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For many businesses, 2010 midterm election campaign was a winner

If you missed any of this year's primaries -- or just forgot -- here are the names and faces you need to know in November.

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By Dan Eggen and T.W. Farnam
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 8, 2010; 12:30 AM

The 2010 election season was good for Design Cuisine of Arlington, which took in more than $500,000 in catering fees. The Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, Calif., made about $50,000 holding Republican fundraisers.

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And at Butterfield's Golf Car Sales in Montvale, Va., owner David Helms rang up $300 in cart rentals for the campaign of Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R).

"That may pay for the light bill for about a week," Helms said. "But we'll certainly take it."

Call it the midterm stimulus program. The record-breaking campaign showered billions of dollars on a broad array of companies, including broadcast conglomerates, polling firms and small-town restaurants, according to a Washington Post analysis of expenditure reports. Candidates spent at least $50 million on catering and liquor, $3.2 million at country clubs and golf courses, and $500,000 on pizza, coffee and doughnuts, the records show.

Expenditures for the elections began in January 2009, although most of the money was spent in recent months.

The spending came at a fortunate time for many businesses struggling with tepid growth and a national unemployment rate stuck near 10 percent. Experts predict that total spending for the congressional midterms will approach $4 billion, putting it on par with the $3 billion "Cash for Clunkers" program in 2009 aimed at boosting auto sales.

"It's certainly had an impact on the bottom lines of many of these companies, particularly in the media area," said Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution. "It probably improved things for some of them at a critical time."

Campaigns paid banks to handle their money, consultants to map out their strategies and media buyers to book their advertising. The biggest winners of all were broadcasters, which together are expected to rake in about $2.5 billion in ad revenue from federal, state and local campaigns, according to industry estimates.

One example is Sinclair Broadcasting of Hunt Valley, Md., which owns or operates 58 television stations nationwide, including many in Ohio, Kentucky and other battleground states. The company said last week that political ad revenue will top $41 million this year, a 35 percent increase from 2006.

The rising fortunes allowed Sinclair to announce a special dividend payment to shareholders for the first time since early 2009, when payments stopped as a result of the recession. Sinclair executives did not respond to a request to comment.

"It's helped everyone get back on their feet, because last year was terrible," said Tony Lenoir, a broadcast industry analyst at SNL Kagan. "It's a really good thing there was a big election this year."

Politics is their specialty

Much of the money spent on campaigns went to a relatively small number of media buyers, consultants and polling firms that specialize in politics, according to Federal Election Commission records. The records also show only part of the picture, because most political committees and independent groups have not submitted final reports.


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