Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 26, 2007

THE CONSULTANCY RACKET....A few years ago, in the January 2005 issue of the Monthly, Amy Sullivan helped highlight some of the systemic problems in Democratic circles with consultants. A few years later, the party seems to have learned a few lessons.

The most glaring problem is pretty straightforward. Democratic presidential candidates hire media advisors who wear a few too many hats -- consultants like Bob Shrum and Tad Devine have advised candidates on how to reach voters through media buys, but would also set up the media buys, guaranteeing additional income from commissions, on top of campaign fees. It's one of those conflict-of-interest dynamics that's so obvious, it's hard to understand how and why political leaders ever tolerated it in the first place.

Yesterday, the NYT noted the toll the problem took on John Kerry's 2004 campaign, which ultimately delivered nearly $9 million to five media strategists, described by the Times as "the richest payday for any Democratic media consultants" ever.

It appears that the leading Democratic candidates in this cycle have learned from their predecessors' mistakes.

The three leading Democrats — Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards — are all clamping down. They are following what has become an almost standard practice among Republican presidential nominees by paying their media advisers flat fees, or placing a cap on their payments, rather than making payments based on a percentage of the amount they pay television stations to broadcast their commercials. [...]

Already, the shift in the way consultants are being paid is far-reaching. The old approach allowed the fees to shoot up with increases in advertising in hotly contested races. Critics say it also provided a built-in incentive for the consultants to run more ads — a concern that has led to infighting in many races.

In interviews, aides said Ms. Clinton, of New York, and Mr. Edwards, of North Carolina, had negotiated flat fees with their top consultants. And Mr. Obama, of Illinois, has capped what his consultants can earn, which will convert their more traditional percentage deal into a flat fee once his ad spending passes a certain threshold, his aides say.

"That is a startling change in the way major Democratic presidential candidates operate," said James A. Thurber, a professor at American University in Washington who has studied political consultants.

It's about time. Republican candidates have been running presidential campaigns this way for years; it's absurd that it's taken Dems so long to catch up.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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This seems especially inexplicable seeing as Dems would have been emulating the practices of the party actually winning elections, instead of holding on to the past practices of losing campaigns. How Mr. Shrum et alii continue to make a living is quite beyond my understanding.

Posted by: jhm on December 26, 2007 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK


Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on December 26, 2007 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

How can I get into that business. Those guys are pretty mediocre strategist. And the pay is great.

Posted by: Gandalf on December 26, 2007 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

the obscene amounts of money being shovelled to these useless assholes is disgusting. and if it's not bad enough that they stuff their bank accounts and still lose, shrum gets a choice spot at nyu to instruct the next generation of connected political operatives how to lose while getting rich.

Posted by: linda on December 26, 2007 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

It's about time. Republican candidates have been running presidential campaigns this way for years; it's absurd that it's taken Dems so long to catch up.

That's easy-- the Dems were afraid to confront their consultants. They probably approached them submissively and, in a high, whiney voice, sounding like Tom Daschle or Harry Reid, said "We wouldn't want to tie our consultants' hands during these difficult times."

Posted by: Riesz Fischer on December 26, 2007 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder what consultants sold this idea to the various candidates.

I also wander what they charged for it.

Posted by: Rick B on December 26, 2007 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Thank goodness. Took long enough, but I'm now definitely feeling even better about '08.

Posted by: Greg Sanders on December 26, 2007 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

Did I tell the name of the game, boy. It's called riding the gravy train.

Posted by: Have a Cigar on December 26, 2007 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Owing to the quirks of campaign finance laws, paying consultants is slightly more complicated than people realize.

The quirk is this: Consultants may not write off bad debt owed them by losing campaigns. The law treats that write-off as a political contribution, quite possibly an illegal contribution.

This puts consultants in the position of urging candidates to spend more and more in hopes that a come-from behind victory will mean that they will be paid what they are owed.

And yes, the payday may be bigger because of all the last-minute ads and polls and GOTV efforts.

I wonder how much of what Dems paid for consulting was the consultant agreeing to do work that he might never get paid for unless their guy won?

And are the reported amounts for politcal consulting the actual amount paid or simply the amount the campaigns owe their consultants? (which might never have get paid)

Posted by: Auto on December 26, 2007 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

You mentioned Amy Sullivan just to drive up traffic, right?

Posted by: jerry on December 26, 2007 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Exactly. Nothing gets me posting more than observations about how Democrats need to be more like evangelical Republicans and lousy basketball analysis.

Posted by: Pat on December 26, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

We could go over 1 billion dollars this year just to elect a bunch of dumbasses to office.What is wrong with this picture.

Posted by: john john on December 26, 2007 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

How does Shrum get any print time without it being noted that he is a serial loser of presidential campaigns? If you were going to design a theoretical model of how to run a presidential media campaign wouldn't you just take Shrum's advice and do exactly the opposite?

Posted by: Col Bat Guano on December 26, 2007 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

The trouble is the evil distorting effect of television. Someone needs to create a graph with the Y axis as the quantity of evil with respect to the X axis as time (t) that television has existed. Methinks that the quantity of evil (Q) has increased in an exponential manner since 1964.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 26, 2007 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK
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