Over the years, I’ve tried to emphasize the importance of political consultants to the (mis)fortunes of the Democratic Party. Once a candidate embraces the DNC, DCCC, or DSCC, they often get locked into a set of political consultants they are forced to use:
If you’re thinking of running for Congress, the leadership (either the DCCC for the House or the DSCC for the Senate) vets you. If they don’t like you, they won’t support you, and might even run a primary challenger against you if they are threatened enough. If they do decide to back you, that’s when it gets interesting.
Yes, you get money, both directly from the party as well as access to Democratic donors. But that money comes with strings: it often must be spent on party-backed campaign advisors and consultants, who have a playbook of political strategems. That said consultants suck at their jobs is painfully obvious, but this is also leads to a lot of cronyism. As long as these apparatchiks can convince party leadership that their methods are sound, they can stay on the gravy train*. While you might think this would be difficult given poor Democratic performance, most of these advisors work on the campaigns of the leadership and thus are trusted–after all, it works for the leadership. Until, of course, it doesn’t.
On top of that, many consultants get paid as a percentage of money spent on ad buys (usually around 15%), which, as you might imagine, leads to spending more money on ads and less money on other get out the vote activities. Thankfully, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign is avoiding the consultant complex (boldface mine):
But that gamble against conventional wisdom — which is paying off handsomely, given the $19.1 million she raised in the second quarter — is far from the only way Warren is defying the traditional playbook for running a modern presidential campaign.
The campaign has gone without an outside polling firm, and says it has no plans to hire one, even though it is standard operating procedure for most serious candidates. Instead of initially stockpiling resources for a homestretch TV ad blitz, she’s amassed a payroll of 300-plus staffers in the early months of the campaign — overhead that could deplete her coffers if her fundraising ever falters.
And now, the campaign told POLITICO that it is shunning the typical model for producing campaign ads, in which outside firms are hired and paid often hefty commissions for their work. Instead, Warren’s campaign is producing TV, digital and other media content itself, as well as placing its digital ad buys internally.
Taken together, Warren’s approach is a rebuke of the consultant-heavy model of campaigns — an often lucrative arrangement in which the people advising campaigns invariably tell candidates that the best political strategy is to buy what they sell, namely TV ads and polling. If carried out for the duration, the moves would create the most robust in-house media production and buying team in recent presidential politics.
And if Warren makes it to the general election, a large swath of Democratic consultants, including some whom Warren has used in past campaigns, could be relegated to the sidelines. That’s because Warren and her campaign team see the standard campaign as another symbol of Washington corruption — and an opportunity to do things differently.
Good for Warren. Not forking over 15% commissions and other fees frees up a lot of money for personnel. If she makes mistakes, at least they won’t be the same mistakes Democrats have been making for the last quarter century.