Making Winning Connections


When Steve Roche graduated from Westfield State in 1977 with a degree in criminal justice, he was prepared for a career in law enforcement. But 18 months into an internship as a probation officer, budget cuts sent him back to job searching, which ultimately resulted in his landing a post in the 1980 presidential campaign for Ronald Reagan.

“I’d taken several government courses at Westfield, like Constitutional Law, as part of the criminal justice curriculum, so there was a lot of overlap, and I liked it a lot,” the Waltham native says. “That campaign led to another campaign in 1982, and another one in ’84, and it just kept going.”

He never stopped. Since 1984, his Woburn-based consulting practice has advised political campaigns and non-profits about attracting donors. Operations range from individual fundraising events to organization-wide strategies for donor engagement. His list of political campaign clients reads like a who’s-who of Republican notables: Mitt Romney, John Kasich, John McCain, Charlie Baker, and the Trump/Pence campaign. His non-profit clients include the Mass High Tech Council and the Beacon Hill Institute. He has about 10 active contracts, about two-thirds of them being political campaigns.

Coming from Waltham to study in Westfield “felt out in the woods a little,” but he has fond memories of the small, intimate campus, where he worked in the dining hall. He now donates to a scholarship fund for students,
in appreciation for his time here.

“The school deserves something to be given back,” he says.

FOCUS recently spoke with Steve about his work.

How do you navigate making donor connections in such a contentious field as politics?

A lot of it is about relationships. I have known (now Utah U.S. Senator Mitt) Romney since he ran against Ted Kennedy in 1994. I met Gov. Charlie Baker in 1980, on my first presidential campaign, and Charlie was just out of Harvard. If I like them, and I know them, and I have a personal relationship with them, that comes first. It’s a job, but they’ve asked me to help them.

It’s not a litmus test with me. I may disagree with some of my clients. No one supports a candidate 100 percent. But do I know them? Do I like them? Do I trust them? I like to see them succeed and win.

In addition to political fundraising, you consult for non-profits such as The Jimmy Fund and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. How does that compare?

I’ve worked on eight presidential campaigns, and it has been fun, but a lot of the most satisfactory work has been with nonprofits, frankly.

Most recently, I set up a program for the Vietnam Veterans in Massachusetts, the Vietnam War 50th Commemorative Gift program. There are 120,000 Vietnam veterans living in Massachusetts. There will be a 50th anniversary of the evacuation, and they want to put a memorial book in the hands of all 120,000.

But that was just the beginning. Because some of these guys are probably in their 70s, and some of them aren’t in good health. A lot of them felt really beaten up because of the war. They went off the grid: They say 52% of all veterans don’t self-identify, which means they’d never even admit they were in the war, and they don’t claim the benefits. So, this was not just to give them a coffee-table book, but to get them to register. Governor Baker was highly instrumental in that. I worked with him and his team, and we raised a half-million dollars in one night.

What impact did your time at Westfield State have on your life’s path?

You probably hear this a lot, but it was the contacts and the friends—the personal relationships I made. Those four years are so impactful, because you grow emotionally and academically, and develop solid contacts. To this day, I stay in touch with a great number of my friends. And, of course, studying criminal justice, criminal law, and politics and government. I had very good professors. Those were interesting courses, and they helped form a lot of how I felt going forward politically and ideologically.


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