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Consultants got rich in 2004 elections

By
September 26, 2006

Almost half the nearly $4 billion spent on the U.S. presidential and congressional election campaigns two years ago went to consultants offering media advice and other services, a public interest watchdog group said on Tuesday.

Candidates for president, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and political groups spent about $1.78 billion on 600 professional consultants during the 2004 federal election, said the Center for Public Integrity, which conducted a study of campaign spending.

Two-thirds of the $1.78 billion went for media consultants who provide strategic political advice, produce advertising and buy air time, the study found.

President Bush spent more than $343 million to win re-election in 2004 with more than 68 percent going to consultants. The Democrat he defeated, Sen. John Kerry, spent nearly $300 million, just over half on such advisers.

The center’s Wendell Rawls said the fees are fueling the skyrocketing cost of federal elections and candidates this year are spending about 12 percent more.

It took about $7 million to win a U.S. Senate seat in 2004 and $1 million to win a House seat, 11 times more than in 1976, he said. During the same period, the cost of living rose three fold.

Sandy Bergo, who directed the study, said the public should be concerned that candidates "have to spend so much time to do the fund-raising to pay for all these services."

"They spend hours on the telephone and become almost telemarketers," Bergo added. "And of course that ties them closer to the donors who give the most money."

FINANCIAL INCENTIVE

Rawls said candidates typically have to agree with their consultants to spend at least 10 hours a week on the telephone raising funds.

He said media consultants generally receive a commission of up to 15 percent of the amount spent on advertising. Rawls said the study also found consultants often recommend campaign plans that rely on their own specialties because there is a financial incentive to do so.

"The consultants begin to tell the candidate what to run on, what to think about, how they advertise … in fact even how much time they’re going to spend raising money," Rawls said.

"It turns the legislative process into a continuing cycle of constant running for office," Rawls said. "So it really becomes running for re-election from the day you get elected."

The Center for Public Integrity’s study looked at 471 U.S. races, including about 900 candidates involved in general election campaigns for president, House and Senate.

It also examined about 90 nonprofit groups involved in the campaigns.


© Reuters 2006

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