Progressive D.C. Office Challenge: Lose Weight, or Donate to Mitt Romney

Employees at a progressive D.C. office must get fit, or give cash to the conservative's campaign.

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Close-up of woman's bare feet standing on a weight scale on wooden floor

Akash Jayaprakash had been looking for the motivation to lose weight and get fit when an Internet forum he belonged to, SomethingAwful.com, suggested a way. Pick a specific goal, the forum suggested, and if you don't meet it, punish yourself with something awful. Some forum users chose the punishment of posting embarrassing photos.

Jayaprakash, who works at a progressive tech company called SalsaLabs in D.C., chose the punishment of donating to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

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"I thought, 'What would really turn my stomach?' Something I really disagree with," he says. "My bet is to lose 10 pounds within two months, and also run a 5k in October. If not, I have to donate $250 to Romney."

Jayaprakash is a registered Democrat who follows politics closely and says he has long been unhappy with the Romney campaign. He is also a Mormon who doesn't like when people assume he'll support Romney.

But Jayaprakash says his bet took on a bigger meaning last week after he lost his friend and fellow contributor to the Internet forum, Sean Smith, in the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya.

"It took on a special significance after the whole press conference, when Sean got turned into a political talking point," Jayaprakash says, referencing Romney's presser in which the GOP contender criticized President Barack Obama's response to the consulate attacks.

After Smith's death, Jayaprakash wrote on the forum, where he is chronicling his workouts and weight loss: "Now I have to work extra hard to lose this weight because Romney is using the attack on the embassy as a crass, idiotic talking point."

Soon after Jayaprakash announced he was taking the Romney workout challenge, one of his colleagues at SalsaLabs said she'd join him. Anupama Pillalamarri's goal is do 18 workouts by October 28, or be forced to give $25 to the campaign.

"I really, really don't want to give them money. I think Mitt Romney is a ridiculous candidate who can't relate to a person of normal means at all," she says, saying she was particularly frustrated by the video leaked Monday that shows Romney criticizing the roughly 47 percent of Americans who do not pay federal income taxes.

Pillalamarri's friend Marcia Huff, who is currently unemployed, also joined Jayaprakash's workout plan after seeing the "47 percent" video. During the 2008 election, Huff worked at a D.C. company called Catalist to help process early voting. More recently, she assisted her husband's missionary efforts in Nebraska, where she said she had contact with many people who were unemployed.

"It rubbed me the wrong way when he said that," says Huff of Romney's comments. "He doesn't know why people aren't in a position to pay taxes, or that there are people who are working hard but don't make enough money."

"To support that would be my worst nightmare," she said.

To avoid giving $100 to the Romney campaign, Huff has to work out three times a week until the end of October.

At SalsaLabs, where political conversations are common on and offline, Pillalamarri is now trying to convince one more colleague to do the challenge. That colleague says she hasn't joined in yet because of a fear of failure.

"That's the thing with Mitt-based goals," Pillalamarri told her. "Failure is not an option."

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at eflock@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.