Most Republican political operatives these days argue that President Barack Obama’s jobs agenda is a flop. But over at the GOP consulting firm the Black Rock Group, where business is booming thanks to rising campaign spending, partner Brian Jones admits that political consultants are having no trouble finding work.
“This is one area where President Obama’s policies do seem to be creating jobs,” quipped Jones, his tongue firmly in his cheek.
Jones belongs to a political and media industry that is flourishing, even as the rest of the nation grapples with stagnant job growth. Thanks in part to Obama, who has set out to spend as much as $1 billion in the next election, and to a landmark Supreme Court ruling that has rolled back restrictions on political spending by unions and corporations, political professionals are enjoying unusual prosperity.
“Citizens United has definitely changed the landscape,” said Dale Emmons, a Kentucky political consultant who heads the American Association of Political Consultants, referring to the high court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. “And it’s a little bit like the wild, wild West.”
By paving the way for a new type of campaign committee know as a super PAC, that ruling has in effect handed political consultants a vast new client pool. Such political action committees may raise and spend unlimited corporate and union money as long as they operate at arm’s length from candidates. More than 100 super PACs are up and running, and in 2010 they helped drive campaign costs to close to $4 billion.
By some estimates, total spending in 2012 could hit anywhere from $5 billion to $7 billion. That will generate a lot of work for the political pros who create and place ads, conduct polls, craft campaign messages, produce and distribute direct mail, and set up robocalls. It also will provide a much-needed boost to the media industry, particularly the TV and radio stations that run the bulk of campaign ads.
“It’s a great thing for a [consulting] industry that has already grown and has been growing over the past couple of cycles,” said Shane D’Aprile, editor at Campaigns & Elections magazine. “From the moment of the Citizens United ruling, the vast majority of consultants saw a business boom beyond what they could imagine. And so far, it’s playing out that way.”
Some of the biggest beneficiaries have been GOP-allied firms, partly because of a spending surge by independent Republican groups, which were quick to take advantage of the post-Citizens United rules. American Crossroads, the brainchild of GOP operatives Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, plans to spend $120 million in the 2012 elections.
To some political consultants, such super PACs are turning into a headache-free alternative to working for multiple candidates or for one of the national party committees, which face stricter fundraising rules.