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Every Dollar Isn’t Equal In 2016 Digital Advertising

By Eli Yokley, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Just before Christmas, the Senate Majority PAC — a group formed to help Senate Democrats win seats in the Senate — announced a nearly $1.5 million digital advertising campaign. Starting in Pennsylvania, it targeted states where Democrats are hoping to pick up seats in 2016.

That announcement is sure be followed by more, touting seemingly major spending to spread messages to voters across digital platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the massive Google ad network, as well as growing platforms such as Snapchat. But what is not clear is just how far each dollar on digital will go.

“If one campaign spends $500,000 and another spends $500,000, they have spent equal amounts but it is not always equal in the outcome or equal in the number of persuadable voters it reached,” said Tim Cameron, the chief digital strategist at the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Even more than television advertising rates, which vary from hour to hour in different markets, pricing for digital advertising — simply because of the nature of the Internet — is even more fluid.

“Digital buying is much more democratic than TV buying,” said Mark Skidmore, a partner and chief strategist at the Democratic media firm Bully Pulpit, who has shepherded the digital efforts for the successful campaigns of President Barack Obama, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

Both Skidmore and Cameron said campaigns should not neglect digital advertising and said a candidate should leverage at least 30 percent of their advertising budget digitally. Cameron said, “There’s been explosive adoption from people 55-plus who are using social networks like Facebook who are now on iPhones,” which he said makes the platforms even more lucrative.

In most cases, digital advertising is auctioned off to the highest bidder. If a campaign wants to have the ad before last night’s hot clip from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, it would likely be the case that they would pay significantly more than to have the ad run as pre-roll to last week’s buzzy cat video.

“There’s a lot more value in being behind a clip on YouTube that is very high quality content,” Cameron said. A user, he said, will “sit through the entire ad and then watch the clip with the sound on and be exposed” to the campaign’s message.

Ad placement has a lot in common with the rest of new economy, where costs depend on user volume — think Uber’s surge pricing, led by a high-tech auctioneer.

At Twitter, “What the system does is it looks at all the other potential advertisers coming for the same ad, evaluates all of those, and allows one of the advertisers to serve” its content at the cost of only one penny more than the second highest bidder, said Jenna Golden, the company’s head of political advertising sales.

Unlike on television or radio, Skidmore said, digital platforms allow advertisers to test the effectiveness of their messages in front of segmented audiences before putting their budgets behind them. Rather than buying a television ad and then surveying a TV market, digital platforms lets advertisers spend a relatively small amount of money and then present a user with a survey — such as one that might show up before a video or news website before a user can see the content — to determine whether the message persuaded. That metric is one that is particularly valuable to campaigns.

“A lot of folks, not just in politics, have been using digital metrics like engagement metrics to be a proxy for whether people like a brand or not,” he said, adding that in his view, those do not tell the entire story. “Just because I sign up for an email or like something, it doesn’t mean I’m favorable. It just means that I saw them and chose to follow it.”

Unlike television advertisements, the purchase of which are reported to the Federal Communications Commission, the placement of digital ads is not transparent. Cameron, who has done digital work for outside groups and the House Republican Conference, said it “is very hard to track exactly what our opponents are doing and what we’re doing, just in the sense that ad buys aren’t recorded out.”

And for users, Twitter’s Golden said, “you’re never going to know how you’re being targeted or why,” in part because there are so many ways for advertisers to find them. They can target hashtags or key terms with which they want their messages associated. They can pinpoint geographical location as large as a state, a congressional district or as small as a single ZIP code. They can find a list of people based on demographic factors, their ties to a campaign’s email list, or their shared interests — such as a list of Washington opinion makers.

“For the most part,” Skidmore said, “the platforms and tools and partners of ours that have been the best — and you’ll see over 2016 — are the ones where they’ve allowed custom list-matching and custom segments.”

©2016 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Senate Democrats via Flickr


The Urgent National Crisis That Presidential Candidates Aren’t Talking About

It’s visible on the streets of most major U.S. cities, has been for decades, and costs the government billions of dollars a year. But none of the people running for president seem to be speaking about it. Politicians and pundits don’t talk about homelessness like they talk about Donald Trump’s insults or Hillary Clinton’s emails.

The Obama administration prioritized veterans, one group within the U.S. homeless population, in its plan to end chronic homelessness nationally by 2017. In August, federal and Connecticut officials announced that the state had become the first to do so among U.S. veterans.

With 14 months to go until the 2016 presidential election, candidates are regularly referring to the United States’ dwindling middle class and income and wealth inequality, while others continue to rail against the financial elite and the 1 percent. But few are speaking explicitly on the campaign trail about perhaps the most jarring manifestation of poverty.

“A few candidates have talked about the distribution of wealth and the need to grow the middle class, but homelessness is as invisible in these discussions as it is visible on the streets,” Shahera Hyatt, director of the California Homeless Youth Project, told The National Memo.

Nearly 580,000 people experience homelessness in the United States on any given night, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. But with only 18.3 per 10,000 Americans in the general population directly affected, the issue is off the radar for most people — including candidates.

Advocates said that they did not expect homelessness to become a major campaign issue in the 2016 presidential race, but they do see hope in the fact that some candidates are talking about economic inequality.

Part of the reason homelessness is absent from the national conversation is that many think of it as a local issue, one that mayors can campaign on, said Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Americans, he added, don’t usually think of the president as the elected official responsible for getting people into housing.

Even so, advocates have suggested, the progress made in some U.S. cities and Connecticut on chronic veterans’ homelessness could be a politically viable way to present the issue to American voters.

As more cities report that they’ve ended that situation, Berg said it could get more public exposure as a social problem that can be solved. “Some candidate is going to figure out that this is an opportunity to get him or herself associated with something really good. Maybe,” he added.

William Burnett, a board member of the advocacy organization Picture the Homeless, and a formerly homeless veteran living in New York City, said he got housing in March due to his status as a veteran.

“It’s easier to sell the political will to address veteran homelessness than it is to address the homelessness of other people,” Burnett told The National Memo. He said he appreciated the fact that he was able to get housing, but said people who hadn’t served in the military also need help.

“I would like to see some of these candidates addressing [homelessness] during the campaign process,” added Burnett, who volunteered for Howard Dean’s campaign in 2003. Policy makers and candidates, Burnett said, should listen to those with the most expertise on homelessness — currently and formerly homeless people — in order to come up with creative solutions to get people housed.

Homelessness is “a national nexus for so many other issues that candidates talk about,” said Jake Maguire, a spokesperson at Community Solutions, a national nonprofit organization that helps communities address homelessness. He cited income inequality, jobs, and affordable housing, among other social and economic issues related to homelessness.

The Obama administration put a spotlight on the issue of veteran homelessness, Maguire said. Now, it can be “an entry point” to politicians speaking about addressing homelessness more broadly.

National Problem, Local Success

In New Orleans to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, on August 27, President Obama touted the progress the city has made in “fighting poverty” and “supporting our homeless veterans.”

“New Orleans has become a model for the nation as … the first major city to end veterans’ homelessness, which is a remarkable achievement,” the president said.

In addition to Connecticut and New Orleans, cities including Phoenix and Salt Lake City announced that they have eliminated chronic homelessness among veterans, and Houston reported in June that the city has effectively housed all of its homeless vets.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines chronic homelessness “as an individual or family with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.”

Even though a small minority of Americans experiences homelessness firsthand, advocates say it’s a social issue voters should care about because their tax dollars fund the government programs aimed at addressing homelessness, whether they’re effective or not.

Between shelter costs, emergency room visits, mental health services, drug treatment, Medicaid, food stamps, and other benefits, it costs the government between $35,000 and $150,000 per year for one person living on the streets. And ultimately, the people receiving these benefits do not get the one they really need: a place to live.

“We as taxpayers spend [on average] 40 percent more to keep people homeless than to house them,” Maguire said. Annual per-person savings for cities that choose to offer homeless people housing vary by location, from $54,086 in Jacksonville, Florida, to $46,900 in Los Angeles, to $15,772 in Denver.

Burnett also said it costs more to keep a homeless person on the streets, than to pay for their housing. “If you want to bring the budget down, let’s find a cheaper way.”

Some cities, including Salt Lake City, have found so-called “housing first” strategies to be both ethical and cost-effective in transitioning people from shelters or the streets to their own housing.

While some taxpayers may question why they should pay for someone else’s housing, and argue that homeless people are without shelter because of drug or alcohol abuse, not wanting to work or some other personal choice, the reality is that many people are homeless due to a lack of affordable housing and poverty.

In addition, Maguire said, “housing is actually the platform of stability” from which people can gain access to drug treatment programs, job training, and mental health care.

Other advocates agreed: It’s hard to maintain a job when you are sleeping on the streets.

On The Streets, Off The Campaign Trail

As far as political constituencies go, homeless people don’t have the loudest voice. Most people without shelter are likely not donating to any candidates’ campaigns, and certainly not to Super PACs. Furthermore, the homeless experience unique barriers to exercising their right to vote. Without a mailing address, it may be difficult to receive your voter registration card or information about your polling site.

So while 2016 candidates are talking about income and wealth inequality, creating jobs, raising the minimum wage, developing more affordable housing, and providing greater access to health care, they have only discussed homelessness indirectly or in passing, if at all.

The advocates interviewed for this piece mentioned Bernie Sanders as the candidate most likely to speak about homelessness on the campaign trail.

Back in March, on a visit to San Francisco before he had declared his candidacy, Sanders said the city deserved credit for “consistently being one of the most progressive cities in the United States.” But the Vermont senator said the homelessness that is evident on the streets of San Francisco was emblematic of “a systemic failure being ignored by both political leadership and media,” according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

“I know this has been a long-term problem in this great city, but what is hard for many Americans to deal with is the fact that we were led to believe we were a vibrant democracy — but in many ways we are moving to an oligarchic society,” Sanders said. “Ninety-nine percent of all new income today generated is going to the top 1 percent. Does that sound anything vaguely resembling the kind of society we want to be living in?”

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley’s campaign told The National Memo he has addressed homelessness on the campaign trail, and while he served as governor of Maryland and mayor of Baltimore. While campaigning in Iowa on July 4, candidates were asked by The Des Moines Register how they best demonstrated patriotism in their lives. O’Malley said his patriotism was shown in “the form of service to others — especially the most vulnerable and voiceless among us: the poor, the sick, the homeless, the hungry and the imprisoned.”

In June, O’Malley discussed the need for a more coordinated strategy to promote affordable housing, mental and physical health care, addiction treatment, and “putting housing first” in order to address homelessness, according to O’Malley’s campaign.

The campaigns of Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson did not respond to an email asking whether they planned to discuss homelessness, or had a policy plan to address homelessness nationally. The campaigns of Democratic front-runners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders also did not respond to requests for comment.

One reason candidates rarely talk about poverty and homelessness specifically, the California Homeless Youth Project’s Hyatt said, is simple: Financial struggles are often foreign to them.

“Unfortunately, people who tend to run for public office have grown up middle class or better, and are therefore out of touch with the urgent crisis of homelessness in our country.”

Photo: Homeless people sleeping in Washington Square Park in New York City, (Kevin Christopher Burke via Flickr)

How Does Campaign Financing Affect Polarization?

By Don Wolfensberger, CQ Roll Call (MCT)

WASHINGTON — An interesting debate is swirling around next Tuesday’s midterm elections for Congress. It involves the extent to which the sources, amounts and uses of campaign contributions will affect not only the outcomes of various hotly contested races but the makeup, policy agenda and processes of the next Congress.

The 2010 midterms returned Republicans to power in the House after four years of Democratic rule. They also brought in a wave of hard-line Tea Party conservatives who made any kind of cooperation between the House, Senate and White House nearly impossible. The re-election of President Barack Obama in 2012 did not alter that dynamic. If anything, it made governing even more problematic as the 2013 government shutdown amply demonstrated.

Two events this month helped highlight the nexus between campaign financing and polarization in Congress. The Bipartisan Policy Center convened a roundtable Oct. 16 that brought together scholars, political practitioners, good government groups and journalists to discuss whether the current state of campaign financing is responsible for the increasing level of polarization and gridlock in Congress.

The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs hosted the second event Oct. 20 in Austin, Texas, “Mastering Congress: Political Reform 50 Years After the Great Society.” The program featured two former Texas congressmen who serve on the BPC Commission on Political Reform, and two political scientists who are co-authors of an award-winning book on the increasing role members of Congress play in raising money for their party campaign committees and other candidates.

Dueling duos of academic election experts kicked off the former roundtable. Tom Mann and Anthony Corrado, governance studies fellows at the Brookings Institution, take issue with those who assert that campaign finance law restrictions have weakened the parties and strengthened outside groups that tend to support more extreme candidates. They maintain that parties are as strong as ever but that the Republican Party “has veered sharply right in recent decades” producing an “asymmetric polarization” characterized by an unwillingness to compromise and a set of “unusually confrontational tactics.”

University of Massachusetts political scientists Ray LaRaja and Brian Schaffner say their research at the state level suggests Mann and Corrado “could be wrong.” Their study indicates that, “states with party-centered campaign finance laws tend to be less polarized than states that constrain how the parties can support candidates.” This is because party organizations tend to fund more moderate, pragmatic candidates. Both sides of the debate concur that recent campaign financing developments are not the overriding cause of increased polarization but have certainly exacerbated it.

Eric Heberlig of the University of North Carolina and Bruce Larson of Gettysburg College, co-authors of Congressional Parties, Institutional Ambition, and the Financing of Majority Control, told the Austin conference about the explosive, coordinated growth since 1990 in campaign giving by members of Congress to their party committees and other candidates. Today, party leaders importune their members to give generously to their party campaign committees. The leadership establishes quotas for overall giving to the party depending on a member’s position in the leadership or on committees.

Consequently, members spend less time on their legislative work in Congress and more time raising campaign funds for their own re-election and their party. Former Reps. Henry Bonilla (R-TX) and Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX) agreed that members now spend at least one-fourth of their time attending fundraisers and dialing for dollars. Committees consequently are less involved in serious policymaking as party leaders increasingly shape the legislative agenda to satisfy party campaign contributors. The former congressmen say this shift was especially noticeable beginning in 2006 (Bonilla) or 2010 (Gonzalez).

The increasing role of Super PACs and wealthy, independent donors in recent election cycles poses more unanswered questions about the impact of campaign giving on the agenda and processes of Congress. If there is some correlation between the growth and sources of campaign spending, on the one hand, and legislative outcomes in Congress, then record-breaking campaign spending this cycle could either make the 114th Congress even more gridlocked than its predecessor or more unified and productive around a few select issues — all depending on which party wins the Senate.

(Wolfensberger is a resident scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.)

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Former Connecticut Governor Rowland Guilty Of Violating Federal Campaign Laws

By Edmund H. Mahony, The Hartford Courant

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Former Connecticut Gov. John R. Rowland, a political rising star who crashed a decade ago in a corruption scandal, fell again Friday when a jury in federal court found him guilty in a low-rent scheme to collect secret paychecks from rich Republican congressional candidates.

After deliberating about seven hours over two days, the jury convicted the 57-year-old, three-term governor of conspiracy, two counts of falsifying records in order to obstruct an investigation, two counts of causing false reports to be filed with the Federal Election Commission and two counts of exceeding campaign contribution limits.

After spending much of his life on billion-dollar government-spending deals — he was first elected a state representative at age 23 and also has served as in Congress — Rowland likely will return to prison for hiding $35,000 in consulting fees from long-shot 2012 candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley.

Rowland was accused of conspiring to violate and obstruct federal campaign reporting laws by concealing his role as a paid consultant in one congressional campaign and trying to obtain a secret paid position advising another.

Rowland’s lead defense lawyer, Reid Weingarten, devoted much of his 90-minute summation Thursday to chipping away at nine days of government evidence. As he concluded, he stopped just short of presenting Rowland as a victim.

“What this case is about is two really, really, really wealthy people who wanted to buy congressional seats, one for himself and one for his wife,” Weingarten said.

Weingarten said Mark Greenberg, the well-to-do real estate investor running for Congress on his own, misrepresented a consulting proposal Rowland made to him for political reasons.

Brian Foley, the owner of a nursing home chain who was supporting the campaign of his wife, Wilson-Foley, misrepresented the consulting agreement he approved and signed with Rowland in a cynical — and successful – attempt to win leniency for himself for criminal behavior of his own that could have sent him to prison for 40 years, Weingarten said.

The government accused Rowland of drafting a phony contract with Mark Greenberg’s 2010 campaign for Congress in the state’s 5th District. Rowland was accused of trying to conceal his role by asking Greenberg to pay him through a nonprofit animal shelter. Greenberg rejected the offer, in part because Rowland wanted nearly $800,000 over more than two years.

Two years later, when Wilson-Foley ran for the same seat, Foley testified that he offered Rowland a similar deal for $5,000. Rowland would be paid as a nursing home consultant while working for the Wilson-Foley campaign.

For months, Foley defended Rowland’s contract with Apple as valid, saying the former governor provided substantial advice to the nursing home chain. But earlier this year, Foley changed his position after agreeing to take a relatively lenient plea bargain agreement with the government in return for cooperating with authorities.

Weingarten argued Thursday that Foley falsely accused Rowland in order to obtain forgiveness from potential obstruction of justice charges he faced and a long list of potential campaign fundraising violations by him and members of his family.

The defense and government disagreed on all points, including why Rowland tried to keep his consulting agreement with Foley a secret.

Rowland had to keep his political work secret, prosecutor Christopher Mattei said, because the bribery conviction that forced him from office in 2004 and later resulted in his imprisonment made him politically toxic. Any candidates who hired him and publicly reported his salary on reports to the Federal Election Commission could expect to have their judgment questioned.

Mattei said Rowland’s most valuable and salable skills were his enormous political skill, his strategic political vision and his intimate knowledge of the state’s 5th Congressional District, where both Greenberg and Wilson-Foley ran. But, he said, Rowland knew he could tank any candidate who hired him.

Photo: Scott* via Flickr