Political Consulting

Political Consulting

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 mass media (largely
television), political consultants advise campaigns on virtually all of their
activities,from research to field strategy.

The practice of consulting has several early precedents. President
William McKinley’s closest political advisor Mark Hanna is sometimes
described as the first political consultant. In California in the 1930s, 1940s,
and 1950s, Whitaker and Baxter established and grew the first true
consulting firm, Campaigns, Inc. However, 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,

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. In fact,
today corporations seeking approval from municipal boards have turned to
land use political consultants to help earn need entitlements for their

Critics also 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.

Left-leaning activists within the Democratic Party, in particular, 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 led 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.”

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