Republican Bill Simon’s cash-starved campaign for California governor has asked 34 employees about half of its paid staff members to work for free from now through Nov. 5, The Washington Times has learned.
The campaign has told these mostly midlevel and lower-level employees that they no longer will be paid but will receive double their accumulated salary if they work as volunteers and Mr. Simon wins, a campaign official confided.
“This move is not just all about cost savings,” said the senior official who asked not to be identified. “Some people in the campaign are not doing their jobs.”
James Fisfis, the communications director who had been with Mr. Simon’s campaign from the beginning, and James Camp, the political director, were among those given the option of working for free or leaving. Both left.
The survivors are former staffers from Secretary of State Bill Jones’ losing primary campaign against Mr. Simon. They include Rob Lapsley, who has been running the Jones campaign and who is now the campaign manager.
Mr. Lapsley told other senior officials in a private meeting that was inadvertently transmitted on an open cell phone in the room that the firings were not about saving money for television ads.
“We’re only saving $1.5 million and we can’t buy much TV time with that. We just have to save the money,” a staff member who overheard the conversation told The Times.
Mr. Simon, though at a hotel a short distance from campaign headquarters, did not appear to personally announce the firings or to thank those being let go for their work.
One Simon source said the campaign had 74 paid staff members. Another put the figure at 52. Earlier this summer, some campaign officials said the paid staff numbered more than 100.
“The staff reduction should please the White House, which has been after us to reduce staff,” said the Simon official.
“This isn’t just a Simon-is-out-of-money move, but guys like me are [angry] at the work product and the way it is going,” the official said. “Noticeably gone are some of the geniuses who told Bill Simon to withhold his tax returns.”
Mr. Fisfis, however, said: “Out of respect for Bill Simon’s privacy, only the most senior people on the campaign were allowed to have input as to whether to release his tax returns.”
Among those giving Mr. Simon such advice was Sal Russo, the chief strategist and overall campaign manager, who remains in that role.
A damage-assessment poll for the Simon campaign by the Republican National Committee was delayed after The Times reported last week that it was to be taken at the beginning of this week. A campaign source said the poll has been rescheduled for early next week, with the results to be available to President Bush before he goes to California for the Simon fund-raisers.
The campaign also abruptly has moved a fund-raiser at which Mr. Bush is scheduled to appear to a smaller site.
The campaign said many of the major donors who had been invited to next week’s event complained about the traffic they would have to endure on the Ventura Freeway to get to the Simi Valley ranch of Republican donor David Murdock, chief executive officer of Dole Foods.
The fund-raiser will be held instead at the Regency Club on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles as a breakfast instead of a lunch. Several California Republicans familiar with both sites said they believed the change signaled that organizers had sold fewer tickets than expected.
But a campaign aide, who asked not to be identified, said the event had been sold out and the new site was chosen because it would hold more people.
“That’s nonsense,” a Republican close to both the campaign and the White House said privately.
“We’ve had a fund-raiser at the Murdock ranch before, and it holds thousands,” the source said. “The Regency Club will hold a whole lot fewer people.”
A campaign official said the combined target of the three Bush-Simon events next weekend is about $3 million. Mr. Simon’s campaign has about $5 million on hand compared with about $32 million that the campaign of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis has available.
A campaign official said the staff layoffs are designed to hoard money for major TV advertising buys beginning in September. One day of campaign advertising in the state costs between $1.3 million and $1.5 million about what the staff cuts are expected to save.