For Republican guests visiting from out of town, Factor plays cruise director and books a day of activities in the city. “They try to put together a package,” says Steve Moore. “You will have major big-dollar donors in one-on-one meetings. Then a fund-raising lunch where you can raise 50K. Then you might go to the Wall Street Journal editorial board. It’s a day of meeting all of the people you need to meet with in New York.” Representative Sue Myrick of North Carolina did the full package tour last year, starting at the Mercantile Exchange, where she rang the opening bell, and moving on to the Journal, the Post, and the National Review before ending up at the Hyatt ballroom for the meeting. I caught up with Myrick on her cell phone while she was grocery shopping in Charlotte. She raved about her trip to New York, like a tourist who’d just seen all her favorite celebrities strolling down Fifth Avenue. “Mallory was the one who worked on putting the whole thing together,” she said. “It was an educational process—kind of a whole new world.” Best of all: Several members of Factor’s crowd wrote checks for her campaign.
Before I dropped in on a meeting in May, Factor cockily assured me that I would notice a direct cause and effect between things I saw at the Hyatt and subsequent events. “You’ll actually see things happen because of it,” he told me. “You’ll see something happen in Washington, and you’ll say, ‘Ohhh.’ ” The night I was there, in one corner of the drab ballroom, before the speakers started, a donor committed to spend $100,000 on ads defending Tom DeLay. Sure enough, as I watched CNN a few days later, Judy Woodruff breathlessly reported, “The anti-tax group Free Enterprise Fund says it is spending in the six-figure range to launch a new TV ad in support of Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.”
Over the course of numerous conversations in the following weeks, Factor told me that Republicans in both the House and Senate were about to get behind an exotic Social Security plan championed at the Monday Meeting. The plan would fund private accounts with the Social Security surplus, necessitating either deep spending cuts or massive deficit spending, since the surplus is currently used to fund other government programs. “I see something coming out on Social Security very soon,” he told me with the same sort of I-can’t-believe-how-cool-it-is-to-be-in-the-middle-of-all-this enthusiasm as when he read me that Novak column. “We have had conversations with the members of the leadership, and I think you may see legislation in both the House and the Senate coming about.”
In June, Senators Jim DeMint, Lindsey Graham, and Rick Santorum introduced the plan. All three have appeared at the Monday Meeting, and DeMint and Graham are particularly close to Factor. In fact, Graham told me he got the idea from the Monday Meeting. At the same time, the Wall Street Journal editorialized in favor of the plan, and the Free Enterprise Fund, which Factor is now in charge of, generated extra buzz in the press.
All the power centers represented at the meeting worked in perfect unison. Getting the legislation introduced was undoubtedly the group’s greatest postelection victory. There is but one minor glitch—the bill doesn’t have a chance in hell of passing. So the whole process ends up looking like an ideological exercise.
Factor prefers to see it as laying the groundwork for future breakthroughs. He intends to grow his group’s political influence the way he grew his business. He made his own significant fortune (somewhere in the eight-figure range) as a Wall Street flack, running his own lucrative public-relations firm and expanding it over the years into the related arts of special events, investor relations, and financial advising. His career has included a dubious achievement or two; after parting ways with the client Sensormatic, a company that makes shoplifting-prevention equipment, he went directly to work for its chief competitor, telling stories about Sensormatic to associates who then got rich shorting its stock. Through it all, though, Factor learned how information can be spun into cash.
For years, while focusing on business, Factor merely kept a toe in politics. Ronald Reagan appointed him to a committee created to help clean up the savings-and-loan mess, and Factor was once recruited to run for Congress from his old home district in southwestern Connecticut. However, his wife didn’t share his love of politics, and he declined to enter the race. They eventually divorced.
As Republicans took over Washington in the nineties, Factor was a mostly idle observer. According to federal records, he wrote a single check—to a losing Senate candidate—from 1990 through 2000, the period of Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America and George W. Bush’s rise to power. But all that changed when he met his second wife. A self-described “cradle Republican,” Elizabeth Factor was practically bred to be a conservative activist. She went to Andover—“like the president did,” she helpfully explains—and served as editor of a think-tank-funded newspaper at Columbia. After they married in the fall of 2000, Mallory set about transforming himself into a political player. “My wife pushed me to get involved,” he says.