After helping plan a series of events for George Bush and Steve Chabot, Jenna Bush and John McCain, there may be a perception that H&RS Event Planning and Consulting is the go-to firm for Republicans who want to raise six or seven figures in Cincinnati.

But the three partners behind the company — Lindsay Reynolds, Jayne Heekin and Andrea Schmidt — insist that when it comes to event planning, they’re Switzerland:neutral, non-partisan, willing to send an invoice to anyone, even a Democrat.

“We actually had a call that said, ‘Would you cross the bridge?’ and at first I thought they meant would you do an event in Kentucky,” recalls Heekin, who says she quickly determined that the caller really wanted to know if H&RS would work for someone who’s not a card-carrying Republican.

“I would be silly to say that I’m not associated with the Republican side,” admits Reynolds, a daughter-in-law of Mercer Reynolds, who worked as the finance chair for George W. Bush and is now one of the finance co-chairs for John McCain. “I think everybody knows that (about the family’s links to the Republicans), but we’re willing to do anything.”

“We do it all — weddings to corporate events to birthdays to political fundraisers,” explains Schmidt.

From the Classroom to the First Lady

The genesis of H&RS dates back about five years, when Lindsay Reynolds was on summer break from her job as a third grade teacher at St. Vivian’s in Finneytown. Her in-laws asked if she would help plan a little get together at their house.

First lady Laura Bush had decided that her first fundraising event outside of the D.C. beltway for the campaign to re-elect her husband would be held in the Republican bastion of Cincinnati, which just happened to be inside of a state that had emerged as a critical battleground in W’s bid to avoid a “one-term” designation.

Lindsay Reynolds’ assignments weren’t too complicated. Decide on a menu. Rent a tent.

She had plenty of help. Like the president, his wife doesn’t travel light. Days before her plane touches down, before memorizing a couple of spontaneous references to Skyline Chili or Montgomery Inn ribs, her advance group — typically a five-person “drop team” — has checked out every square inch of her destination and the route to it.

The fundraiser at the Reynolds’ home in Indian Hill went smoothly. Laura Bush exited from Cincinnati with her purse, figuratively speaking, $1 million heavier.

“I did the fundraiser in Cincinnati, and the next thing I knew I was being sent by the campaign to Akron, Ohio, and then Detroit and Knoxville,” Reynolds recalls. “It kind of kept snowballing, and they started to schedule me into October and November, when I was supposed to go back to teaching.” She then decided to take a leave of absence from St. Vivian’s.

After Bush won re-election, the work done for the Bush-Cheney campaign led to a position in Washington, where Reynolds worked as the associate director of the White House Visitors’ Office. But in the fall of 2006, after too many months of commuting back to Cincinnati every weekend, Reynolds resigned and began tossing around ideas with Heekin and Schmidt.

Heekin has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from St. Louis University. She was developing web applications for GE when H&RS was created, and she initially joined part-time. But after six months, she decided to make a full-time commitment. “The company (H&RS) took off quickly and I wanted to do something different — something that was my own. I took a risk,” she says.

Andrea Schmidt still works full-time, appropriately enough, as an event coordinator for GE in Mason. Before that, she was a third grade teacher in the Forest Hills school district.

The common thread that first linked the three was woven by their three husbands, lifelong friends who first met when they entered kindergarten at the exclusive Summit Country Day School.

Lindsay Reynolds’ husband, James Mercer Reynolds, handles property management for the company that oversees Mercer Plantation in Georgia. Kelly Heekin, part of the family that had owned the Heekin Can Co. in Cincinnati, is in the process of selling one business so that he can launch another company early next year. Ben Schmidt is an account executive with the The Enquirer.

As the women first talked about getting into event and party planning, they weren’t thinking of full-fledged new careers. “At the beginning, it was to fill time. It would be a side job. It was, ‘What would you guys like to do? Maybe we’ll just do a flyer at Kinko’s?’” Reynolds recalls.

But H&RS didn’t need a flyer from Kinko’s.

In the fall of 2006, father-in-law Mercer Reynolds hired the women to do the planning for a grand opening for about 180 people at one of his investments, Creek Club at Mercer Plantation, one of five golf courses in a 10,000-acre lake/golf community in Greensboro, Ga.

A Modest Affair

The first event H&RS handled that had political overtones was in June 2007, a fundraiser for Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, where the guests of honor were to be two former presidents: Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. The event attracted some 1,200 guests and raised about $1.1 million for the center.

Lindsay Reynolds acknowledges that family connections have helped H&RS gain a foothold in Cincinnati, where there are scores of companies in the event planning business. “But I’d like to think that if you’re not good, people won’t hire you. And I think we’ve had good word of mouth,” she says.

H&RS was behind the scenes last year when President Bush and U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot raised $575,000 for Chabot’s campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee at the Hyde Park home of Reds’ owner Bob Castellini and his wife, Susie. A month later, the women organized a book-signing event in Indian Hill for presidential daughter, Jenna Bush.

The enterprise (often referred to as “HERS”) kept busy this year by handling intricate planning for the Cincinnati Flower Show, one of the city’s signature events, and a couple of major fundraisers for — surprise, surprise — Republicans.

The H&RS team was on hand in June when John McCain raised $2 million at a little reception for 300 at the Indian Hill home of Carl Lindner III and wife, Martha. More recently, the women were scrambling to plan a mid-September luncheon visit by the country’s most prominent “hockey mom,” vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Secret Calculations

Planning anything involving a president, a presidential candidate or a member of their families can be awfully complicated, the women observe.

Heekin recalls consulting with engineers at the Castellini home to determine whether a stone bridge that led back to the house would support a fire truck in the event of an emergency. (Mrs. Castellini assured everyone the span is up to that task.)

“They had people in the trees, and there were dogs sniffing everywhere,” Schmidt recalls of the heightened security surrounding the Bush/Chabot event.

“If the president is attending, they send out an advance team and you get a lot of help in that way,” Reynolds notes. “But then again, if you want to move the stage two centimeters to the left, you have to have a full sit-down meeting with 20 agents.”

The three women of H&RS share something else: the same age (29) and the status of being expectant moms. Appropriately enough, Lindsay Reynolds’ due date is Nov. 4. Election Day.
The Five Titans of Private Fundraisers

Who can host one of those ritzy home parties to raise big bucks for a John McCain or Barack Obama?

Well, technically, just about anyone with the right connections. In Greater

Cincinnati, five titans stand out as having the money, clout and suitable entertaining space on their residential grounds for presidential-level fundraising:

John Barrett
CEO, Western & Southern
Financial Group
Home: Indian Hill
Big Haul: Bush flew in to Cincinnati in September 2006 to join the Barretts and select guests to help the campaign of U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine. Barrett’s planned September fundraiser for the McCain campaign, featuring running mate Gov. Sarah Palin, was rescheduled to October because of the Hurricane Ike storm damage in the Tristate. Barrett co-chairs the finance committee of McCain’s “Victory Ohio” campaign.

Robert Castellini
Chairman, Castellini Co.
Home: Hyde Park
Big Haul: Bush attended his October 2007 party to raise money for Rep. Steve Chabot.

Stan Chesley
Class-Action Lawyer
Home: Indian Hill

Big Haul: Chesley hosted three private parties for Bill Clinton. In March

2007, he and his wife, U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott (appointed to that post by Clinton in 1995), raised an estimated $400,000 for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Carl H. Lindner Jr.
Chairman, American
Financial Group
Home: Indian Hill

Big Haul: His September 2004 fundraiser gathered an estimated $1.7 million for George W. Bush. His son, Carl Lindner III, hosted the event in his grand Indian Hill home.

Mercer Reynolds III
Business Owner and Investor
Homes: Indian Hill, Georgetown and Greensboro, Ga.
Super Haul: Reynolds is in a class of his own, credited with delivering more than $200 million as the Bush-Cheney campaign’s chief national fundraiser in 2004. Forget your usual garden party. In April 2004, Bush and Cheney attended a three-day “Appreciation Weekend” for supporters at the Reynolds Plantation, his 8,000 acre lakeside resort. That weekend included a private soiree for Bush at the Reynolds’ residence there.

Notice a pattern? In the 2004 presidential campaign, according toMother Jones magazine, people residing in the Indian Hill zip code of 45243 contributed more money to re-elect Bush than any other spot in the country except New York’s diamond-crusted Upper East Side.

What about the Obama campaign? No one has thrown any platinum-ticket home parties for him here, but Michelle Obama’s visit to the Westin Hotel in June drew about 1,000 people and raised a reported $500,000.

There’s no U.S. Secret Service approval process for residences hosting events with presidents, past presidents or presidential candidates, according to Kurt Douglass, agent in charge of the service’s Cincinnati field office. But the feds do implement a site security plan for each occasion. Douglass says that’s a bit easier for homes that have been surveyed before, and so is working with organizers who are experienced with Secret Service procedures and expectations. “We’re going to go back with a fresh look” for each event, he notes. “Threat levels change, layouts change.” Something as simple as new landscaping can be important. “Line of sight is a big deal to us.”