Nicole Sexton made political fundraising look easy when she helped raise $95 million as National Republican Senatorial Committee finance director. It’s her post-NRSC endeavor that seems more like fitting a square peg into a round hole. Sexton has written a novel — not a how-to book, but a novel — about campaign finance.
The book jacket of Party Favors doesn’t feature a beastly man in tight, ragged shorts and work boots but a silhouette of the Republican elephant inside a sun-shaped silver ornament. Not exactly the stuff of tawdry romance, but Sexton’s book does promise to recount juicy stories of “politics and greed.”
Sexton acknowledges that “when you say campaign finance … people glaze over,” but that didn’t stop her from using her 15 years in political fundraising as inspiration for a story that follows protagonist and narrator Temple Sachet’s similar career track and personal life.
Sexton’s book released earlier this month; she signs copies at the Trover Shop Thursday from noon to 1 p.m.
Sexton left her post at the NRSC in October 2005 after three years in the position, and while she was reflecting on the career she walked away from, a plotline emerged.
“I didn’t really start off to write a book,” she says. “It was about cataloguing or keeping together some sort of memory or journal of experiences that had been poignant for me. As I was going through that process, it became apparent to me that I had a story to tell,” Sexton says.
She conquered the first hurdle of writing on a topic that might elicit yawns by adopting a tone that conjures a happy-hour blab session among girlfriends.
“Donors love themselves some houses,” reads one of the opening passages, which describes a fundraiser at a fictitious Senate majority leader’s residence. “They will pay out the a-double-s to see if there’s a hamper with dirty clothes, if the fridge is covered in family pictures.”
Sexton, 38, says the chatty tone fits the main character, Temple, who is based on her and fits the style in which she would relay the story. There’s a point in the novel where she gets stuck in a closet with the president of the United States while he is waiting to get presented at a fundraiser.
“At the core of it, below the layers of [Temple’s] physical comedy and her embarrassing moments and her tragic love life, is a look at a very serious subject. If we’re going to be able to draw people in enough to pay attention, it had to be really light and entertaining,” she says.
Sexton, who now works in government relations for Bono’s ONE campaign, says she sees a great need for reform in political fundraising. She left a year after she hit a nadir, on election night 2004, and hopes her book will open other people’s eyes to her belief.
“I would like for there to be a real shakeup, and I have no delusions that my book is going to do that,” she says, adding: “But maybe there’ll be some conversations around dinner tables.”
Another obstacle was turning Sexton’s real-life memories into a fictitious plot that wouldn’t compromise the people or situations that served as inspiration.
The book opens with a note to readers explaining that the story’s contents to be purely fiction and that any likenesses to real-life events or people are “coincidental.”
This balancing act was the hardest part of writing the book, Sexton says. “It was OK for me to give as much of myself to Temple’s character,” she says, but she didn’t want to expose anyone else to that kind of scrutiny.
Overall, Sexton says, friends, family and former colleagues have received the book warmly, but some have registered complaints with her.
“They worry that the book will have an impact on fundraising and candidates’ ability to raise money, and frankly, that was the whole point,” she says.