After AU: Alumna Anne Caprara, head of Priorities USA Action
Caprara talks about what it takes to make it in the world of political campaigns and why she’s backing Hillary Clinton
Anne Caprara graduated in 2001. In the past she has worked for EMILY’s List, which fundraises for pro-choice Democratic female candidates, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which financially supports the campaigns of Democrats in the Senate. Caprara is currently Executive Director at Priorities USA Action, the Super PAC officially supporting Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
How did you first get interested and involved with politics?
In high school I used to watch “The West Wing” and that was the first time I was like “Wow, that sounds like something I really wanna do.” Then I ended up going to American where everyone is into politics all the time. The crazy thing was I started out school there as a Republican and then became a Democrat throughout the course of the 2000 presidential election that was going on at the time, and it clarified for me where I actually was.
I had a lot of experiences that pretty much shaped the way that I looked at politics, everything from what my party registration was to that I ran for president for what was called the Student Confederation at the time. I ran this very sophisticated campaign with a bunch of material and fancy posters and a campaign ad and all this stuff. I lost to the guy who knocked on all of the dorms twice and it was the best lesson that I ever learned in politics, because he just did a better job than I did and went and actually talked to people and wasn’t trying to run a campaign from very high up.
Do you feel as if AU helped prepare you for your career? How so?
Oh yeah. I don’t feel as if I would have this career if I didn’t go to AU. In fact, when I was looking at colleges, I really wanted to go to Princeton, and I didn’t get in, and I thought it was this earth-ending event, like I had completely failed as a student, and I was never going to amount to anything. The truth of the matter is what I learned is that AU is a great school, but with the location and the opportunities, I mean I came out of college with the opportunities and a resume that students at American think is normal but is not normal for students around the country.
I had jobs in college that were, if I think about it now, pretty insane. I was an intern for [former Pennsylvania Democratic Sen.] Arlen Specter, I worked at the Newseum when it was over in Arlington. I would work days there and the events at night, and you would meet all sorts of newsmakers and politicians. One time we had an event where we brought the Supreme Court justices through the Newseum on their own after hours, and I got to help Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Ginsberg do the blue screen, so it was pretty cool.
What is a typical day of work like for you at Priorities USA Action?
I would say there is no typical work day. We spend a lot of time monitoring the news, working with donors, just trying to get a sense of what is happening. Presidential races are very fluid, and I think with politics in general, not just this job, you have to be comfortable with a lot of change and a lot of challenges at different points in time. So that’s what I love about it, that every day there is a new story, a new thing to look at and talk about. I think right now we’re just watching the Republican presidential primary very closely. We’re letting them run the narrative right now because it’s, in general, very good for us with as big as their primary is and as many characters as they have, there’s a lot going on there, so a lot of it is just monitoring that.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
It’s always changing. You know, we don’t live in a world where media narrative lasts for more than 24, 48 hours, so you always have to be taking the temperature of what’s going on and determining “Are we responding to something? Are we being proactive about something, or are we just sitting back and letting something happen?” I think there is a lot of folks who think that more is better, and I tend to think that you have to kind of what makes sense for you to get involved in and what doesn’t, and be very judicious about those things, and also think long and hard about what is the best way to communicate the message that we’re trying to get out, that the campaign is trying to get out, that the party is trying to get out. Those are not easy things to do, and you don’t want to make a mistake.
Can you explain a little bit about why you support Hillary Clinton?
Sure! I think she is a real leader in what are very challenging times. I think her tenure at the State Department and in the Senate show that she’s a hard worker and somebody that goes out and just gets the job done. I believe in the principles that she’s set forward for her campaign. I think that — for example, her student loan policy that she was talking about last week, and working to keep students out of debt and putting together a finance system throughout the country that is fair to people who are trying to get an education — I think those are the kinds of qualities that we’d want in a leader. I think it’s really important that she talks about LGBT rights, that she’s out there supporting a sensible immigration policy, and she can see the human elements behind policy. And particularly for women, I think that it’s a big deal to elect the first female president. I don’t think that’s the only reason that many women are supporting her, but I do think that we do need to elect a woman to the very highest office in the country. We’ve never done it before and it’s well past time.
Are there any challenges to supporting a candidate when you work at a Super PAC?
No. I mean, for us we’re very explicit about what our goal is here, and, as you can see from the way that this system has shaped out, there’s a lot of Super PACs out there supporting different candidates, and we know that the Republicans are going to be spending literally over $1 billion on this race. We will not unilaterally disarm in this system. We prefer that the campaign finance system is not the way it is right now, but we’re not just going to sit back and say, ‘Okay, we concede the election’ because the rules are the way they are.
What advice would you give to an AU student hoping to go into a similar line of work?
Go on a campaign. Don’t go to law school (laughs). I thought I wanted to go to law school after AU, and I ended up not, and it was the best decision I ever made. I think that if you really wanna do what I’m doing, if you really wanna do this type of work, there’s so much of a premium put on working out in the field and actually working on a campaign and seeing what it’s like from the ground up. Democrat or Republican, I think it’s the same on a bipartisan basis. I wish somebody had said to me in college “Leave D.C. and go out and do a campaign somewhere,” because I hesitated for a while, and EMILY’s List afforded me an opportunity I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten, which was basically to live here and move around the country and work on these races. I think you will go very far if you work on a campaign, and you give it your all, be very devoted, understand what your job is.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity