Tuesday, September 02, 2014

You Know Who ALWAYS Wins In Elections?


Right after the 2010 midterms we tried to explain some of the DCCC's most corrupt practices; you should read it because it will help you understand how, uncorrected, everything has gotten worse and worse. So much worse that the DCCC is essentially ineffective at doing it's core job of reelecting Democratic incumbents and electing Democratic challengers. Last cycle-- with President Obama sweeping up and the DSCC winning every impossible race on the table-- the DCCC failed miserably to win back the House. And this cycle, the corruption guarantees that Steve Israel will go down in history as the worst DCCC chairman ever.

Of course, the DCCC isn't the only center of perverse corruption bringing down the Democratic Party. EMILY's List is at least as bad. Although basically every Democratic woman candidate is petrified to speak publicly about EMILY's List's shenanigans, I've heard from candidate after candidate the same exact details for years. For example, when EMILY's List "suggests" that the candidates they raise money for hire The New Media, Inc., not everyone is aware that that firm's president, Tierney Hunt is the wife of EMILY's List Campaigns Director Jonathan Parker. The money EMILY's List demands cannot be spent on something useful-- like a field operation-- but must be wasted on a lame Beltway firm is going to personally enrich an EMILY's List executive. It's how EMILY's List killed the campaigns this year of Alex Sink, Wendy Greuel and Eloise Reyes. Several despairing candidates have said to me that they are forced to sit on the phone all day begging for money and that all the money winds up in the pockets of utterly worthless consultants they are forced to hire. And then they lose.

Candidates who depend on commercial operations like the DCCC and EMILY's List are putting their careers into the hands of pernicious professional consultants, the bane of American politics. Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth, stripped the bride bare today in the NY Times: You Lose, We Win: Consultants Profit Even When Candidates Underperform. Nyhan asks the rhetorical question if these hired guns will be held accountable for their performance-- or lack of performance-- on Election Day. And then he answers:
The experience of John McLaughlin, the pollster for the former House majority leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia, suggests that the consequences of consultant failure are often minimal. As the Washington Post’s Ben Terris noted, Mr. McLaughlin was “historically wrong” about Mr. Cantor’s defeat in a June primary, missing the final margin by approximately 45 percentage points, but hasn’t lost any clients as a result.

A closer look at the research on political consultants suggests that Mr. McLaughlin’s experience is typical. Firm reputations and client relationships are highly consistent over time and show little responsiveness to results, particularly in terms of the share of the vote that a client receives, a much more informative metric than wins and losses.

Why is the campaign consultant market so inefficient? First, it suffers from what social scientists call an asymmetric information problem. The buyers (candidates) know much less about the service being provided than the sellers (consultants)-- the same reason that consumers have a hard time making informed choices on health care. As a result, consultants are often hired based on their prominence or relationships with party insiders rather on than their past performance or other measures of quality.

Second, there are few good sources of data about firm performance. Consultant client lists are often not broadly publicized, preventing firms from being held accountable for their performance in past campaigns. Though a few high-profile failures like Mr. McLaughlin’s receive substantial attention, many other relationships may not be well known, preventing candidates or other clients from learning about a consultant’s performance.
Instead of reliable information on the performance of these consultants-- almost none of whom are any good-- you get self-interested staffers at the DCCC and EMILY's guiding you into their arms, gently-- unless you resist. If you resist, you are threatened and forced to hire the consultants. This is how one Member of Congress put it: "High-priced DC consultants go to work for the DCCC, and then again become high-priced DC consultants, usually pollsters or media consultants. While at the DCCC, they 'recommend' (i.e., insist) that candidates seeking DCCC support use their old firms, or the firms to which they plan to go. This results in several fundamental problems: (1) The DCCC’s own money is wasted on shoddy work.  (2) The candidates’ money is wasted on shoddy work.  (3) Both kinds of money are spent, overwhelmingly, on work that gains 15% commissions, especially TV ads, rather than non-commissionable fieldwork, voter handouts, 'free media' and community events." She's one of the dozens of Democratic incumbents who have come to the conclusion that the DCCC has to be worked around or just ignored entirely. Challengers don't often have that luxury. Back to Nyhan:
It’s very hard to separate the influence of consultants from other factors affecting campaigns, but given the influence that consultants have over the balance of power in Congress and the dissemination of tactics and issues among candidates, it seems likely that the parties will start demanding results.
We can only hope-- but there are a lot of fortunes and paychecks dependent on this not happening.

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