A Clinton Fundraiser on Trump's Win, Corporate CRM and Campaign Finance Reform

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David Steinberg, founder of Zeta Global.
David Steinberg, founder of Zeta Global. Credit: David Steinberg
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Serial entrepreneur David Steinberg, co-founder of Zeta Global, a CRM data and marketing tech firm valued at over $1 billion last year has been a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton since her 2000 run for U.S. Senate in New York. On the heels of her stunning loss to President-elect Donald Trump, Ad Age chatted with the so-called "HillRaiser," a member of the Hillary for America finance committee, at the massive Web Summit event in Lisbon.

Stressing that Zeta Global didn't do any work with the campaign, and that he was speaking as a private citizen rather than representing the committee, Mr. Steinberg discussed what non-profits and political groups could learn from corporate CRM marketers, and why he believes political fundraising rules need to change.

In 2016, Mr. Steinberg gave $5,400 to the Hillary for America campaign and $25,000 to Hillary Victory Fund, the campaign's joint committee with the Democratic National Committee, according to the Federal Election Committee.

This conversation has been lightly edited.

Advertising Age: Tell me about your fundraising work for the Clinton campaign. Were you mainly fundraising in your industry, within your professional network?

David Steinberg: Most of the fundraising I did was around technology people and other people who really understand what Hillary stood for -- or stands for -- and I think we did a really good job of helping her raise a lot of money and, you know, we're obviously disappointed in the outcome. But, we want to support President Trump -- words I never thought I would say. We want to do the best we can to support him because he's now the president of the United States, or will be in January.

Ad Age: What got you involved in the fundraising?

Mr. Steinberg: Years ago I became very friendly with Terry McAuliffe, who's now the governor of Virginia [and former Democratic National Committee chairman]. Terry's a good friend. He really got me focused on this, how we can help to make the country a better place. You know, I started with Secretary Clinton 17 years ago, helped her raise money when she ran for Senate, then helped her raise money when she ran for president the first time, and was very involved in helping her to raise money.

I don't want to overstate our involvement but we had some fun events and president Clinton came to our home and had some fun with that.

Ad Age: What can the fundraising world -- whether it be advocacy groups, non-profits, whatever -- what can they learn from the corporate world when it comes to how corporate entities do CRM?

Mr. Steinberg: In this case, they can probably do a lot. The difference is there are a lot of very tight laws around how they can raise money versus how corporations can do CRM. For example, with our clients we want our largest clients to grow and grow and grow. With their fundraiser clients you can't do more than $5,400, right?

And you can get into that and there are people who would like to give a million. But if you're not going to set up a PAC and really contribute to one, you're really capped at what I would call low levels versus the corporate world.

To me I think customer relationship management is mission critical in almost any function. So, if you have a donor base you've got to stay in touch with that donor base. I think the Clinton campaign does an exceptional job at that. There are other non-profits that don't. You might have a group that really loves you, but if you're not communicating with them regularly they're not going to be thinking of your causes first as they think about their giving.

Ad Age: You'd like to see the regulations around political fundraising in the U.S. changed. How?

Mr. Steinberg: If it was up to me we would give each of the major party nominees $500 million each -- or any number, that's just an example -- and have no fundraising. I just think it would level the playing field. And by the way this is a case where Donald Trump raised substantially less than Hillary and still won.

In the World Series this year we had Cleveland versus Chicago. The Yankees and the Dodgers stayed home. You have a scenario where you've got systems that can win.

You're going to have instances where the smaller organizations, smaller municipalities, smaller candidates are going to win, but they're going to be fewer and fewer than they used to be and if we don't begin to level the playing field for candidates, you're not going to end up with innovation. And I think what's going to happen, I look for example at the candidates that I'm closest to, and they spend the vast majority of their time trying to raise money, not create policy and get out and try to really think about how to make the country a better place.