How political consultants cash in big time from the campaign finance system

The political consulting industry is set up for a banner year in 2016, with contested presidential nominations in both parties and the increasing reliance of national campaigns on the products and services consultants can provide.

In an op-ed published last week in The New York Times, Adam Sheingate, chair of the Department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, takes a closer look at spending to date in the 2016 presidential race, which has already surpassed spending during the previous two presidential campaigns at this stage.

From The New York Times:

Consultants want their clients to win, but they also need their businesses to survive. Despite mounting evidence that the effects of TV on the electorate can be uncertain and often short-lived, television remains the single largest expenditure in most campaigns because candidates think they need it to win—and because it is the most reliable source of revenue and the most lucrative part of the consulting business. The economic incentives of the consulting industry are driving up the cost of campaigns.

The leader in spending to date, far and away, has been the well-heeled campaign of Republican hopeful Jeb Bush, which has spent $52.5 million on political consultants to date, including $45 million on media (primarily television advertising). That significantly outpaces the next highest spending candidate—Democrat Hillary Clinton, at $18.5 million—and is more than three times the amount spent by the GOP candidate who ranks No. 2 in spending (Ben Carson, at $16.7 million). Sheingate, author of "Building a Business of Politics: The Rise of Political Consulting and the Transformation of American Democracy," estimates that, through early December, candidates from both parties and their affiliated super PACs have spent more than $160 million on consulting services.

Federal campaign regulations make consulting services "the easiest way to spend money legally in our political system," Sheingate asserts. Though the rise of the so-called super PACs has revolutionized how (and how much) money flows into campaigns, there are limits on how it is spent, a set up that clearly favors political consultants, regardless of how effective their work is in persuading the electorate.

"What is the consequence of all this for our democracy?" he writes. "In some ways, consultants are like the microscopic bugs in our gut that help us metabolize food: Consultants help candidates and campaigns metabolize money, but their work leaves the body politic hungry for more."

Read more from The New York Times