Thursday, December 30, 2004

It's a conspiracy!

Or maybe it's just the usual post-election Democratic Party circular firing squad.

Or just a squabble between contending teams of consultants.

At any rate, Jerome Armstrong seems pretty fired up about the fact that the Kerry/Edwards campaign actually paid media and advertising firms to prepare media and place advertising. He culls some numbers from a sidebar in a Washington Post article that describes some of the advantages the Bush campaign gained over Kerry on the "bang for the buck" level, noting that the Democratic consulting consortium put together to provide services to the DNC and the Presidential campaign included...
* Shrum, Tad Devine and Michael Donilon's firm, which was paid about $5 million.

* James Margolis's firm, Greer Margolis Mitchell Burns and Associates, and Bill Knapp's firm, Squier Knapp Dunn Communications, which divvied up $5 million.

* Democratic media consultants David Axelrod and Steve Murphy, who split about $1 million in fees for DNC independent expenditure ads.
and complaining...
$5 million for Shrum? And so, where/whom did the other $139 million that went to Riverfront go to? It's a racket by the K St and DC Consultant Class. The media consultants get paid fees, up to 15%, based upon the amount of TV ads they are able to place. This encourages them to buy the most expensive time slots, and spend as much as possible on TV ads. We saw it with the Dean campaign, it happened with Kerry's too, and it's going to continue to happen until we demand our own campaign reform in return for our financial funding of the Democratic candidate campaigns.
It's pretty hard to believe that a principle in the Democratic consulting firm Armstrong Zuniga wouldn't know it, but the answers seem pretty obvious. Most of the $139 million went to production and airtime costs. The 15% isn't an add on cost for the campaign, but the standard 'agency commission' that broadcast outlets routinely offer as a discount when agencies purchase time on behalf of clients. It's a way that advertisers, including campaigns, actually save money on professional services. As far as "most expensive time slots," well, there are some stations that are more expensive than others. They're the ones that people watch and listen to. Those stations, however, are required to flatten their rates for federal political advertising, so there's no incentive except potential audience for the consultant. While this stuff may be arcane for the average citizen, it's really Campaign Management 101 material.

Maybe that's why the information about the payment to the Democratic media consultants was a sidebar issue and only a marginal issue in the article itself. Although Armstrong argues that...
On the Republican side, Bush had the advantage over the Kerry, because they took the racketeer equation out of the mix, by having their media team working on TV placement fees:

Maverick consultants McKinnon, Alex Castellanos (National Media Inc.), Stuart Stevens (the Stevens and Schriefer Group) and Madison Avenue executives Bruce Van Dussen and Harold Kaplan agreed to be paid fees instead of a percentage of their ad buys....
...he leaves out the details from the sidebar that report that "Sources estimated Maverick's consultancy fees were as much as $6 million." Let's see, $6 million for Maverick, as opposed to five for Shrum, Devine and Donilin. That, of course, is money straight off the top from the campaign, rather than paid out of the routine discounts offered by broadcasters. Doesn't seem like such a good deal for the R's at all, on reflection.

Maybe even less so when you look at the fees collected by some other GOP consultants...
• Tony Feather, political director of the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign, a principal in the direct mail and voter contact firm, Feather Larson & Synhorst DCI, which was paid $21.3 million.

• Todd Olsen and Heather Shuvalov, who bought Rove's Austin direct-mail firm, forming Olsen & Shuvalov, which was paid $41.3 million.
Atrios jumps aboard the Armstrong Express, writing that...
...I just want to make clear that the issue isn't the total amount that these people are being paid, it's that their pay is linked to a certain kind of expensive campaign advertisng. Think Bob Shrum's worth $5 million? Go ahead and pay him $5 million - just don't link the money to ad buys.
...which, again, misses the point that because of the way the advertising industry is structured, it's actually cheaper for the campaign to allow the consultants to collect their fees from the standard agency discount, and, again, that there's no particular incentive outside of audience reach for the purchase of one time slot over another since political advertising rates are flattened (in general, a candidate spot must be given the lowest rate that the station offers to any advertiser, regardless of frequency or placement).

It also personalizes the payments in a way that's not exactly fair. I know Bob Shrum and his compatriots have become popular bogeyman among the netroots as the DLC's status in that regard continues to wane as the Clinton Presidency becomes more distant, but it wasn't Bob Shrum who was paid the $5 mill, really. It was a firm with two other principles and a staff of researchers, copyrwriters, producers, etc. Several people made very good livings via the campaign, no doubt, but neither Bob Shrum nor anyone else banked $5 million personally.

In fact, while Shrum & Co. are in a for profit business, does anyone really believe that he would have deliberately made a bad ad or chosen a bad placement to make a few more dollars? Questions about the competence of his decisions are certainly fair game, and I have a few myself, but accusation that he would consciously sell out the campaign to boost his billing are as specious in this case as they were when hurled at Joe Trippi earlier in the year. Does anyone out there really think they wanted Dean to win more than Trippi did? Does anyone think they wanted Kerry to win more than Shrum did? Well, then, I want some of what they're smoking.

Taegan Goddard makes note of the same article, but reads it closely enough to discover some of its actual import, which had little to do with consulting fees and much to do with specific areas in which expenditures on behalf of Bush had impact that exceeded their apparent dollar value, such as...
"In a $2.2 billion election, two relatively small expenditures by Bush and his allies stand out for their impact: the $546,000 ad buy by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the Bush campaign's $3.25 million contract with the firm TargetPoint Consulting. The first portrayed Kerry in unrelentingly negative terms, permanently damaging him, while the second produced dramatic innovations in direct mail and voter technology, enabling Bush to identify and target potential voters with pinpoint precision."
There's a lot more in the piece that's worthy of your attention, such as...
A large part of Bush's advantage derived from being an incumbent who did not face a challenger from his party. He also benefited from the experience and continuity of a campaign hierarchy, based on a corporate model, that had essentially stayed intact since Bush's 1998 reelection race for Texas governor.

****

But the 527s, fueled with money from billionaires such as George Soros, proved ineffective in helping Kerry deliver a consistent and timely message in his advertising.

Of all the money spent on television advertising for the Democratic nominee, Kerry's campaign controlled 62 percent, according to spending totals analyzed by The Washington Post. The rest was spent on ads whose content or placement could not be coordinated with the campaign. The Bush campaign controlled 83 percent of the money spent on its behalf, giving it far more control over when and how it advertised.

****

The Democratic media 527s "didn't do what we wanted done," Kerry media adviser Tad Devine said. "We would have run ads about Kerry, we would have had answers to the attacks in kind, saying they were false, disproved by newspapers."

Harold Ickes, who ran the Media Fund, a 527 organization that raised about $59 million in support of Kerry, said the federal election law prohibiting communication with the Kerry campaign created insurmountable obstacles in crafting effective, accurate responses to anti-Kerry ads. Ickes said he regretted not responding to the Swift Boat Veterans' attacks, but at the time he thought they seemed "a matter so personal to Senator Kerry, so much within his knowledge. Who knew what the facts were?"
Ickes couldn't figure out the facts behind the Swift Boat smears? Is there anyone out there except Hillary who still thinks he'd make a good DNC Chair? Sheesh.

Based on the real issues raised in the WaPo article, it's likely that the most valuable contribution to future Democratic campaigns that will come out of the 2004 cycle will be the work that Terry McAuliffe did to update the technology and voter lists at the DNC headquarters, though it was too late to be effective against the Republican machine that went into the election at least a cycle ahead of us in those areas.

It's worth looking at which consultants our candidates employ, and the terms of their employment. Armstrong Zuniga, for instance, is apparently available for hire on a fee for service basis. As for their effectiveness in Presidential campaigns, well, you'll have to check with Governor Dean and General Clark. No actual Presidents or Presidential nominees are available for comment...

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