Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Political consulting is the business which has grown up around advising and assisting political campaigns, primarily in the United States. As democracy has spread around the world, American political consultants have often developed an international base of clients. Though its most important role is probably in the production of paid media (largely television and direct mail), political consultants advise campaigns on virtually all of their activities, from research to field strategy.
Though the practice has earlier precedents (Mark Hanna is sometimes described as the first political consultant), political consulting blossomed with the increasing use of television advertising for campaign communications in the 1960s. It was in that period that Joe Napolitan claims to have become the first person to describe himself as a political consultant (Perlmutter, ed. Manship Guide to Political Communication, pg19). In the subsequent years, political consulting has grown in importance and influence and extended its reach to campaigns at all levels of government in the United States, and beyond. Many consultants work not only for campaigns, but also for other political organizations, including parties and political action committees, sometimes through independent expenditures; some also do public relations and research work for corporations and governments.
As the practice has grown, political consultants have increasingly found themselves in the spotlight, with journalists devoting considerable attention to their activities. In such cases, they are sometimes accused of putting their own interests and images ahead of their clients. Occassionally, scandals involving political consultants become headline news, as occurred when Dick Morris, then an advisor to President Bill Clinton, was caught with a prostitute. Many successful political consultants, such as James Carville, have capitalized on their relative fame to become professional or semi-professional pundits, appearing regularly on television news programs, writing books, and otherwise becoming media celebrities.
The practice is not without its critics, however, who blame political consulting, at least in part, for a variety of ills of the modern election process. In part because broadcast media consultants are often paid on commission, they are blamed specifically for the rising cost of political campaigns and the increasing reliance on paid media. A successful candidate running a low-budget campaign would be a serious economic threat to the political consulting field; such candidates, however, are rare.
Even some within the field allege that too many consultants put their financial interests ahead of the campaigns they are hired to serve, taking on too many clients and focusing too much energy on building their reputations. There is growing professional opposition to what is called a cookie cutter campaign, where the themes and strategies of one campaign are transferred to another campaign, despite what may be major differences in political context.
Others, particularly left-leaning activists within the Democratic Party, charge that political consultants are a major obstacle to participatory democracy, political reform, and electoral success for the Democrats. In a much-publicized e-mail on December 9, 2004, the online activist group MoveOn.org wrote, "For years, the Party has been lead by elite Washington insiders who are closer to corporate lobbyists than they are to the Democratic base. But we can't afford four more years of leadership by a consulting class of professional election losers."
The American Association of Political Consultants is the major trade association for political consultants in the United States, with thousands of members. Like similar professional organizations, it propagates a code of ethics and gives out awards (the much-coveted "Pollies ").
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