Stop Letting Consultants Siphon Off Millions

A few years back, "West Wing" took on Democratic consultants and didn't hit too far off the mark (my favorite line being a consultant saying, "We're excited about the media buy!" a little under a minute and a half into the clip).

Today The New York Times' Christopher Drew reports on efforts, which seem somewhat though not entirely successful, to rein in the exorbitant fees consultants are charging their Democratic clients.

As a result, the Democratic presidential hopefuls are seeking to impose more controls on the consultants. In doing so, they are moving more into line with their Republican counterparts, who by and large have kept tighter rein on how they handle their media teams, which shape the candidates' messages, produce their television ads and buy the air time.

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.


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.


Over the years, the Democrats have tended to build their advertising teams around a few highly paid stars whose focus is politics, while the Republicans often spread their fees among a broad mix of political consultants and ad executives from Madison Avenue. Democrats have tended to pay slightly higher percentages of their advertising budgets in fees and commissions, but those small differences have often added up to millions of dollars in additional compensation.

In theory it's certainly a good idea for Democratic candidates -- and indeed for the progressive movement as a whole -- to slow spending towards the consultant class, particularly the "few highly paid stars" who take in much too large a share of the normal Democratic donor's dollar. Whether this goal is achieved in practice is another thing entirely, though.

For the life of me I can't figure out why the Obama campaign insists on maintaining the politics of the 1970s in this regard, particularly when it tries to position itself as an agent for change and innovation in politics. Where both the Clinton and Edwards campaigns have switched to flat fees, which have saved the Republicans millions of dollars in relation to the Democrats over the years, the Obama campaign for some reason will not make such a switch. What's more, because the campaign is being run by two consultants running much of the campaign's budget through their consulting firm, there remains the age old question of whether the campaign will be getting all of the bang for its buck or if the firm will just be milking every possible cent of profit. The campaign does say that because the percentage fee will eventually turn into a flat fee guards against this concern. Yet the fact that the campaign is entirely unwilling to be open, either about the percentage take of the firm or where the percentage is converted into a flat fee, leaves at least some questions unanswered.

It's worth noting, too, that the other campaigns aren't perfect, either, with for instance Clinton's consultants expected to make about the same amount as those of John Kerry in 2004 (though a somewhat smaller percentage of the overall haul of the campaign). However, the model for paying Joe Trippi in the Edwards campaign -- he and two associates contracted for $17,500 a month to make ads -- seems on its face to be closer to the type of deal campaigns should be making with their consultants (though, as with everything, the devil's in the details).

Anyway, here's to a New Year's wish that we can figure out a way for campaigns to stop consultants from siphoning off too much money.

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Part II: Mark Penn - Mis-reading the progressive public for profit

This diary continues an argument I began developing here.

The responses to the earlier diary concluded, as I do, that it is not appropriate for Democratic campaigns to associate with known union-busting companies.  It is counterproductive to realizing the progressive agenda.  It directly undermines a - I argue the - key constituency of the Democratic Party.

Obviously the topic of consultants and the progressive agenda has been beaten to death on sites such as this.  My objective are not to replicate tired debates but to take them a step further.

A secondary objective is to make the case the Clinton campaign should distance itself from Mark Penn and they should do it today.  That association enriches and legitimizes a clear enemy of the progressive agenda and the key union constituency.  Mark Penn is no typical `anti-progressive' consultant.  We will all benefit if Mark Penn and the Clinton campaign understand we do not support their association.

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Consulting While Black

Cross posted at Bloggernista and Pam's House Blend.

Its seems that The Politico has discovered that the overwhelming majority of consultants used by the Democratic Party are white. Big shock there. I mean seriously you didn't need a Lois Lane to figure that out.

Matt has a good analysis of the story and the need for not only more consultants of color, but progressive operatives at all levels and of all colors to move the party forward.

I don't want to get away from a simple point here.  I mean, it's pretty obvious that party elites should hire more black and Hispanic consultants.  I just think there's an added element of how the party structure needs to change to make sure that the new consulting class is both multi-racial and progressive.  Both are critical.  This is as true for the blogosphere as it is for the consulting world, though the constraints on the blogosphere are somewhat different and in all likelihood will correct itself over time as new power-savvy characters emerge to wield power online.  There's a long-standing debate in disempowered communities about a tangentially related dilemma going back centuries, the talented tenth and all that.

Its not like its all that hard to find smart aggressive operatives of color in D.C. I mean stand on any street corner, give a shout out and you will be trampled by people wanting to help move the party forward. And moving the party forward is something that I think is key to any sustained Democratic electoral success. Its not about just adding a little colored wine to the existing wineskin. We need to be thinking seriously about what's next in reclaiming the American liberal tradition and remixing it for the 21st century.

With the Republican presidential candidates coming off as ten angry white men, with each trying hard to out neanderthal the guy to his right, we have an opportunity to recapture the White House and expand our congressional majorities. That's not something that's preordained by the electoral gods either. Its something that we will have to work hard and smart to attain.

A important part of that work includes strengthening the party at the grassroots and consultant levels by building strong multi-racial and progressive leadership. It means developing and pushing forward a strong liberal vision for the country and not backing down in the face of the Republican attack machine that we saw in all its hysterical nuttiness here and here in the fight to pass the federal hate crimes bill in the House.

As for where the Republican Party fits into this conversation, they don't. Sure, it was wrong of The Politico not to include them as part of this story because it gives the impression that its Democrats who have a race problem and fits into the conservative meme of Democrats being a party of "special interests." But, the GOP has virtually nothing to offer communities of color whether of the consultant class or not. They only see our color when we can be used as political punching bags to help them gain and maintain power.

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How Nancy Boyda Won: Shutting Out the Dem Consultants

Campaigns and Electionshas an online issue this month about the successes and failures of various 2006 campaigns.  While it's somewhat marred by letting GOP/Lieberman partisans write some of the articles, the piece on Nancy Boyda's campaign is pretty good.  Click on the link, then click forward to page 58.  In a nutshell, she didn't let the party tell her what stands to take, or how to get her message across, and she won as a Democrat in Kansas.  You knew that already, but the story adds a lot of depth and detail.

In 2004, Boyda let the DCCC tell her how to run a campaign, and lost by 15%.  In 2006, they ignored the DCCC and its consultants, and ran a ground-up campaign that started with yard signs and billboards, advanced to 12- and 16-page inserts in a whole bunch of local papers across the district (cost for district-wide coverage for each insert: $25,000), and finally, locally-produced, non-cookie-cutter TV ads.  In one such ad, a cat walks across the table in front of Boyda.  Not exactly your scripted ad (try to script a cat!), but the different feel of her ads helped get people to notice them.

And Boyda addressed the issues aggressively, in particular taking a strong position against the Iraq war. As she said during the campaign, "the American people have to understand there aren't any good solutions.  When you drive over a cliff, your options are very limited." It's hardly what a Rahm Emmanuel-picked candidate would have said, and that's probably why it worked.

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Consultant class bozos and the FOX "debate"

It's people like Rich Masters who lose elections for Democrats.

Hosting, as he frequently has in the past, "The Bill Press Show", Masters, billed as a Democratic consultant, chose to weigh in - and take calls - on the recent decision by the Nevada Democratic Party to pull out of an announced debate that was to be co-hosted by FOX News. This sensible move, brought about in large measure by the progressive netroots, signals the willingness by the party and its candidates to discuss openly the fact that FOX News is the house organ of the Republican Party and the readiness to challenge the legitimacy of FOX as a news operation. Right-wingers of every pay grade criticized the decision, as did FOX itself in a statement that says more about its obvious partisanship than it does the challenge its "fair and balanced" brand now faces. And this challenge, make no mistake, has the potential to marginalize the network to fringe status, something that, if you're FOX, just can't happen. And one of the only things preventing this from occurring is the cover some mealy-mouthed "Democrats" have been giving FOX. People like Masters.

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