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John DiStaso's Granite Status: New conservative consulting firm plans GOP soul-searching meeting for February

Senior Political Reporter

December 18. 2012 12:36PM

TUESDAY, DEC. 18, UPDATE: LESSONS LEARNED. RightOn Strategies, the consulting firm started up in recent weeks by veteran conservative strategist Mike Biundo of Manchester, is working on an early February meeting of conservative and GOP leaders 'to discuss a plan for 2014/2016 and reflect on the lessons learned from 2012,' Biundo tells us.

He said he is inviting leaders of conservative groups, former and current office holders as well as grassroots and party leaders.

Biundo said he is getting a 'great response' from early calls.

Biundo and his partners, Derek Dufresne and Kory Wood, formerly of outgoing Rep. Frank Guinta's campaign, will give their analysis of 'what we think happened and where to we go from here, as well as give others an open opportunity to voice there I ideas and thoughts.'

Biundo said the meeting will be open, ' so we are not limiting the guest list to only those we think of but we will cap attendance to a manageable level so we can be productive.'

Significantly, the meeting will take place after the NHGOP elects a new chairman on Jan. 26.

(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)

THURSDAY, DEC. 13: FUND-RAISING CHALLENGE. Money-raising is one of the major tasks of a party chairman, so as state Republicans consider two candidates, we take a look at how they have fared in recent years.

The Republicans will surely need a strong fund-raiser if they are going to compete with the Democrats.

This election year, the NHGOP was far out-raised and out-spent by the NHDP. The Democratic National Committee was also more committed to their party here than the RNC was to the state GOP.

The NHGOP, in its Nov. 14 post-election statement of state receipts and expenditures, reported receiving $218,000 and spending $106,000 during the general election campaign.

The Democratic Party reported receiving $3.4 million and spending $3.2 million during the same period for state races.

In its federal report filed on Dec. 6, the Democratic Party reported raising $6.4 million for federal races and activities since the beginning of this year, including $3.2 million from the DNC.

It reported spending $6.25 million on federal races and activities.

The state Republican Party reported raising $2.3 million, including $1.4 million from the RNC and $400,000 from the National Republican Congressional Committee, and spending $2 million for federal races and activities since Jan. 1.

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TROUBLED RECORDS? Both Jennifer Horn and Andrew Hemingway have had their troubles, although both deny it.

When Horn ran for Congress in 2008 and 2010, she financed about half of her campaigns with personal loans totaling more than $250,000.

As the party's nominee in 2008 (losing to Paul Hodes), her post-general election report with the Federal Election Commission showed she raised more than $224,000 from individuals and received contributions totaling $315,000, but that she also loaned her campaign $225,000.

Hodes raised more than $2 million that year.

In 2010, when Horn lost to Charlie Bass in a primary, she raised $228,000, and $28,000 of it was via another loan.

Bass raised more than $800,000 during the primary.

The Horn campaign committee still exists. In its most recent FEC report, for the third quarter of this year, it lists loans from Horn totaling $214,000.

Horn says that doesn't mean she was a weak fund-raiser.

"Between my two campaigns," she said, "I raised hundreds of thousands of dollars separate from the loans," she said, "and I did that on my own, without a finance committee, one phone call at a time, which is how most successful fund-raising in-state takes place.

"When it comes to fund-raising for the party, we need a chairman who understands how to implement a broad range of fund-raising strategies, who can do the one-on-one fund-raising, the regional fund-raising, and online fund-raising. And to do that we're going to need a broad spectrum of committed Republicans engaged in the finance committee," Horn said.

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ANDREW'S "4RG" PAC. Hemingway says he and his firm, Digital Acumen, have raised "millions of dollars for conservative candidates all across the country."

That may be, but his most recent venture in New Hampshire doesn't exactly show evidence of fund-raising prowess.

Hemingway earlier this year formed the 4RG (It stands for "For a Republican Governor" and shouldn't be confused with RG3 of football fame) PAC. It ostensibly is to do what the name suggests - help elect a Republican governor.

But the PAC raised only $11,402 through Aug. 22, according to two finance reports filed with the Secretary of State's Office. The itemized receipts listed add up to only $7,200.

According to the August report, the PAC spent $9,307, but the itemized expenditures add up to only $5,300.

There were no 4RG reports filed by the next five required deadlines, Sept. 5 and 19, Oct. 17 and 31, and Nov. 14.

Hemingway told us he thought all the filings had been made. He said he would check into it.

As for the sparse fund-raising, he said the 4RG PAC "was never meant to be a massive fund-raising vehicle."

He said it "worked very closely" with the Republican Governors Association, and "from the very beginning, it was to be a field operation, gathering data, going to meetings and taking videos - the behind-the-scenes field work of a PAC or a campaign.

"We feel that we did that very successfully," he said.

A 4RG video that showed candidate Maggie Hassan jokingly condoning physical violence against Republicans received more than 100,000 views, Hemingway said.

"The RGA had their own state PAC and raised and spent a significant amount of money," Hemingway said.

Mention of Hemingway's PAC in an October Politico story about alleged "scam PACs" is being circulated again now that he's running for chairman.

These PACs, the story said, used outgoing conservative Republican U.S. Rep. Adam West of Florida to raise money for themselves.

The story reported that 4RG in October sent an e-mail soliciting funds for West. Hemingway acknowledged that the e-mail was sent but, according to the story, said he had done so as part of an "arrangement to give the funds to another conservative third-party group named Western Representation PAC."

"They have an Allen West defense fund and stuff like that," Hemingway was quoted as saying.

But Politico reported that Western Representation PAC's strategist, Dustin Stockton, said there was no such agreement.

Stockton said his group had previously used 4RG's list for a West solicitation.

Hemingway said Western Rep PAC made $30,000 in independent expenditures for West (who lost his reelection bid, by the way) and gave a $10,000 direct donation.

He said Western Rep simply rented 4RG's list and the money raised "never touched 4RG at all."

Hemingway said that when he left New Hampshire after directing Newt Gingrich's state campaign, he "led Newt's digital funding operation out of Washington."

He said he was one of three people in charge of digital fund-raising.

"We raised more than $2 million, all online, in a very short amount of time. The New Hampshire GOP is missing opportunities to raise money online and in person," he said.

"There has to be a change in philosophy of how we fund-raise. We have to recognize that people need to make that emotional time investment before they are going to make a financial investment."

And, he said, "donors have to get something in return, whether it's election victories or a well-organized, efficiently run operation getting the Republican message out. People haven't been getting that and have pulled away," he said.

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NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR. The conservative issues advocacy group Cornerstone Policy Research and its affiliated Cornerstone Action announced this week that Ashley Pratte, a former staffer for outgoing U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta, has been hired as executive director beginning in January.

She will replace Shannon McGinley, who was the acting executive director.

Pratte is a Manchester native and graduate of Saint Anselm College.

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TAX THE RICH. Most of you want higher taxes for the rich.

At least that is what a poll this week by New England College found.

Surveying 658 registered voters, the poll found 66 percent support raising taxes on families with incomes of more than $250,000 a year, while 28 percent were opposed.

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REACHING OUT. The bipartisan group Fix the Debt, co-chaired by Judd Gregg, has picked up New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for its board just a week after Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined.

Bloomberg has connections in New Hampshire through his support for the pro-gay marriage Standing Up for New Hampshire Families group.

The group is currently reaching out to Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte urging them to remain engaged in the debate on the fiscal cliff issue.

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NO GO FOR COUNTY INCOME TAX. Veteran Rep. Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, a longtime supporter of a state income tax, isn't thrilled about the bill we reported on Wednesday to allow counties to establish their own income taxes.

"No income tax will pass this term, or ever, until the citizens of the state decide that they need one," Almy said.

She said a county income tax "would require the state to produce a system and oversight that would allow the income tax to take place, and that would cost almost as much as a statewide income tax would cost.''

Republican state Chairman Wayne MacDonald called the bill, sponsored by Keene Democratic Rep. Delmar Burridge, "absurd."

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John DiStaso is senior political reporter of the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He can be reached at Twitter: @jdistaso.

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