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“The Election-Industrial Complex”: Campaign Consultants And Media Companies Are Cashing In On Our Corrupt Elections

Four days before Ben Carson finally wrapped up his failed candidacy, his campaign paid $348,141 to a direct mail company. The same amount was paid at the start of the month to Pennsylvania-based Action Mailers, bringing the company’s February total close to $1 million.

That same day, a web service provider for Carson’s campaign (run by the candidate’s chief marketing officer) was paid $59,000. In February, as the campaign limped to an end, checks totaling $651,000 were sent to Eleventy for web services.

Carson, in an interview with CNN after he announced that he would be dropping out of the race, said “We had people who didn’t really seem to understand finances, or maybe they did—maybe they were doing it on purpose.”

In total, through the end of February, Carson’s campaign raised $63 million and spent $58 million, according to FEC filings.

Much of that money came from small individual donations, and much of it was spent on a handful of companies tasked with raising money from those individual donors. There are many links between companies paid money by his campaign and the individuals who surrounded Carson.

Eleventy, whose president, Ken Dawson, was the campaign’s marketing chief, received close to $6 million over the course of the campaign. Action Mailers received over $5 million. Carson spent just over $5 million on television buys, less even than Donald Trump, whose “free media” campaign has kept his ad expenses incredibly low. Just as important, Carson spent little on developing a ground game.

“There’s a lot of people who love me, they just won’t vote for me,” Carson said as he bowed out. Hundreds of thousands loved him enough to give money to what they thought was an actual campaign.

The rise of super PACs in the aftermath of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision has often dominated the discussion over money in politics in recent election cycles. There is much more to the tale. It’s not just about who is spending the cash, but where it’s going.

Harpers Magazine, in its April cover story, delves into the world of “strategists, pollsters, TV-ad makers, media buyers, direct-mail specialists, broadcasters, and other subcategories of what we should properly call the election-industrial complex.” Its conclusion leaves the reader feeling, if only for a moment, somewhat sorry for the billionaires and multi-millionaires pumping money into elections. It’s all wasted extremely efficiently, mostly on advertising buys.

Exhibit A: Jeb Bush, whose campaign and supportive PACs spent close to $150 million on his failed candidacy, with nothing to show for it but… well, actually, there’s just nothing to show for it.

The big winners are consultants and television companies.

Les Moonves, chairman of CBS, made it clear, twice, that what may be bad for America is very good for his company. “Super PACs may be bad for America,” Moonves said following the 2012 election, “but they’re very good for CBS.” That year, CBS made $180 million out of the election.

This election cycle, not only are broadcasters pulling in cash from advertising, they also have Donald Trump to thank for an unprecedented ratings spike.

“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” Moonves told a media conference in San Francisco in December. “Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? … The money’s rolling in and this is fun,” Moonves said.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

 

By:  John Breslin, The National Memo, March 23, 2016

March 24, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Advertising, Campaign Consultants, Election Industrial Complex | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“They Just Want Somebody To Fall In Love With”: Republican Voters Do Not Give A Flying Comb-Over About Who Is Electable

The parlor game for 2016 campaign observers is based on a straightforward question: “If Donald Trump’s support is eventually going to fall, what will be the cause?”

The “if” poses its own challenge, but even if we accept the premise, it’s not unreasonable to wonder what will cause Trump’s lead in the polls to evaporate. Some Republicans assume this is a fleeting fad that cannot be sustained . Others believe the GOP’s primary contest won’t really begin in earnest until after the debates begin and TV ads start airing, making Trump’s early surge irrelevant. Still others assume the former reality-show host will eventually say something so outrageous that he’ll effectively commit political suicide.

But the point that brings comfort to many in the political establishment is the issue of electability – Trump would face extremely long odds as a general-election candidate, and Republican primary voters, desperate for a win, will start thinking strategically in 2016.

Or will they? As Rachel noted on the show last night, the latest NBC News/Marist poll asked Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire for their 2016 preferences, but they also asked a question that was arguably more interesting:

“Which is more important to you: a Republican nominee for president who shares your position on most issues, or a Republican nominee for president who has the best chance of winning the White House?”

The results weren’t even close. In New Hampshire, 67% of GOP voters want a candidate they agree with, while only 29% are principally concerned with electability. In Iowa, the results were practically identical.

This isn’t about Trump, per se. This is about what we’re learning about Republican voters themselves.

With the NBC poll in mind, Rachel’s take on the state of the race rings true:

“He’s the only top-tier Republican candidate who loses by double digits. not only to Hillary Clinton, but also to Bernie Sanders. But Republican voters want him anyway. And that ends up not being an interesting thing about Donald Trump. It’s an interesting thing about Republican voters. They keep picking him, and they know he would lose, but they like him anyway. They know he’s going to lose, and they don’t care. They love this guy.

“So, all this beltway analysis that says that Donald Trump’s star is going to fall, because all of the ways in which he is not electable, right, there’s the reason all that punditry, and all that beltway common wisdom keeps getting proven wrong with each new passing day and each new poll showing Donald Trump on top, because Republican voters do not give a flying comb-over about who is electable. They just want somebody to fall in love with, and they have fallen in love with him.”

Remember, we’ve seen this before in the recent past. Republicans could have won a Senate race in Delaware, but they wanted a candidate who made them happy (Christie O’Donnell), not a candidate who would win (Mike Castle). They could have won a Senate race in Indiana, but they wanted an ideologically satisfying candidate (Richard Mourdock), not a candidate with broad appeal (Richard Lugar).

Sure, this may change. Trump’s role in the race has been unpredictable thus far, so no one can say with confidence what the race will look like in early 2016.

But the GOP base has been told repeatedly – by party leaders, by conservative media, even by Republican candidates – that compromise is wrong. Concessions of any kind are offensive.

It’s a little late in the game for the same party to tell these same voters not to support the unelectable guy at the top of the polls.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 31, 2015

July 31, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, Republican Voters | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Everybody Should Vote!”: If The Concern Is Voting Interferes Too Much With ‘Normal’ Life, Shouldn’t It Be As Convenient As Possible?

One of the crazy-making things about elections in this country, and particularly low-turnout non-presidential elections, is that we’ve lost a presumption that used to be a goo-goo truism: it’s a good thing for everybody to vote. Nowadays you get the feeling–not just from Republicans but from pollsters and the MSM–that there’s something unsavory about people voting when they’re not “enthusiastic” about it. Along with this is the suggestion that encouraging people who aren’t enthusiastic about voting or politics or the candidate choices to nonetheless vote is some sort of dark bearing, a slight aroma of fraud.

There’s an age-old conservative ideological argument often embedded in the contrary presumption against universal voting–I discussed it at some length here. But people naturally are reluctant to fully articulate the belief that only those who hold property or pay taxes should be allowed to vote; that’s why such beliefs are typically expressed in private, with or without a side order of neo-Confederate rhetoric.

More often you hear that poor voter turnout is a sign of civic health. Here’s an expression of that comforting (if not self-serving) theory by the Cato Institute’s Will Wilkinson in 2008:

[L]ower levels of turnout may suggest that voters actually trust each other more — that fewer feel an urgent need to vote defensively, to guard against competing interests or ideologies. Is it really all that bad if a broad swath of voters, relatively happy with the status quo, sit it out from a decided lack of pique?

First of all, everything we know about the people least likely to vote is not congruent with an image of self-satisfied, happy citizens enjoying a “lack of pique” or trusting one another too much to resort to politics. But second of all, nobody’s asking anyone to stop living their lives and raising their kids and going to work in order to become political obsessives. Voting, and even informing oneself enough to cast educated votes (or to affiliate oneself with a political party that generally reflects one’s interests), requires a very small investment of time relative to everything else. And if the concern here is that voting interferes too much with “normal” life, shouldn’t we make it as convenient as possible?

Everybody should vote, and everybody’s vote should count the same–that goes for my right-wing distant relatives who think Obama and I want to take away their guns, and for people struggling with poverty, and for people fretting that those people want to take away “their” Medicare, and for people trying to rebuilt their lives after incarceration. And it goes for people who aren’t happy with their choices because failing to vote simply encourages the same old choices to persist. Hedging on the right to vote takes you down a genuinely slippery slope that leads to unconscious and then conscious oligarchy and even authoritarianism. And so to paraphrase Bobby Kennedy, we should not look at eligible voters and ask why they should vote, but instead ask why not? There’s no good answer that doesn’t violate every civic tenet of equality and every Judeo-Christian principle of the sisterhood and brotherhood of humanity.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, October 31, 2014

November 3, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Midterm Elections, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Emperor Has No Clothes”: Shattering The Myth Of Karl Rove

To some he’s a hero, to others a villain, but everyone — right, left, and center — seems to agree on one thing about Karl Rove: He’s really really smart. Rove is, most political observers assume, one of the savviest operators in politics today, so when he speaks, people listen. After Citizens United and the 2010 GOP wave, when Rove ruled Washington from his non-perch at American Crossroads, I saw more than one very smart liberal go from mocking Rove as a liar and hack one minute to having the blood drain from the face when he made an ominous political prediction the next. Such is the power of the Rove.

Or at least it was. Tuesday night may have shattered the Myth of Rove, just as it shattered Rove himself when he had a meltdown in front of millions on Fox News viewers after the network called Ohio for Obama. The moment, which has since gone viral, was the perfect encapsulation of Emperor Has No Clothes realization that Rove is now experiencing. Rove was proven wrong. On live TV. By Fox News. And of course, that wasn’t the only thing he got wrong. He blew the whole election, predicting Romney would win.

But if you take a look at Rove’s record of prognostications, this should be no big surprise. Before Tuesday, Rove’s most famous wiff came in 2000, when he predicted that George W. Bush would beat Al Gore in a landslide. Rove predicted Bush would get “in the vicinity of 320 electoral votes” and even suggested that Bush had a shot at deep blue California. “I mean, the governor is going to start off in New Mexico, spend a day and a half in California, go to Oregon and Washington, go to Minnesota, go to Iowa,” Rove told CBS News host Bob Schieffer. Of course, 2000 came down to nail biter, with Bush winning 271 votes — just 1 more than necessary to win — and losing the popular vote (later, it turned out that Gore probably actually won).

He was so chastened by the blown call that when reporters asked him to make a prediction the night before the 2004 election, he refused. “Rub my nose in it,” Rove snapped at a reporter who brought up the 2000 prediction. “With a circle of tape recorders humming, Rove said he was making no such predictions this time around,” the New York Times reported on November 1, 2004.

After the election, Andrew Sullivan was actually prescient about this on CNN: “He didn’t get a majority of the popular vote in 2000, he squeezed a 51 percent victory in 2004. He’s been teetering on the brink ever since, and the base strategy now shows him not to be a genius but to be a real failure.”

But two years later, Rove was back to wildly miscalculating results. “Look, I’m looking at all these Robert and adding them up. And I add up to a Republican Senate and a Republican House. You may end up with a different math, but you’re entitled to your math. I’m entitled to ‘the’ math,” Rove said in a testy exchange with NPR host Robert Siegel the week before the 2006 election. Democrats ended up winning a huge wave that gave them control of both the House and Senate.

In 2008 Rove, who wasn’t involved in John McCain’s campaign, correctly predicted that Obama would win (but how you could you not that year?), though he was too bearish. In 2010, he correctly predicted that Republicans would take the House and make gains in the Senate (but how you could you not that year?), though he was overly bullish.

For conservative donors who entrusted millions with Rove and his American Crossroads groups, only to see a 1 percent success rate, the Rove bubble is bursting. “There is some holy hell to pay. Karl Rove has a lot of explaining to do … I don’t know how you tell your donors that we spent $390 million and got nothing,” a donor told John Ward. “The billionaire donors I hear are livid.”

If Rove needs something to do, perhaps he could join his former boss George W. Bush — in obscurity.

 

By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, November 8, 2012

November 11, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A SUCKER’S BET: Are Republicans Really Prepared To “Gamble On Entitlement Reform”?

The effort to pass a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year will be the principal challenge for policymakers over the next few days, but while that work continues, congressional Republicans will also start a massive fight over the next budget.

We’ll have more on this later — sneak preview: the GOP wants to gut entitlements — but as the process gets underway, it’s worth pausing to appreciate the politics here. The Weekly Standard‘s Stephen Hayes has a lengthy new report, arguing that Republicans are prepared to “gamble on entitlement reform,” and the GOP thinks it can win this time.

If there is one thing that political strategists, pollsters, and elected officials of both parties have agreed on for decades, it’s that entitlement reform is a sure political loser. Social Security is the “third rail” — touch it and you die. Suggest changes to Medicaid and you don’t care about the poor. Propose modest reforms to Medicare and you’re the target of a well-funded “Mediscare” campaign that ensures your defeat.

No longer.

“People are getting it that these things are unsustainable,” says Karl Rove. “For so many people, debt is no longer abstract. It’s more concrete. I don’t know if it’s seeing Greece on TV or what. It’s still tough, but it’s not the political loser it used to be.”

Other influential Republicans go further. They believe that getting serious about entitlement reform can be politically advantageous.

“I think it can be a real winner for Republicans if we handle it the right way,” says South Carolina senator Jim DeMint.

The piece goes on to quote all kinds of Republicans, all of whom genuinely seem to believe there’s a public appetite for their entitlement agenda. GOP officials have been too scared to tackle this in earnest before, the theory goes, but bolstered by public support, this time will be different. This time, they say, Americans want entitlement cuts, and Democratic criticisms will fall on deaf ears.

Time will tell, I suppose, but all of the available evidence suggests these folks have no idea what they’re talking about, and are poised to pursue one of the most dramatic examples of political overreach we’ve seen in a very long time.

Republicans can presumably read polls as easily as I can, but let’s focus for a moment on the latest CNN poll, released late last week. Asked, for example, about Medicaid funding, a combined 75% want funding levels to stay the same or go up. For Social Security, 87% of Americans want funding levels to stay the same or go up. For Medicare, 87% want funding levels to stay the same or go up — and most want funding to increase, not stay the same.

For some reason, Hayes and his allies look at numbers like these and think Republicans will benefit from pushing entitlement cuts. No, seriously, that’s what they think. GOP leaders are not only arguing this, they’re actually counting on it as part of a larger political strategy.

Karl Rove, ostensibly the GOP’s most gifted strategist, believes Americans may be “seeing Greece on TV,” and suddenly find themselves favoring Medicare cuts.

I don’t think he’s kidding.

Hayes noted in his piece, “So have things really changed? We’ll soon find out.”

On this point, we agree.

By: Steve Bensen, Washington Monthly, April 4, 2011

April 4, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Elections, Federal Budget, GOP, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, Public, Public Opinion, Republicans, Social Security, Voters | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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