Campaign Consultants and Wasted Contributions

Bruce BartlettI think that people overestimate the value of money in politics. I think that there is a threshold effect; that is to say, you need a minimum amount to be competitive. And I think up to a certain point, in any given race, there’s enormous value to each additional dollar that is raised, because it will be spent efficiently in increased votes. But I do think that there is a point at which it levels off and at which point each additional dollar doesn’t really help very much, if at all. I think that there’s also a downward point at which you have too much money, and you actually start alienating potential voters by running too many ads, doing too much stuff that just alienates, irritates them, so you actually end up being worse off…

I think campaign consultants basically know this, but there’s an enormous bias in the system. That results from the fact that basically campaign consultants make their money, by running as many ads as you can possibly raise the money to run. I’m not sure how many contributors really understand how the system operates.

See, what happens is, these consultants, they own the advertising companies that buy the advertising time and so they get a commission of like 15 percent on every dollar of advertising that a campaign buys. The more advertising that they buy, the more money that goes into their pockets. So it’s in their interests to keep buying more and more advertising, long past the point at which diminishing returns have set in. I’m not sure very many contributors understand this; and also I think candidates are just sort of conditioned to believe that more is always better. Advertising is something you can do pretty easily these days. You can cut an ad today and have it on the air tonight. It’s something you can always do right up to the very last minute that you think might help and probably won’t hurt. So there’s always tremendous pressure inside the system to keep doing more and as long as there’s somebody out there willing to write the check, there really isn’t any way of stopping it.

—Bruce Bartlett
Utter Insanity and Stupidity

6 thoughts on “Campaign Consultants and Wasted Contributions

  1. I know you couldn’t finish “In The Loop.” You might check out “Veep,” which is by the same people, about less important stuff, and just as funny. Plus it has Tony Hale.

    Still, I think “In The Loop” may stand out as the strongest movie from our time. I’ve watched it a few times, now. It’s not sarcastic about the war — it’s angry, angry as hell.

    • You must be mistaking me for someone else. I’ve seen In the Loop a couple of times. I love it — especially Tom Hollander. And Peter Capaldi is at his nasty best (and he was such a nice young man Local Hero). It was shocking to see how big James Gandolfini had gotten. Anyway: wonderful film!

      I just requested Veep. I didn’t realize it had been around so long!

  2. I have suspected this for some time. I see the ads, and wonder who they are for. Unless it is mere repetition conditioning, like in Brave New World, who could be convinced who did not already believe? And they are inefficient. During the midterms I only caught any of the ads because we decided to watch Jeopardy for a few nights, and it was on a local channel. Even then, Direct TV doesn’t seem to know what district I am in. Food network, one of our manistays, has none of it. If I were running a campaign I think you can get much better value by setting up a fair in a public park. Get some food trucks out to feed people (paid for by the campaign) , have speeches on simple policy issues, have games. I would want a Jamie Dimon effigy that spits out a couple of bills when you thump it with a baseball bat, and a Joe Arapio effigy to burn. Fire permit, of course. That one would be big with the Hispanic voters in my town.

    • There is no way anyone could burn Dimon in effigy enough times. Great idea! (Of course, we shouldn’t burn the man in real life. Although I wouldn’t mind forcing him to do a minimum-wage job for a decade or two.)

    • That certainly seems to be what happened when Meg Whitman ran against Jerry Brown. I think she would have lost regardless. But the thing was that there were only about 5 commercials, and they were repeated over and over again. By the time Brown started buying ads, it was refreshing. Also, he seemed like a statesman compared to Whitman’s American Idol campaign.

      The fair sounds like a great idea! I’m afraid the Dimon effigy would come too close to paying for votes. My understanding of campaign finance law is that it is not legal for politicians to buy voters, only for “voters” to buy politicians.

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