Each election cycle, political vendors — advertising firms, direct mail companies, fundraising professionals, and the like — are paid billions of dollars to flood airwaves and mailboxes, but most voters never hear their names. Unless they succeed or fail spectacularly, vendors rarely receive much coverage even by the political press. With almost three-quarters of a cycle’s worth of FEC reports, however, we have the hard data to figure out which firms have made a fortune in the campaign industry in the 2014 cycle. Below are some of the companies that will be claiming credit for big victories in November — or explaining to angry clients what went wrong.
So far, this election’s top overall vendor is Waterfront Strategies, an “internal branch” of GMMB, the biggest cog in the Obama media machine. Waterfront has handled nearly $42 million in media buys, almost entirely by liberal super PACs, making it the cycle’s biggest media vendor as well. That includes more than $19 million from Senate Majority PAC, this cycle’s most prolific outside spender, but doesn’t include spending by liberal groups that don’t have to disclose to the FEC — and, as we’ve previously reported, some of those dark money groups have favored Waterfront with millions in media buys.
|Automatic Data Processing Inc
|US Postal Service
|Communications Corp of America
|Southwest Publishing & Mailing
|IRS (Payroll Taxes)
|Main Street Media
Since those outside groups are nominally independent from the Democratic Party, Waterfront doesn’t qualify as this cycle’s biggest vendor that works exclusively with Democrats. That title goes instead to Shorr Johnson Magnus, which has been paid $8.4 million this cycle by Democratic candidates, primarily Sen. Ed Markey. While not employed directly by the Obama campaign in 2012, the Philadelphia-based firm was employed by the super PAC Priorities USA Action to create one of the more memorable ads attacking Mitt Romney for his work with Bain Capital.
The cycle’s top Republican vendor, Communications Corporation of America, handles fundraising rather than media. The Virginia-based CCA (not to be confused with the broadcasting company of the same name) specializes in direct mail — a longtime favorite fundraising method of conservative groups — and has done more than $17 million worth of business with Republican candidates and committees this cycle, mainly the Republican National Committee.
That’s still not enough to take the title of the cycle’s top fundraising firm, however; that goes to Strategic Fundraising, which has received nearly $20 million in fees and commissions from Tea Party-affiliated outside groups as well as Republican candidates and committees. Political fundraising is a lucrative industry, and there’s more than enough business to go around.
Fundraising and broadcast media tend to be the biggest line items in a campaign’s budget, but good strategic advice and polling can make or break a campaign (as Eric Cantor learned the hard way). This cycle’s most used polling firm is Benenson Strategy Group, which has taken in over $4.7 million from federal campaigns and committees. BSG, whose top client is the Democratic National Committee, is run by another Obama for America alumnus in senior strategist Joel Benenson. Despite the Obama campaign’s famed digital prowess, however, the online media firms that it used (such as Blue State Digital and Bully Pulpit Interactive) are not this cycle’s biggest in that category. Instead, the most used online ad vendor of 2014 is Rising Tide Interactive, which is favored by several Democratic Senate candidates as well as the super PAC Ready for Hillary.
Not surprisingly, campaigns tend to rely on many of the same, tried-and-true vendors from cycle to cycle, and often do most of their business with just a few firms. Last cycle, the preferred media companies of the Obama and Romney campaigns (GMMB and American Rambler Productions, respectively) received just below $700 million combined in payments from all campaigns and committees — more than one-tenth of the entire cost of the 2012 elections. As a result, most of the companies mentioned above can expect to see many more millions headed their way before Election Day.