The presidential campaigns of Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and former governor John Hickenlooper are in all likelihood on their last legs. Neither candidate is on track to meet the polling and individual-donor thresholds needed to qualify for the third primary debate, scheduled for September 12. It’s a safe bet that sometime in the next month or so, both men will officially concede that their short-lived White House bids have ended in failure.
That’s not to say, however, that these long-shot endeavors haven’t been productive or profitable for some. Both campaigns raised millions of dollars in the first half of 2019 — and all of that money has to go somewhere. Presidential politics is big business, and with more than twenty Democratic candidates in the 2020 race, these are boom times for the ad agencies, direct-mail services, law firms, pollsters and other consultants who cater to political campaigns.
With virtually no money being spent on TV advertising — often a campaign’s biggest expense — so early in the race, candidates have been focused on reaching voters online, and two of the biggest winners from Hickenlooper and Bennet’s bids have been a pair of digital-media firms.
Since launching his campaign in May, Bennet has spent $687,072 on “digital ad buys” through Seward Square Strategies, a Washington-based consultancy founded by veterans of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Prior to his announcement, Bennet’s Senate campaign committee also paid Seward Square $449,050 for “digital consulting” between October 2018 and April 2019.
Hickenlooper, meanwhile, has paid San Francisco firm Do Big Things $327,500 through his campaign committee, and another $337,250 through Giddy Up PAC, the “leadership PAC” he formed prior to his presidential run last year. Like a handful of other firms, Do Big Things has taken advantage of the crowded 2020 Democratic presidential race by attracting multiple clients; at the same time that the firm has helped Hickenlooper “touch people’s hearts and change people’s minds,” it’s done nearly $1.4 million worth of business with his better-funded primary rival, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.
These “digital consulting” expenditures include hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on online ads and other expenses, but they’re far from the only political consultants on the Bennet and Hickenlooper payrolls.
Hickenlooper’s campaign has spent over $300,000 on consulting services, including $105,424 on “communications consulting” from Snyder Pickerill Media Group; $37,428 on “field consulting” from Path to Victory, a two-person firm based in Iowa; $36,000 on “fundraising consulting” from D.C.-based Fulkerson Kennedy and Company. Hickenlooper 2020 and Giddy Up PAC have also paid a combined $40,000 to Strategy With Rox, a firm run by former Hickenlooper chief of staff Roxanne White.
Consultants employed by the Hickenlooper campaign include several other former staffers and veterans of Colorado Democratic politics, though the campaign’s FEC disclosures show that their fees are often paid through business entities with little to no public presence.
Palacio Strategies, a firm run by former Colorado Democratic Party chair Rick Palacio, has received $40,000 for “political consulting.” Hickenlooper’s campaign and PAC have paid a total of $18,283 to Range Ventures in 2019; Marie Logsden, a former Hickenlooper communications aide, identifies herself as “chief of strategy” for Range Ventures on her LinkedIn profile. JVL Consulting, an LLC that Colorado Secretary of State records show was registered by longtime Hickenlooper advisor Jamie Van Leeuwen, has received a total of $21,000 for both “fundraising consulting” and “research consulting.”
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Hickenlooper is currently polling at an average of one-fifth of 1 percent nationally, according to data aggregated by the site RealClearPolitics. A New York Times analysis last week estimated that about 14,000 individual donors have contributed to his campaign, which ranks 18th out of the 21 major Democratic presidential candidates.
Bennet's presidential campaign committee, which was established a full two months after Hickenlooper's, spent just $1.3 million through June 30, FEC reports show, compared to the $2.3 million spent by his former boss. While his campaign is significantly leaner, Bennet, too, has paid out big sums to consultants, including $45,790 to R Strategy Group, a small firm based in Cleveland, and $14,022 to Thunder Road Group, founded by veteran Democratic operative Jim Jordan.
As lucrative as this summer's crowded Democratic primary field has been to the consultant-industrial complex, most of Team Bennet and Team Hickenlooper will soon have to look elsewhere for business — or flee to another presidential campaign, as some of Hickenlooper's senior staff did last month.
But there's always the next campaign cycle. Bennet will be up for re-election in 2022, and Hickenlooper’s answers to questions about whether he’ll drop out and run for Senate have already undergone a noticeable shift. If he does decide to switch to a Senate race that's already projected to shatter spending records, there will undoubtedly be plenty of consultants willing to lend a hand.