Control the money, and you control the campaign. Divine Fury. Chapter 15

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Chapter 15

REV. JIMMY BURGESS and Brent Daggart faced each other over a small table in Daggart’s office at Soldiers of Christ Ministry’s Los Angeles offices.  Each held a sheaf of papers.

“So, I’m a little concerned about this part, Brent,” said Burgess.  Leafing through the pages and stopping on one page he’d underlined.

“I think I can punch that up a bit,” he said.  “I think it will read better if I turn the last part into some questions.”

Burgess cleared his throat and invoked his resonant voice and preacher’s cadence:  “Is it better to let the whole body rot?  Or, do we cut out the sick and diseased?  Even a surgeon will remove the cancer so the rest can be saved.’”

Daggart stared across the table at Burgess.  Then, he broke into a wry smile.

“Jim, that’s brilliant,” he said, shaking his head ruefully.  “Much better than how I wrote it.  Puts it more in the moral context.”

“Teamwork,” said Burgess.  “Your stuff is great, as always, but it’s coming out of my mouth.  Got to tweak it sometimes so I can really let it fly.  Okay.  That’s it then.  Let me outta  here so I can run through it a couple more times.”

After Burgess left, Daggart saw that it was time for a scheduled conference call.  First, he called a 30-year-old Capitol Hill aide in Washington D.C. who worked for Congressman George Chapman.  Daggart considered Chapman, voted the third most conservative member of Congress by the American Women’s Caucus, to be a shoo-in as the Republican candidate in California’s governor’s race.

The third member of the conference was known in political circles as “The Terminator”  and, for billing purposes, as Dirk Renstrom.  Only a handful of intimates realized that this, too, was an alias.  The Terminator was a legend among political operatives who specialized in hardball ‘opposition research’ – the dark art of ruining campaigns and lives through unearthing scandal and occasionally manufacturing it.  Most thought he was some sort of private detective based in Las Vegas.

“Okay, gentlemen,” said Daggart.  “I know we’re on this call to talk business and strategy.  So, I shouldn’t need to convince you of anything.  But I want to make sure you understand the context so there is no confusion about where I’m coming from and what the end goal is here.”

Daggart paused for a moment to collect his thoughts.

“Our ministry is devoted to stopping Andrew Harper from becoming governor of California,” he said.  “In our view, there is nothing more dangerous.

“You can say what you want about California crazies,” continued Daggart.  “The reality is that it’s the largest state in population and has even more cultural influence first with Hollywood and television, and now leading the way in high tech.  Just look at the influence it’s had on the environmental movement.

“If Harper becomes governor, the effect will be like a bomb going off in church,” he said.  “It opens a thousand doors to these people.  It can’t happen.  It simply can’t.

“We…and by that I mean Reverend Burgess, myself and Soldiers of Christ Ministry…we will continue using everything at our disposal, to stop Harper and, while we’re at it, the gay rights movement.  Along with some of our biggest donors, we consider this akin to a Holy War.  No effort – or dollars – will  be spared.”

There was silence while Daggart’s words sank in.

“Okay,” he said finally.  “Comments?  Questions?”

“I couldn’t agree with you more,” said the Congressional aide.  “And I think the congressman is in total agreement.  We’ll do…umm…whatever we can to make sure Harper stays in private practice.”

The Terminator grunted his agreement.  He could care less about justifications or motivations.  He just cared about whether Daggart’s check would be as good, and as big, as  promised.  From long experience, he knew that having his money come from the church and not through a campaign with all the attendant record keeping and legal red tape, avoided many potential problems.

The Terminator’s first foray into politics had come right after college when he landed a job as the personal aide to a young presidential contender considered the heir apparent to the Kennedy legacy.  His candidate, charismatic and idealistic, swept the early primaries until rumors of scandal began to plague the campaign.  Late one night over a shared bottle of single-malt Scotch, his candidate broke down and confessed to a stream of adulterous affairs and the trading of votes as a state official in exchange for campaign contributions and jobs for his girlfriends.

In disgust, the Terminator sold the information to an opposing campaign for enough cash to pay for a three-month European vacation.  He returned determined never to be made a fool of again and with the conviction that few men in positions of power can resist the accompanying temptations.  This belief had been proven true over and over again in the subsequent 18 years, giving the Terminator ample opportunities to ruthlessly exploit those weaknesses.

His usual clients were political campaigns.  He’d earned his nickname because of what he usually did to the opposing candidates.  From his experience, the Terminator knew that the person who controls the money controls the campaign.  So, he assumed Daggart would be making the important decisions from here on.  He also knew that part of Daggart’s role was to insulate Chapman’s campaign from any activities that might cross the legal lines.  Chapman would preserve his deniability.  He was fine with that.  It made his life easier.  It freed him up to do what he did best – leave campaigns and reputations in utter ruins.

“Okay,” said the Terminator.  “Let’s do this.”

Chapters of the serial are published Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

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