Consultants Feast on Mitt

As Walter Shapiro explained in the last issue of the Washington Monthly, one of the sources of the corrupting power of money in politics is from within the campaigns themselves, as consultants rip off candidates and then force them to hire other consultants to raise the money to pay them. Some campaigns are more vulnerable to this kind of vampire effect than others. But all the signs are that Mitt Romney’s campaign is a veritable blood bank.

Here’s a report today from WaPo’s Dan Eggan:

Although many candidates hire firms created by former staff members, the extent of the Romney campaign’s reliance on such companies is unusual for a major presidential bid, experts say. Many of the firms Romney uses are run by former aides from his 2008 campaign.

The arrangement not only benefits several of those close to the former Massachusetts governor but also makes it harder to determine how he is spending his donors’ money, because salaries and other details about outside operations are kept under wraps.

A big chunk of Romney’s outside operation is housed 20 miles north of Boston in an office building in Beverly, Mass., which is listed as the address for four firms doing work for the Romney campaign, disclosure records show.

The largest is American Rambler — named for the automobile that Romney’s father helped develop — which several former aides created in early 2011 to handle advertising and other media work. Staff members include senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom and several others who worked on Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, according to records and news reports.

American Rambler has taken in $15.4 million from Romney for media buys, polling and other costs through Jan. 31, including about $11 million for broadcast ads and $1.5 million for “strategic consulting,” according to disclosure documents filed with the Federal Election Commission. As with all such vendors, no information is revealed about salaries or other internal costs.

If, as is traditionally the case, media consultants are paid a percentage of the cost of “buys” rather than a flat fee, then it’s no wonder Team Romney is spending so much on ads.

Such arrangements may seem efficient to campaigns that want to minimize the hassle of accountability, but down the road they can become a really bad habit, both for the consultants who get used to getting paid no matter how the campaign is doing, and for the candidate, who loses track of why he or she is spending so much time dialing for dollars or writing thank-you notes to wealthy people with a long list of favors they’ll someday need.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.