Here’s what Hillary Clinton’s $225,000 speaking fee could buy on the campaign trail

For a speech at a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, fundraiser in October, Hillary Clinton will be paid $225,000, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

In the past, we've compared large dollar amounts to the median American household income. (In this case, Clinton's speech will earn her about five times the 2012 median income). But given that this is Hillary Clinton, we decided on a different tack. How much, we wondered, could Hillary Clinton get by spending $225,000 on a political campaign in, say, Ohio?


Political campaign buttons on an Iowa voter in 2007. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

To answer the question, we spoke by phone with Mark Weaver, a Republican political consultant in the Buckeye State. We asked Weaver to walk through what $225,000 could buy Clinton in a variety of categories, and he obliged.

Polling

$225,000 could get you:

  • A benchmark poll ($50,000)
  • A "brushfire" poll ($25,000)
  • Focus groups in four cities ($40,000)
  • Regular tracking polls (everything that's left)

Polling is the first thing Clinton would want to do in Ohio, so it's where we'll start.

The campaign would start with a benchmark poll that would "give a sense of where she is and her strategy to win," Weaver explained. It's a long poll with a big sample size, asking questions not only about Clinton and her potential opponents but also about things her opponent is likely to say about her and things she might say about her opponent. The "brushfire" poll comes later, about a month before Election Day, and checks to see how Ohio voters are responding to both the message from both Clinton and her opponent(s).

Weaver suggested focus groups in four cities as well, which run between $3,000 and $5,000, plus the cost of the moderator. Two focus groups in each city adds up to $40,000. As Election Day looms, campaigns often also run smaller sample-sized polls to check how the candidate is doing. The rest of the budget, Weaver figures, could go to those tracking polls.

Microtargeting

$225,000 could get you:

  • Microtargeting data in Ohio ($150,000 to $175,000) and some change

On top of the regular polling, Weaver points out that a presidential campaign, particularly in an important state like Ohio, would do microtargeting, which blends voter and consumer data for a more finely honed picture of the electorate. It is not cheap.

Television

$225,000 could get you:

  • Production of an ad ($25,000)
  • 1,400 gross rating points ($200,000)

"A presidential campaign will have filmed a lot of scenes (in Ohio)," Weaver says, meaning that creating an Ohio-specific ad wouldn't cost very much. So paying $25,000 to make something specific to Ohio voters (or, more likely, voters in a particular city) would cover the production costs.

Then there's the airtime. Campaigns buy "gross rating points." Fourteen hundred of them means that the average viewer would see the ad 14 times in a week.

Direct mail

$225,000 could get you:

  • 450,000 mail pieces in voters' mailboxes

You know how you get a lot of mail every time it's campaign season? That's because direct mail is 1) cheap and 2) easy to target. Weaver estimates that mail costs about 50 cents per piece, including the voter list, design, printing, and postage. Campaigns get reduced rates on postage, and printing mail in large quantities means that the cost of each piece drops. In 2012, 450,000 mail pieces would have been enough to hit one out of every 14 Ohio voters at least once -- although usually voters get targeted multiple times.

Weaver, being a Republican consultant, gets to save money in one way that Hillary wouldn't enjoy. Democratic candidates usually use union print shops for their mail, which can increase costs. The same applies to other costs in this list, like the production of that TV ad.

Online targeting

$225,000 could get you:

  • A week of Google or Facebook ads

The costs of sending email are even lower than direct mail, Weaver said. But online advertising to collect those emails can be pricey.

He explained how it works. "Let's say you were targeting women in the Cincinnati area who are between 30 and 55 years old and who have shown some inclination of supporting a Democratic candidate, such as 'liking' [Sen.] Sherrod Brown on Facebook. We'd be able to put ads on their page, and we only pay if they click." The price of that click varies in what Weaver called a "mini auction" that unfolds in near real-time. The more people trying to talk to those Cincinnati women, the more it will cost per click -- from as low as 75 cents to $4.

Clicks come more rarely than views of the ad. "The click-through rate is anywhere from 0.25 to 0.5 percent," Weaver said. So if the ad is seen 400 times, you'll get one or two clicks. Once someone clicks through, the odds that they hand over an email address or otherwise take action is only 15 to 30 percent.

Robocalls

$225,000 could get you:

  • 11.2 million robocalls

"Robocalls" are those widely reviled voicemail messages left by candidates or, more often, celebrities and endorsers of the candidate. Weaver says that campaigns can pay as little as two cents for each call, including the voter data. That, he points out, is "a lot of robocalls with Bill Clinton saying, 'You've got to vote for Hillary.'"

Staffing

$225,000 could get you:

  • A top-tier fundraiser for six months ($90,000)
  • A statewide campaign manager for three months ($50,000)
  • A communications director for six months ($40,000)
  • A field director for six months ($35,000)
  • A phone bank director for three months ($10,000)

Hiring staff isn't quite as clear cut as buying mail, of course. But Weaver figures you could get a pretty decent campaign team set up in Ohio for $225,000.

The fundraiser would likely be the most expensive. If asked to focus only on the campaign, hiring someone to make connections between the campaign and important Ohio donors would cost between $5,000 and $15,000 depending, Weaver says, on the person's level of experience.

Same goes for the campaign manager. Clinton would want somebody who years of experience, who's "done races in the state and know how to organize a phone bank in Toledo or a union rally in Dayton." That person would be paid $100,000 a year, pro-rated. The communications director (who works with the media), field director (plans voter outreach), and phone bank directors (self-explanatory) run progressively cheaper.

That phone bank director would be managing volunteers, by the way. "You expect most of your work to be done by volunteers at a presidential level," Weaver said, instead of paid callers.

Get out the vote efforts

$225,000 could get you:

  • 200,000 pieces of mail targeting absentee voters ($120,000)
  • 340,000 doorhangers ($85,000)
  • 20 buses to take people to the polls ($20,000)

Once Election Day rolls around, the campaign needs to make sure its voters get to the polls. Ohio allows voters to vote by absentee ballot, so Weaver would set aside a chunk of money to do outreach to them. (The mail costs 60 cents apiece instead of 50 because the number that's being printed is smaller.) The campaign would also print doorhangers, the "go vote today" reminders that (mostly suburban) voters find on their doorknobs when it's time to vote. Those are cheap, since you don't need to pay for postage.

In Ohio, Democrats also often rent buses to take voters to the polls, Weaver noted. He didn't have experience with this, but estimated that buses ran between $500 and $2,000, depending on how nice they were and how far they were going.

Lawn signs

$225,000 could get you:

  • 1,000 large lawn signs ($50,000)
  • 100,000 small lawn signs ($175,000)

When I asked about lawn signs, Weaver groaned audibly. Earlier this month, his company's Facebook page shared a post from The Onion mocking lawn signs. With good reason -- lawn signs are generally seen as all-but-useless by campaign professionals. Nonetheless, Weaver was game. The smaller, plastic-bag-over-a-wire-frame signs that are common in local races cost between $1.75 and $2 apiece. Larger signs, four-foot-by-eight-foot, cost between $30 and $50.

And there you go. Clinton isn't officially running for president (as we must obsessively note), and when (if!) she does, she won't be paying for these things out-of-pocket.

But if she did, she gets an awful lot for one hour of talking.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He previously wrote for The Wire, the news blog of The Atlantic magazine. He has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily, and the Huffington Post. Philip is based in New York City.
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