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Trippi Says His Work for Dean Cost Him Money

Times Staff Writer

Joe Trippi, former campaign manager for presidential candidate Howard Dean, gave a spirited defense of his work for the foundering candidate Monday, saying that he lost money by devoting himself to Dean and that he planned to organize a broader political movement.

Responding to a Times report Sunday that his consulting firm was paid $7.2 million for services to the campaign in 2003, Trippi said the article unfairly left the impression that he had gotten rich from his effort.

Most of the money paid to Trippi, McMahon and Squier, a Virginia-based media and consulting firm, was used to buy airtime for Dean.

During a speech to about 200 people at a San Diego conference on political technology, Trippi was asked about his financial arrangement with the campaign. As Dean’s campaign manager, he was paid based on commissions for advertising buys, rather than a salary.

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Trippi, who left the campaign in January, said he had deliberately refrained from learning how much he and his partners had kept in commissions from the ad purchases.

After being questioned by a reporter on the matter Friday, Trippi said he contacted his colleagues and learned that they had charged the Dean campaign a 7% commission -- which the firm said is less than half the typical 15% commission.

Trippi said his one-third share amounted to $165,000.

The campaign has also reported to federal regulators that it paid Trippi’s firm $312,000 for political consulting, according to tabulations by PoliticalMoneyLine, which tracks campaign spending.

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Trippi’s comments about his finances came in answer to a moderator’s question.

He said he had waived any direct salary from the campaign, didn’t control its advertising purchases and lost all his regular political and corporate clients when he joined the Dean campaign full time.

“I’ve never done a damn thing in politics for money,” Trippi said in an interview after his speech.

Widely recognized in Internet circles as the visionary behind Dean’s innovative use of technology, Trippi said there were few things he would have done differently. He said he believed Dean -- now winless after 12 contests in the Democratic primaries -- has come to the brink of elimination mainly because of attacks by his rivals and media scrutiny.

“It wasn’t a dot-com crash. It was a dot-com miracle getting shot down,” he said.

Asked by audience members what he had done wrong during the campaign, Trippi said one regret was spending $1 million on advertising in many states very early, before retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark entered the race.

“If I could take that one back, I would do it in a second,” he said.

Trippi, a technology veteran as well as a longtime political operative, mostly recounted his success in taking Dean from an unknown former governor from a small state to a position atop the national polls until just before the Iowa caucuses. There, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry scored a victory that led to Dean’s slide from front-runner status -- and Trippi’s replacement as campaign manager.

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Under Trippi’s leadership, Dean embraced new technologies, allowing supporters to offer input on campaign strategy and communicate with each other through the Web. Dean also raised $41 million, much of it online and in small donations.

Trippi said mechanical glitches -- such as weeding out fake Web messages from people pretending to be campaign officials -- would be fixed as future campaigns improved the technology. The Dean campaign was just the first stop in an inevitable process of change, he said.

And Trippi intends to be part of whatever comes next. “I’m not going to sit on the sidelines,” he said.

He said he had registered a now-dormant Internet Web site, ChangeForAmerica.com, and was trying to decide what to do with it.

Trippi said he was convinced that the Web would play a major role in harnessing support for the eventual Democratic nominee, but that such an effort might not prove a unifying and lasting force.

“The real moment of truth will come if that guy winds up losing. Is there a way to do it without a personality at the top?” Trippi asked. “That’s why I’m here. This is our responsibility.”

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Times staff writer Lisa Getter contributed to this report.

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