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Consultants, Ads Cost Mega Millions

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 2, 2008

With a significant assist from his own bank account, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney spent $24.5 million on the services of a media consulting firm last year in a bid to seize victories in January's Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

The money, directed to Midnight Ride Media, a Virginia-based media consulting firm for the production and placement of advertising, was not enough to help Romney secure the early wins his campaign believed would put him on a path to the Republican presidential nomination. Despite outspending all other candidates in both parties last year on television, he finished second in each contest.

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, who are vying for the Democratic nomination, were also routing a big share of the more than $100 million each raised last year to political consultants for polls, television ads and other services, according to finance reports made public this week.

By the end of 2007, with the Iowa caucuses just days away, Clinton and Obama had each spent in excess of $80 million, more than double the record-shattering $37 million spending spree in 1999 that helped George W. Bush secure the Republican nomination.

The increased spending extends not only to consultants, but to television spots, massive field staffs and travel. At one point, Obama had more than 650 paid organizers, most of them in Iowa.

This year's compressed campaign calendar helped drive up travel budgets, as candidates hopscotched among several states, rather than focusing on Iowa and New Hampshire. Clinton and Obama each spent more than $2.2 million on charter and commercial flights between October and December.

Obama also hitched a ride with one of his most famous backers, talk-show mogul Oprah Winfrey. He reimbursed her company, Harpo Productions, with a check for $38,600.

Clinton relied on longtime adviser Jon Hutchen's Denver-based media firm, Media Strategies and Research, to handle more than $11.6 million in advertising. Hutchens said in an e-mail that the money does not all stay with the company -- most of it is used to buy advertising time.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of Clinton's campaign spending in 2007 was also one of her top donors, former Rhode Island Democratic state chairman Mark S. Weiner. Clinton's campaign paid Weiner's company, Financial Innovations, more than $800,000 over the past year. Weiner is listed on Clinton's campaign Web site as one of her "Hillraisers," meaning he has bundled more than $100,000 in checks for the senator's presidential bid.

Weiner is a longtime friend of Hillary and Bill Clinton's and will be a superdelegate to this year's Democratic National Convention. The Federal Election Commission filing said the payments to his company were for printing; his company makes campaign paraphernalia, including yard signs and buttons.

This year saw a significant increase in spending on technology, and to great effect. Obama reported yesterday that of the $32 million his campaign raised in January, $28 million came in over the Internet. To put this into context, Howard Dean, who in 2004 became known as the first Internet candidate, raised $27 million online during his entire campaign.

Building the infrastructure to handle such an online fundraising effort does not come cheap. Obama spent more than $2 million on hardware and software, paid the Internet consulting firm Blue State Digital nearly $400,000 and paid technology consultant Joseph Rospars more than $90,000.

Both the Clinton and Obama teams have spent significant amounts to hire longtime campaign consultants. The Strategy Group, which Obama's team has paid nearly $2 million, has worked on every Democratic presidential campaign since Bill Clinton's first bid, in 1992.

Peter Giangreco, a partner at the group, said the consulting firm "works hand in glove" with the Obama campaign to orchestrate media, direct mail "and the way we talk to voters." Several of the group's partners have worked on earlier campaigns with David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist.

Among the Clinton campaign's top-paid consultants are her chief strategist, Mark Penn, whose firm received more than $4.1 million over the past year, and Mandy Grunwald, whose firm, Grunwald Communications, was paid more than $1.5 million.

Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani, who left the race this week, even directed some of his campaign's resources to his own consulting firms. The Giuliani campaign paid the Giuliani Partners consulting firm more than $60,000 for rent and paid Giuliani Security & Safety about $300,000 to protect the candidate on the campaign trail.

Larry Levy, the Giuliani campaign lawyer, said the rent payments to the partnership were intended to reimburse the firm for meetings held there. And the payments to both consulting entities will not pad Giuliani's pockets, Levy said. "He recused himself from taking profits. His portion would be donated to charity."

Staff writer Jose Antonio Vargas and database editor Sarah Cohen contributed to this report.

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