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March 17, 2014 4:40 PM The Consultants’ Money-Go-Round

By Ed Kilgore

If you are a big believer in inertia as a factor in American politics, or are just exceptionally cynical, you will enjoy Kenneth Vogel’s Politico piece today on how the same Republican campaign consultants who were being barbecued by conservative critics after the 2012 cycle seem to be soaking up most of the money in the early days of the 2014 cycle.

Ten of the consulting firms that formed the core of the push to elect Mitt Romney — reaping a combined $1 billion in the process — have survived a tea party assault and are again among the highest-grossing and best-positioned players in Republican politics.
The firms and their consultants have been paid more than $19.6 million for 2014 campaign work through January, according to a POLITICO analysis. They’ve also cemented relationships with some of the GOP’s rising stars, setting up the firms for even bigger paydays headed into the fall, when costly advertising and mail campaigns begin, and for a 2016 presidential campaign expected to be the most expensive in history.

Why is this happening? Well, says Vogel, a lot of it has to do with the increasing share of campaign expenditures that are outside the control of individual campaigns, making it easy for big multi-purpose firms to harvest a big share of outsourced contracts. But a lot of it happens because the organizations (including the party committees) are under the control of people that consultant-haters hate, too. So there is sort of a community of mutual disdain for the non-pros, particularly on the Republican “team.”

To be a bit cynical myself, I’d say the implicit tradeoff in today’s GOP is that the “Establishment” gets the money while the “grassroots” control the message. But Vogel notes that should a “true conservative” wins the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, you could see the money go in new directions, too. That’s all the more reason that the impending 2016 “crisis of the GOP Establishment” over the failure to have their own trusted candidate could hit the consultants where they really live: in the wallet.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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