV ad, we had to file a list of donors that paid for that TV ad. Well when you’re getting, you know, 40, 50,000 donations a day, and we had two people whose responsibility it was to input this stuff. It was starting to hold up our ad buys. And the one thing I can’t stand are when bureaucrats, whether they be political ones or gubernatorial ones — I mean, or governmental ones, that are standing in the way of progress. And I’m like, I can’t have an accountant tell me I have to delay my ad buy a week because they can’t enter in — so we literally, you know, brought on 20 or 30 people in a low level grade, just to come in and start inputting, so we could stay. But that’s when we became this political operation, so we had to start functioning like one, and doing all those things that are required. But —

Q: You started out with seed money from Bob Perry and —

LACIVITA: And Boone.

Q: — Boone Pickens, OK, and some from John O’Neill, you said.

LACIVITA: [01:11:00] John and Bill initially gave us like $50,000 to start off, and then we also had some from — oh, gosh. Another Texas donor, he just passed away. Used to own Rite Aid. Harold Simmons.

Q: How much did you end up raising and spending?

LACIVITA: Oh, $25 million, from August to November.

Q: And how many ads, how many different ads did you run?

LACIVITA: I want to say seven or eight, somewhere in that — may have even been more, because we did the first ad, then we did the ad with Kerry, and then we did the ad with Kerry throwing away his medals. No, it was my ribbons, no it was my medals, we usually — we used footage of him giving an interview on ABC, Good Morning America, where he was talking about how he was throwing his ribbons away. And then [01:12:00] — but then we had footage of him on The Dick Cavett Show in ’72 when he was talking about how he threw away his medals. And so ribbons, medals, we were basically running footage of ’72 to 2004 back and forth on the TV ad. It was kind of humorous. But then we did an ad with — we joined with the POWs, the POWs wanted to make — we clearly, at that point in time, had created – we knew that there was going to be a point when we had to make the move to what Kerry said, and how that impacted the POWs. And so, we — you know —

Q: In Vietnam?

LACIVITA: In Vietnam. And so we brought in the POW wives, and did a — ran a TV commercial in Ohio and Pennsylvania where it was, you know, Paul Galanti’s wife, and the wives of some well-known POWs, and we just said, well what did John Kerry say, how did that impact you when you were here [01:13:00] at home, when your husband’s rotting in a POW camp in Hanoi? So we ran the TV ads on that.

Q: What do you do when probably the most famous POW in America, and a Republican, John McCain, says I don’t like what the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are doing to my respected colleague, John Kerry?

LACIVITA: We anticipated that. It was funny, Rick Reed, Rick Reed’s business partner is — was the late Greg Stevens. Greg is actually with Roger Ailes, they’re the ones that did the old Dukakis ad, the tank ad. Greg at the time was John McCain’s go-to guy. And so Greg knew about these ads before — I mean matter of fact, I called Greg and wanted Greg [01:14:00] to do them with Rick, and Greg said he couldn’t because of his relationship with Senator McCain. But we approached Greg because we wanted to make sure that he would help us when the time came with John McCain. We knew John McCain would not like it. But John McCain’s a politician. The guys we had on our TV ads were not, and are not. And we had to make that —

Q: And McCain campaigned pretty actively for Bush in ’04. So, that complicated things. I read somewhere that in your ad buys, once you had the money to really buy ads in volume, you aimed at the 35-plus age group. Why?

LACIVITA: When [01:15:00] — 35-plus demographic is the most expensive, and it’s what everybody watches, and it’s what every political campaign buys. They buy 35plus.

Q: So there’s nothing distinctive about it?

LACIVITA: Nothing.

Q: Now you said earlier that 527s can’t coordinate — can’t even talk with the campaign people. But as I understand it, 527s can talk with each other. I know the Democrats did that a lot —
LACIVITA: Oh yeah, they coordinated, and they can.

Q: And I noticed that in 2003, you’d been the president of Progress for America.

LACIVITA: Right.

Q: And that Brian McCabe took your place. Progress for America, of course, in ’04, ran that other —

LACIVITA: Ashley ad.

Q: — very famous ad, the Ashley ad.

LACIVITA: Right.

Q: Young girl whose mother had died on 9/11 and said on — in the ad, [01:16:00] you know, I’m so glad President Bush was here to protect me, or words to that effect. That was a very effective ad.

LACIVITA: He just walked up to her, somebody had — she was in a line somebody said, “Mr. President, she lost her mother.” And the president just walked up to her and put his arms around her and just, you know, said a few words. And it was a very, very powerful ad done by Larry McCarthy. But — and Progress for America, yeah, they paid for it. But we worked very closely with PFA.