Check your References — Campaign Consultants

As part of Election 101, we are posting exclusive content from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History on subjects related to Election 2012.

First up, campaign consultants. What is a campaign consultant? When did campaigns start hiring experts to guide them through thorny and often divisive primaries and elections?

In this excerpt, Dennis W. Johnson, offers a brief introduction to the history of this relatively new political phenomenon.

But in contests for big- city mayors, governors, members of Congress, and other contests, professional political consultants are used to help guide candidates, political parties, and interest groups through the complexities of today’s elections. These are the expensive, often high- profile contests, where candidates and interested parties will raise hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars to fund their races. It is not unusual for candidates for the U.S. Senate to raise and spend $10 to $15 million. It was once a rarity for candidates for Congress to spend $1 million; now it is commonplace. In some jurisdictions, candidates who are elected to the state supreme court might spend $5 or $8 million, while some school board candidates in big cities have been known to spend well over $100,000. Statewide spending in California presents a special case. In 2005 alone, with no governor, no state legislators, and no other state officials to elect, still over $500 million was spent by participants trying to defend or defeat ballot issues.

Where does the money go? Much of it, of course, goes to television advertising or direct- mail expenses, but a considerable portion goes to a battery of professionals who are hired by the campaigns to help win the public over to their side. Campaign consulting is a thriving business; no serious candidate in an important contest can do without consultants. Yet, campaign consulting is a relatively new business.

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The preceding is an excerpt from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History, edited by Michael Kazin, Rebecca Edwards, and Adam Rothman. To learn more about this book, please visit Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. No part of this text may be distributed, posted, or reproduced in any form by digital or mechanical means without prior written permission of the publisher.