The all-star team Checchi had hired--Mark Penn, the president's own pollster, and Robert Shrum, the favored wordsmith of the Kennedy family--insisted that the problem with the campaign was not their exhaustively poll-tested television commercials. The problem was the firm placing the ads. Shrum demanded and won the right to control the time-buying himself--and with it, a commission that gave him a stake in every ad that ran and put hundreds of thousands of dollars more into his pocket.
Nearly two years after Checchi's expensive foray into politics, questions about the campaign's failure still give rise to bitter charges and counter charges. Rivalries were so intense among Checchi's advisers that his campaign manager commissioned four secret focus groups to test Shrum and Penn's ads because he did not trust the numbers they were giving him. And yet when the focus groups supported his suspicions about the ads, Darry Sragow, the campaign manager, did not share the results with Checchi.
Fighting over money was a theme from the start. Several key players in the campaign said that months of tough contract negotiations left Shrum and his partners unsatisfied with their pay from Checchi, a Beverly Hills corporate takeover artist worth as much as $550 million. Used to winning clients like President Clinton in 1996, Penn said that although Checchi "paid me a great deal of money," running a losing campaign like his "is never a great economic deal for me. In the end, no losing campaign is."
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