A friend sent me an October, 2016 Atlantic Monthly article written by Molly Boll entitled “Scared rich candidate.” Here is the link:  http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/10/theres-nothing-better-than-a-scared-rich-candidate/497522/ . While the thrust of the article pertains to national, presidential candidates the premises she offers could be applied to local candidates as well.

The article states, “These are boom times for political consultants—by one rough estimate, more than $6 billion will go to or through consulting firms during this year’s elections…” On the Glendale level, each mayoral candidate raised at least $100,000. In addition, Independent Political Action Committees (PACs) spent in opposition to or for a particular mayoral candidate at least an estimated $50,000 more. We will have a better picture of the numbers after the next campaign finance reports are filed at the end of September. It is not unreasonable to say that an estimated $250,000 was poured into the Glendale mayoral race. That kind of money is not limited to Glendale’s mayoral race. Sammy Chavira, my opponent in the Yucca district council race, spent an estimated $40,000 and Independent PACs easily spent another $40,000 in opposition to me. That’s not chump change. Imagine, $80,000 or more spent to try to defeat a challenger in a small, local district race.

The article goes on to say, “Despite all the money pouring into political consulting, a palpable sense of unease looms over the profession. The consultants may be getting rich, but recent events suggest they don’t have any idea what they’re doing.” Ms. Boll cites statistics on various campaign strategies, TV advertising, campaign mailers, robo calls and campaign signs, with the conclusion that most of these strategies are not as effective as commonly assumed. The implication being that a candidate, upon advice of a consultant, may be just throwing money away. She also reveals that many consultants either have relationships with or have created companies that provide the very materials the consultants urge a candidate to use. It is often the case that a consultant will receive a fee for consultancy and also receive payment through a consultant’s own company for campaign material.  An analogy might be that you go to a referral website to buy a product only to discover that the site gets paid for not only every referral it generates but has a company that makes the product and receives profit every time the product is sold.

Ms. Boll goes on to say, “Many political scientists believe election outcomes are largely the result of factors over which candidates and their campaigns have little control.” Some political scientists, having studied this issue believe “there are few ‘game changing’ moments in a campaign.” They believe “the vast majority of presidential elections…can be forecast based on the state of the nation’s economy and the approval rating of the sitting president.” It is safe to assume the same of local contests as well. In Glendale, most of its citizens don’t follow its politics and don’t vote. Often the percentage of active voters hovers around 10%. There are 6 political districts in Glendale: Cholla, Sahuaro, Barrel, Cactus, Ocotillo and Yucca. Each has roughly 20,000 voters. Yet voter participation in each district ranges roughly from 3,000 to 6,000 active voters. The northern districts of Cholla, Sahuaro and Barrel, historically have more active voters than the southern districts of Cactus, Ocotillo and Yucca. Unless there is a distinct and widely publicized and divisive crisis within the city, these voters tend to return an incumbent to office. With Glendale’s economic status stabilized and improving there was no impetus on the part of the voter to change the status quo with the exception of one factor – the candidate’s character.

Others tend to agree and think “consultants’ main influence is at the macro level, in shaping a campaign’s overall message and coaching the candidate. ‘It’s the consultants’ job to take who the person is—their fixed characteristics—and leverage it’.” This premise held true in the current Glendale election cycle. Mayoral candidate Mark Burdick publicly admitted that upon the advice of his campaign consultants (you can include former Assistant City Manager Julie Frisoni) their winning strategy was to sling as much mud as possible at sitting Mayor Jerry Weiers in the hope that some of it would stick and discredit him enough to create a win for Burdick. Sammy Chavira’s political consultants created the same type of campaign in the Yucca district but they wanted to divert the voters’ attention away from Sammy’s record of taxpayer abuse and failure to do his job.

“Adam Sheingate, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University, argues that the consulting industry has ballooned not because its services are particularly effective, but because all the money in politics—which has skyrocketed in the past decade due to campaign-finance deregulation—has to go somewhere.” Ms. Boll quotes Mr. Sheingate as saying, “The consultant is selling something to the candidate…The confidence game is that the candidate is always a little afraid. They’re always a little scared they can lose, and that’s what the consultant exploits. In the words of a consultant,”there’s ‘nothing better than a scared, rich candidate’.” With the amount of money available to candidates in Glendale, there were scared, rich candidates. They were ripe to buy what their consultants were selling and they had the money to do it. In the end, it may have been the content of the candidates’ character, not inordinate amounts of cash that counted to voters the most.

© Joyce Clark, 2016        


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