Elizabeth Warren led in spending on consultants
Democrat Elizabeth Warren takes the stage after defeating incumbent GOP Sen. Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race Nov. 6. Warren led all spending on consultants in last year's state elections, with just over $2 million spent. (AP Photo)
The millions of dollars spent by Massachusetts congressional candidates were a boon to political consultants from Virginia to California.
All together, the candidates in the three most expensive Massachusetts congressional races spent four times more on out-of-state operatives than local consultants, according to an analysis of financial reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
According to the filings:
∎ U.S. Rep. John Tierney spent $1.3 million on Adelstein Listen, a Chicago-based media and strategic communications firm.
∎ Elizabeth Warren, sworn in as a new senator Thursday, paid Trilogy Interactive, a California company, $1.2 million for Internet consulting, including the design and construction of her website.
∎ Incumbent Sen. Scott Brown spent $615,000 on Targeted Victory, an Arlington, Va., digital consulting company co-founded by Mitt Romney’s digital director.
Overall, the Senate campaigns of Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren and congressional candidates John Tierney, Richard Tisei, Joe Kennedy and Sean Bielat spent $6.4 million on outside political consultants compared to $1.5 million on in-state operatives.
The numbers here are not all-inclusive. TV advertising, the most expensive part of modern campaigns, is excluded from this analysis. And, because the FEC does not require campaigns to itemize what money given to consultants is spent on, there could be some cases where consultants purchased ads for candidates without it being labeled on the reports.
The tallies will undoubtedly rise when the FEC publishes the final campaign reports later in January.
Warren led all spending with just over $2 million on consultants, followed by Kennedy with $1.49 million and Brown with $1.45 million.
About 83 percent of Warren’s consultant spending went to out-of-state operatives.
Only John Tierney, who narrowly overcame a family scandal to win re-election, paid more to out-of-state advisers, spending 96 percent of his consulting money — over half of his total spending — on out-of-state agencies.
His opponent, Republican Richard Tisei, spent 65.5 percent on outsiders.
Brown spent 60 percent of his consulting money on out-of-state consultants.
Overall, candidates for the U.S. House spent a much higher portion of their total spending on consultants, ranging from 40 percent for Kennedy and Bielat to 64 percent for Tierney.
The U.S. Senate campaigns spent smaller percentages of their record- breaking $77.9 million total spending on consultants. Five percent of Brown’s spending went to outside consultants compared to 6 percent for Warren.
Who spent most?
Warren and Tierney spent more on outside consultants and won their races. But not every successful candidate relied on outside advisers. Joe Kennedy spent 82 percent of his consulting money in Massachusetts.
Democratic consulting firm Liberty Square Group of Boston earned $54,000 advising Kennedy. Company president Scott Ferson attributed this to the differences between a U.S. House race and a Senate race and Kennedy’s sensitivity to his famous name.
“House of Representatives races are very different than Senate races — they are fairly localized,” Ferson said. “Naturally, you’re going to be looking for people who know the district very well. I think Joe picked very heavily people who have deep roots in Massachusetts.”
Ferson also thinks Kennedy was sensitive to an image that he would use his name and money to “big foot” by coming in with expensive out-of-state consultants.
Daniel Shea, a government professor at Colby College and a former consultant, says campaigns are often torn between the notion of using local consultants more familiar with the territory or highly touted national operatives.
“You want to find the best expert that money can buy. The stakes are very high, so why not seek the best consultant in the country?” he said.
Shea pegs the rise of political consultants to the 1960s and ’70s, when professionals began taking over the management of campaigns from local party workers.
“Now there are different consultants for each element of the campaign. There’ll be consultants for fundraising, consultants for methods, consultants for ad development, consultants for grassroots mobilization,” he said.
“It’s become more technical, more complex and that’s led to ever-smaller specialization.”
The biggest winners among Massachusetts consultants were a handful of individuals and firms, many who specialize in fundraising.
Democratic strategist Doug Rubin, the former chief of staff to Gov. Deval Patrick, was the state’s biggest earner; his Natick-based company, D&R Associates Inc., made $245,000 for advising Elizabeth Warren and Joe Kennedy.
Scott Brown’s campaign also awarded several lucrative contracts to Massachusetts consultants.
The consulting firm of his finance director, John Cook, earned $224,708 for fundraising. Cook previously worked on the campaigns of Republicans Charlie Baker and John McCain.
Republican fundraiser Steve Roche, also a Mitt Romney fundraiser, earned $143,218 from Brown. The Shawmut Group, run by Romney’s campaign advisers Eric Fehrnstrom and Beth Myers, was paid $135,000.
Democratic fundraiser Paula Levine made $119,277 from Elizabeth Warren.
Other Massachusetts firms included Red Curve Solutions, a Republican company in Beverly that specializes in financial management. Brown, Tisei and Bielat all used its services.
Tisei and Bielat hired Swiftcurrent Strategies of Salem, which specializes in online videos, web design and social media.
Kennedy hired Boston pollster Kiley & Co. and Dedham campaign finance specialists Chick Montana Group.
Though Eric Fehrnstrom’s clients, Mitt Romney and Scott Brown, lost in 2012, he’s not likely to be out of a job. The Huffington Post reported this year that many consultants continue to get hired despite losing.
Jason Johnson, a political science professor at Hiram College in Ohio, said that is not unusual.
“You have to be bad for a long time before people start saying ‘I don’t want to hire you anymore,’ said Johnson, author of “Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell.” “The thing is, it’s really, really hard to determine who is at fault when a candidate loses.”
Shea says part of the difficulty in determining whether consultants make a difference is the fact that so few campaigns go without them.
“Might a more generalist or even volunteer campaign staff do a better job? There’s no real benchmark on that in the past decades. Campaigns don’t want to take that risk,” he said.
Ferson, the Boston consultant, says most consultants will lose more races than they win because only one candidate out of a field of many will take the prize.
“There are always multiple candidates in a race, usually in primaries, so most consultants are going to lose more races than they win,” he said. “I look at it not so much as a point percentage as a batting average.
“You bat .400, you’re a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. And that’s below 50 percent.”
Regardless of whether a consultant is from in-state or not, the basic objective remains the same: Find voters and motivate them to go to the polls for their candidate.
Much of the talk after the 2012 election has been about the success of Barack Obama’s data-driven techniques that seemed to outperform Mitt Romney’s campaign’s ability to find and motivate voters.
The Obama success has raised questions about the role of political consultants and whether sophisticated computer-analyses will replace the intuition of seasoned veterans.
Shea says he thinks the new techniques are the way of the future.
“It is fine-tuning precise messaging to individual voters,” he said. “That’s really at the core of the movement in campaign consulting, to find that metric that can lead you to the right message for each voter.”
Still, Johnson and Ferson believe people are still the most important factor in turning out voters.
“What you have to do is get regular people who have infinitely more exciting things to do to with their life to stand up, stand in line and go vote when it doesn’t bring them any immediate benefit,” Johnson said. “You may use micro-targeting to connect with those people, but it’s not going to get those people to the polls if you don’t do some real groundwork.”
Ferson points to Ohio, where the Obama campaign went to African- American beauty parlors to register women voters.
“Somebody had to think of that. That was the really smart part,” Ferson said. “You have to constantly figure out the new way to reach people.”
Chelsea Sheasley reports for the Boston University Statehouse Program.