Consulting with Candidates
Political gurus influence local race
During the 1992 United States presidential election, political commentator James Carville first made a name for himself as a political spin doctor who helped get Bill Clinton elected to the White House.
The 1992 documentary, The War Room, shows Carville giving campaign staffers a last minute pep talk the night before the election. “There’s a simple doctrine,” Carville said with a southern drawl. “Outside of a person’s love, the most sacred thing that they can give is their labor.” Pushing through tears, Carville called himself a “political professional.” “That’s what I do for a living. I’m proud of it.”
There’s no hyperbolic “Ragin’ Cajun” in the Albuquerque mayoral spotlight, but analysis of campaign records shows that several of the eight candidates are relying on the labor and spin of campaign managers and consultants. All of the candidates combined have spent more than a half-million dollars just on political staff and consultants. Some local campaign managers and consulting firms have already collected from $50,000 to $100,000 since the race began earlier this year.
It’s no surprise candidates and their campaign staff are leery of publicly sharing strategies. Without a documentary film crew following candidates around, the only glimpse Albuquerque residents get of campaign spending are line items in a spreadsheet noting “campaign staff” or “consulting fee.”
Stewart Bragg runs Dan Lewis’ campaign and has been paid $78,000 since February. Bragg declined to divulge what specific services Lewis pays him for, other than general consulting. In an email to NM Political Report, Bragg said the Lewis camp is keeping their “campaign strategy close to the vest with Election Day less than 7 weeks away.” Bragg added that “every cent spent has been aimed at spreading Dan’s vision to combat crime, create a booming economy, and renew ABQ.”
Ricardo Chaves, who personally loaned his campaign more than $500,000, has shelled out almost $129,000 for consulting fees. That’s about 95 percent of the total amount his campaign has spent. The majority of that money was $100,000 paid to Republican campaign consultant Bob Cornelius. Cornelius did not respond to NM Political Report’s questions on his spending.
Brian Colón, who has raised the most money so far—$700,167—spent about $124,000 on consulting fees and polling. That cash is spread out amongst eight different agencies and people, ranging from strategy and fundraising agencies to payroll companies. The companies Dark Horse Strategy Group and Global Strategy Group account for about $30,000 of the campaign’s spending. The campaign also paid political staff Michael Barndollar and Pasquale Guerra Luz about $25,000, as well.
Tim Keller’s campaign has hired the progressive campaign consulting company, Rio Strategies, paying about $64,000 for campaign staff salaries or consulting. An independent expenditure committee pushing for Keller spent another approximately $6,000 on both legal and consulting fees. Keller’s campaign did not respond to questions by press time.
While monthly payments of $700 to $3,000 for consultants may seem like a lot of money, some political consultants say the spending isn’t straightforward.
Heather Brewer ran Deanna Archuleta’s campaign until Archuleta dropped out of the race to care for her father. Brewer said campaign consultants perform a wide spectrum of jobs. “That can range from literal consulting of, ‘I’m going to give you my opinion every now and again when you need it,’ all the way into ‘I’m going to manage every minute of the campaign,’” Brewer said.
Jon Lipshutz has worked on a number of Democratic campaigns and told NM Political Report running a campaign is complicated and hard to accurately monetize. “I’ve always been of the opinion that whether you’re paying $100 or $100,000, all that matters in the end is whether or not the campaign was run successfully,” Lipshutz said. “Who’s to really say what that’s really worth?” Further, Lipshutz said, campaigns need leadership and organization, which is often where a highly-paid manager comes into play. “The fact is that political campaigns don’t just organically happen,” Lipshutz said.
But one novice candidate argues grassroots campaigns are just that and, by definition, happen naturally, without a campaign manager. Twenty-two year old Gus Pedrotty, a recent college graduate, said his campaign can’t afford to pay a consulting firm or full-time staff, and added that he wouldn’t necessarily want to hire consultants. “We believe a grassroots structure means doing what you can through the community, not through professional groups that have been set up with large structures and systems already in place,” Pedrotty said. “I think there’s a mishandling of the term ‘grassroots’ in today’s political climate.” Pedrotty has raised and spent a fraction of what other candidates have.
Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson has spent about $20,000 on fundraising consulting and campaign staff. Michelle Garcia Holmes spent less than $500 on voter data. And Susan Wheeler-Deichsel has spent about $3,000 on campaign staffers.
All of the candidates are required to file another six spending reports, through the election on Tuesday, Oct. 3.