Three-quarters of the money spent on behalf of Chris McDaniel’s failed bid for the Republican nomination for Senate in Mississippi came from outside political action committees (PACs). That money, from groups like the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, accounted for 36 percent of the funds spent by both sides combined.
We’re obviously a few miles down the road from the days when candidates for elected office stood on wooden platforms. But we are perhaps further than you might think. In fact, there is nothing in federal law that would prevent a super PAC or group of PACs from picking out a candidate and taking care of his or her entire campaign. And we’re starting to get a glimpse of what such a campaign might look like….
…So if you’re a candidate, what is the absolute minimum that you need in order to run for office, the thing that only you can provide? The answer is this: The candidate. And in a world where that candidate is restricted in fundraising and spending but those PACs aren’t, why not let the PACs handle the TV ads and radio and the online marketing and the field and all of that? For years, candidates have been happy to have outside groups run negative ads against opponents. Why not let them do more? The candidate is just himself, and the PACs do everything else.
Which brings us back to Mississippi. State Sen. McDaniel came within about 1,700 votes on June 3 of being nominated for the U.S. Senate over incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R). Seventeen hundred more votes in that first race, and he’d have had over 50 percent of everyone who voted, and been basically guaranteed to head to Washington. He did this with a relatively small and inexperienced staff, including state Sen. Melanie Sojourner, who served as his campaign manager, and spokesman Noel Fritsch, a former staffer for Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.). About two dozen other people were listed on the campaign payroll at $1,000 or $2,000 a month, but the leadership team was small.
Supplementing the campaign staff was an array of consultants and consulting firms. One of the most significant was Pittsburgh-based Cold Spark Media. Cold Spark, run by veterans of Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) office and campaign, served as strategists and media buyers to McDaniel. The campaign spent about $2.34 million in his bid for the seat, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. In the campaign’s filings with the Federal Election Commission, you can see where over $1 million of that — over 40 percent — went in the last few months of the campaign: to Cold Spark, which then used almost all of it to pay for media buys.