html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: 'Nother question for you.

Friday, October 12, 2007

'Nother question for you.

Where does campaign money actually go? I read accounts that say things like, 'the candidates now have fourteen catrillion dollars in their war chests', and I don't understand. Where does that money GO?

I am not asking you what is produced for seventeen mondillion dollars. I sort of know the answer to that - media spots, mailers and logistics. Have I missed a big one? But where does the money GO? For a mailer, I presume the money goes to a consultant, a graphics design firm, a printer and then... the post office? For media spots, it is what? A consultant, a production house, location fees, then airtime. Airtime means what? That big chunks of money go to a media company? Even if it is spent on campaign logistics, that ends up with... a production company, a tour bus company, a hotel chain, a caterer, the venues and the camera crews?

So are there industries that get a shot of wealth every four two years from election campaigns? If they were, like, struggling family-owned printing firms staffed by blind people, then I would just think of that as a mostly harmless form of redistribution. If they're, like, Rupert Murdoch, then I am not pleased that he pockets big chunks of money out of campaign funds.

Campaign money has to be conserved, right? It goes somewhere, or it is lost as heat from friction? Where does it go?


Anonymous Peter said...

In many campaigns a good chunk of the money goes toward buying TV commercials. I would imagine those are the single biggest expense.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline said...

Data for one candidate:

Click around the site to look at others.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

JMPP, that's very helpful. I should have looked a little before posting this. It doesn't completely answer my question, though.

Salaries and benefits is... who? Do they deserve $4M for the months they've worked so far? Who is her professional staff, that they get $4M?

Campaign events is who? Hotels, for their convention rooms? Camera crews? Crews who set up chairs?

I want to know where all this money really ends up. 'Cause hundreds of millions is a lot of money to blow in a year. Is it widely dispersed? Is it concentrated? How do campaigns work as a way to spread money around?

1:55 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

And why isn't there a total line on that table?

1:56 PM  
Anonymous swissarmyd said...

it is conserved... candidate wants a commercial bashing whatever thus begins a chain reaction where a penny or two trickle down to the night janitor at Murdoch's Newscorp, who then uses it to go buy ice cream at king soopers, thus preserving the great circle of ... [cue the bad elton john music] [life]money...

so, in essence political campaigns contribute to the economy, and everyone should spend more money on them...

wait, my eyes just started bleeding.

interestingly the redistribution seems voluntary until a candidate is elected, then the donors from that candidate are expected to call in their favors. So it's a dice roll for the donor, because they never know if they will get return on investment.

am I... cynical? But yes, Virginia, the flow of money is conserved...

1:58 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

megan - try clicking on the links.

You'll see, for instance, that Clinton is paying ~$57,000 a month in health care for her employees. Isaac Baker is getting paid $1600 a month.


2:01 PM  
Blogger Megan said...


You're right, of course. I should have looked more closely before publicly wondering.

2:06 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I'm astounded that a campaign is keeping such close track.

2:06 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I'm already getting greedy again. It'd be nice if that were sort-able and searchable.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

Megan - there are no totals listed because they sell that data to raise funds. You can also buy the raw data, presumbly in an Excel spreadsheet if you want it.

They keep such detailed records because it is the law.

Some other campaign data is at:

You can also get the raw data (they fax it over to the FEC, you can see the scan of that fax) here:

2:38 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Well, yeah, they keep that data 'cause they have to by law, but it is still an impressive feat.

Clever of them to bait me with some data, and have the even more interesting parts cost money.

2:44 PM  
Anonymous freight train said...

As an event producer, I gotta say that hundreds of millions in a year doesn't seem very surprising. These are people who rent airplanes. Think of a single campaign event. That event will include the following costs:

-hall rental
-private security
-local police overtime for police staffing (extremely expensive)
-catering for the campaign staff and local volunteers, probably at hotel (ie, marked-up) prices
-signage with logos to put around the event (startlingly expensive)
-transportation for the campaign staff to the event (buses, limos, vans, helicopters, planes - plus fuel!)
-transportation for supporters to the event (vans, buses)
-payroll for people working on just this event
-sound and video systems
-union stagehands (startlingly expensive)
-printing of flyers, pamphlets, etc
-local commercials to promote the event

And that's just one event.

So to speak to what I think was the point of your question - a lot of the campaign event money does get diffused through local economies. Local caterers, police forces, janitorial companies, audio-visual companies, hotels, printing shops, and more all do get a piece of this.

On the other hand, a lot of money goes to media buys, and that means to large centralized media conglomerates (Rupert Murdoch).

At a rough guess, I'd say payroll, events, and media are the three biggest categories. (That Clinton budget backs this up - though it looks deceiving because media's broken out by types of media.) Of those three, then -

events - money to local vendors and economies
media - money to conglomerates
payroll - money to career politicos and consultants

You can decide for yourself if you feel like that's a good way to spread money around the national economy. At least there's a strong local component.

2:47 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

It is as if they were bright people who have thought about this for more than a few minutes, and have gone beyond the first few obvious thoughts.

2:48 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

You can decide for yourself if you feel like that's a good way to spread money around the national economy. At least there's a strong local component.

It makes me less offended by the huge numbers, if it goes into some local pockets.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

What? Heat from friction isn't lost.


3:14 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Lost as useful energy to the system. (Mostly.)

3:17 PM  
Blogger jens said...

Keep in mind that while they have to keep very close track of the expenses, that's as far as it goes.

Huma Abedin, for example, is a real advisor. I checked another couple on google, and they seemed like real names, although "Georgiana Cavendish" , the Duchess of Devonshire, died in the 1800s (I assume this is a different one!)

Without doing considerable investigation, there is no way of knowing whether any of these salaries were sinecures to the relative of some influential supporter.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Kwindla said...

A presidential campaign is a crazy mad dash in slow motion. Every day feels full of make-or-break moments. I've spent time both in (or near) national campaigns and in technology start-ups, and remember at one point being struck by how similar the two kinds of organizations felt in at least a couple of ways: there's an almost paralyzing level of strategic uncertainty every minute, and time is always the scarce resource.

freight train's comment about the expense of events and travel seems right to me. You have to devote enormous amounts of time to raising money, and fundraising events are widely dispersed, geographically. Then you have to also campaign between fundraising events, which is a whole separate logistical nightmare.

People are expensive, too. Campaigns rely heavily on volunteers, but you can't actually structure an organization around free labor. There is a sizable industry of seasoned campaign staffers who move through the Washington eco-system of government, consulting and non-profit jobs, then more often than not move over to a campaign for several months every two or four years.

If you're running for the presidency (or even the senate) you really need these people working for you -- you just can't put a campaign together without them. They know how to find money, how to schedule campaign events, how to work with state party folks and how to deal with the media. They may or may not know how to put together and run an effective organization, and they may or may not have good strategic instincts (eye of the beholder/history is the judge). But they know the nuts and bolts, which aren't really finessable.

Finally, on the FEC rules. When we built the Democratic National Committee's then-new internet/intranet/fundraising/reporting tools in 2001, I was surprised at the complexity and scope of the regulations governing campaign spending. Campaigns have to keep detailed records and submit reports therefrom. This seems to me to be to be a very good thing, although it certainly adds to the overhead of running a campaign.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Ennis said...

I want to know where all this money really ends up. 'Cause hundreds of millions is a lot of money to blow in a year.

You had asked earlier for an understanding of the gut instincts of libertarians? I'm not one, but as I understand it, that's one of their constant reactions to government, precisely that question and lack of comprehension.

I'm not saying that to be a wise ass, am saying it because it seemed to be (as my high school teachers used to say) "a teaching moment"

4:20 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

Lost as useful energy, unless the heat energy is what you were interested in to begin with.

How do you think matches work?

Or, what about rubbing your hands together to warm them up?

Friction has all kinds of uses.


4:25 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Thanks, Kwindla.


It is easy to see how you spend hundreds of millions building real things, or accumulating knowledge, or even enforcing regulations.

But hundreds of millions and at the end, all you have is an elected official? You'd have had that anyway.

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Ennis said...

It is easy to see how you spend hundreds of millions building real things, or accumulating knowledge, or even enforcing regulations.

But little of government spending is about accumulating knowledge. Some is about building real things, but isn't a lot of government spending on recurrent expenses like a campaign? It's about all the human capital you're putting together in a room.

A libertarian would reply with something like this:
as being what government does.

But hundreds of millions and at the end, all you have is an elected official? You'd have had that anyway.

No, what you get is democracy. You have an opportunity for candidates to reach out and communicate to people, to make their arguments, to challenge and expose each other.

Think how many hours you were willing to spend on a local level just listening to people, having them feel heard. Think about your co-op for example. Meetings like those drive me NUTS. However, democracy is a process, and one I value highly.

What happens in the absence of democracy? Even if you select the same rulers, they act differently if they are not accountable to the people. The quality of services goes down, way down.

The democratic process is what creates the incentives that generates all of the capital investment that you are talking about, and the enforcement, etc.

Take a look at technocratic states - they make the same point you do, that democracy is an inefficient way to spend resources. All that money could be used to help people, right? But it doesn't end up getting used that way. Without accountability to the people, money gets spent worse and worse.

Lastly, Burning Man just leaves a big empty desert, same as before, right? You don't judge its value by the permanent structures it leaves behind, you judge it in terms of its impact on the people who are part of it.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous Ennis said...

The one time we had the numbers, it was something like 30% of the hard money spent by a congressional campaign and 60% of the hard money spent by a senatorial campaign went into media purchases. So yes, a lot of this money is going into communication, or sales and marketing.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Asking if the money is conserved is probably the wrong way to think of it.

You've got a bunch of smart people, and a bunch of hard working people, putting their efforts toward getting their candidate elected rather than doing other things that people would value having done.

To the extent that what they do is like Consumer Reports (providing information), it's of obvious value to have these people doing some of this sort of thing.

To the extent that what they do is rent-seeking, it's a shameful waste of talent.

9:03 PM  
Blogger Abby said...

Also remember that this is a piece of why the early states want to stay early--Iowa and NH get a huge injection of cash into their local economies every four years.

Just saying.

9:50 PM  
Blogger jens said...

> Friction has all kinds of uses.

Nice job, Justin, trying to get this blog back on mission.

But I'm afraid Megan has too many outside interests to really focus.

5:37 AM  
Blogger Erik said...

Ennis, that is how we feel much of the time.

Megan your comment makes sense when the government says things like "We just spent $10 million on a bridge," but more often it's "Government spent 40 billion this year alone," or "Senetor so-and-so is sponsoring a $20 million bill that will bring jobs to (insert state here)." That's when we ask questions.

And, without checking, I seem to recall reading that most campaign income comes from corporations. That means the money is mostly being distributed from one conglomerate to another. Not so bad when I think of it that way.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous mith said...

"But hundreds of millions and at the end, all you have is an elected official? You'd have had that anyway."

Yes, but we wouldn't have the right elected official.

2:38 PM  
Blogger uneasy rhetoric said...

As Erik alluded to, campaign spending isn't government spending -- it is actually private spending, a conglomeration of corporate and individual donations either directly or through unions, political action committees, political parties, or other candidates. (Except in states that have public campaign financing or when presidential candidates agree to take the matching public dollars -- that $3 check-off on your tax returns).

I was a treasurer for two campaigns in Oregon for a number of years and one thing I can tell you about the system: it penalizes honesty. I found a $3,000 error in one campaign's finances, tracked it down, filed amended reports, and was slapped for a penalty of...drumroll...$3,000. The error had happened long before and the penalty structure was something like "one percent per day up to the amount of the error." Had I not reported it, there was a good chance it *never* would have been found.

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interestingly, for all that cash rolling around, campaign offices and ground-level staff get by on just the basics. Lots of not-so-highly paid campaign staffers (the nomadic group Kwindla mentions, which I was among for a bit), in very non-glamorous offices full of donated office furniture. But those offices are also rented space, with heat and electricity and internet and phones. If you really want to boost morale in a campaign, stop by a field office with a crock pot full of chili or beef stew (or some delicious food that can sit on a table for a while and get eaten) and a case of beer. Those staffers will be VERY HAPPY. And they're the ones out there talking face-to-face with voters.

9:16 AM  

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