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Monday, December 09, 2019

Presidential Candidates Seek Donors In A Holiday-Giving Mood

By Tim Higgins, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for the White House are counting on the holiday season to get donors in the giving mood to help year-end fund-raising reports.

“We’ll see a big push now because most of the campaigns are figuring that they want to try to get as much online revenue in as possible before the holidays since it’s very difficult to raise money and focus attention between Christmas and New Year’s,” Tony Corrado, a government professor at Colby College, said. “They are now competing with Amazon, except they don’t have two-day shipping.”

The final totals raised by the campaigns in the fourth quarter, which closes Dec. 31, will take on greater significance during this election than four years ago because they’re required to reveal their finances before the nominating contest kicks off with the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses followed by the New Hampshire primaries. In 2012, the FEC filing deadline came weeks after the Iowa caucuses, which were held on Jan. 3.

This time around candidates and the super PACs supporting them must file year-end reports on Jan. 31. The Iowa caucuses are slated for Feb. 1.

The amount of money a campaign raises each quarter has increasingly become an important gauge for judging whether a candidate is garnering the support needed to be viable. Doing well or better than expect can earn a candidate increased media attention and help build momentum. Campaigns happy with their totals will likely leak their results early in an attempt to generate publicity and momentum.

“This year, it’s going to be more important than it was in 2012 and 2008 because there’s a month before the caucuses,” Corrado said. “Generally, it’s been the case in the past that the cash-on hand figures for the year-end proves to be an important barometer for how well a candidate might do in the caucuses and in New Hampshire.”

On the Republican side, Carly Fiorina’s campaign sought help, pleading in an email to supporters on Dec. 20: “Please, invest $13 in Carly as soon as you can — before the FEC deadline on December 31st — so we can continue to build up our ground game and mobilize our supporters in the early states in 2016.”

Earlier this month, Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign sent out an email warning that it was the “last chance to buy Christmas gifts” and included a link to the campaign’s website where they were offering “Marco” winter hats and scarfs for sale. Small print on the website notes that all purchases are considered contributions to the campaign.

“What better holiday gift can you give the Marco supporter in your life than new campaign gear?” the email asked.

On the Democrats’ side, the appeals are rolling out, too. “Add your name to our card for the Clinton family,” an email from Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin told supporters on Dec. 20. “Hillary and Bill won’t have time for any family vacations this holiday season, but you can make sure it’s still special and filled with joy!”

The campaigns will likely take a short break around Christmas as not to intrude into their supports’ family time, said Lara Brown, associate professor and program director of the political management program at The George Washington University.

“But there’s no doubt that fundraising emails will be as prolific as bowl games in the December 26th to January 1st time frame,” she said.

©2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio speaks at a campaign town hall meeting in Rochester, New Hampshire, December 21, 2015.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder


Yes, Those Political Ads Are Following You

By Tim Higgins, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — When Scott Tranter, a Washington political strategy adviser, wants to figure out which TV shows Republican voters are watching, he calls Rentrak, a company that uses information pulled from set-top cable and satellite boxes to track viewing habits. Rentrak’s data help Tranter determine exactly where candidates can get the most value for their ad dollars. Rather than advising campaigns to spend $3,000 on prime-time broadcast slots in Des Moines, he tells them to buy airtime during reruns of “Law & Order” on TNT, at a fraction of the cost.

It’s a strategy devised and perfected by former Barack Obama campaign staffer Carol Davidsen, who joined Rentrak in January to oversee political analytics. “My job isn’t to target TV, my job is to figure out that you’re a vote I care about, and what do you do with your time all day long,” says Tranter, whose firm, Optimus, does work for Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, according to federal election records. “Carol’s very good at piecing all of these different technologies together.”

By hiring Davidsen, Rentrak has solidified its hold on the data driving political ad spending for the 2016 campaign.

Incorporated in 1977, the company originally tracked movie rental inventories, then reinvented itself as a monitoring service for box-office sales. As people began watching movies on cable and on demand, Rentrak developed relationships with service providers to get viewership data it sold to movie studios and advertisers.

On Sept. 29, the company announced it would merge with ComScore, a leader in tracking digital media consumption, in a deal valued at more than $800 million. The merger could allow the combined company to track voters across all their screens. “It’s going to be a good catalyst for companies and advertisers to think more along these lines,” says Brent McGoldrick, chief executive officer of Deep Root Analytics. One of Deep Root’s founders, Alex Lundry, is now head of data analytics for Jeb Bush’s campaign.

Near her desk, Davidsen keeps small maps of the swing states that will be most important in deciding the 2016 presidential election. As the director of integration and media targeting for Obama’s 2012 campaign, she created a tool known as “the Optimizer.” It not only used Rentrak numbers to spit out information on what the likeliest voters were watching but also told the campaign’s media buyers where they could reach the most voters for the lowest price.

Before the Optimizer, the campaign — like most of its predecessors — bought airtime during local news and prime-time broadcasts on the theory that those shows reached the most people. Davidsen’s analysis prompted the campaign’s ad buyers to triple their investment in cable ads, a strategy that made the spots 10 percent to 20 percent more effective, in the campaign’s estimation. The results brought as quick and fundamental a shift as Richard Nixon’s dour appearance in his 1960 presidential debate against John F. Kennedy, Davidsen argues. “After Kennedy, everyone got face powder,” she says. “You didn’t debate whether you were going to powder your face before you went on TV. This question was answered.”

In the 2014 midterms, ad buyers for Republican candidates boosted the number of political commercials on local cable by almost 75 percent over the 2010 midterms, according to NCC Media, which sells local ad space for most cable carriers. Channels such as HGTV, FX and the Food Network were suddenly inundated with campaign messages. “I definitely attribute that to better analytics behind TV advertising,” says Timothy Kay, director of political strategy at NCC. “Part of what’s great about the Rentrak data is that it’s given ratings to networks that we haven’t traditionally seen ratings on because of the small sample sizes that are shown by other media survey companies.”

Nielsen and other companies have also developed ways to track audiences across television and the Web. Smaller companies such as Rovi and FourthWall Media are also getting into the tracking business. But Rentrak has a unique advantage: its access to viewer data from markets across the country. By the end of the year, it expects to track about a fifth of U.S. TV viewing households.

CEO Bill Livek is betting the company’s investment in political advertising will pay off beyond the 2016 election. Businesses are trying to mimic the microtargeting techniques developed by political operatives, and Livek expects they’ll hire people who have relationships with Rentrak. “The smartest minds in America, and I mean that literally, work on these political campaigns,” he says. “Once the election is done they’ve got to get real work, and they end up working at some of the major brands.”

With a team of eight, Davidsen is trying to solve one of the problems that bedeviled her when she was on the campaign side in 2012: how to make sure the same people don’t see a candidate’s ads too many times. Even with its sophisticated analytics, the Obama campaign ultimately realized it was bombarding 6 percent of households in Ohio with more than 60 ads a week.

“That was not the desired intent,” Davidsen says, noting research that suggests voters can be provoked into voting against a candidate if they’re annoyed by seeing too many of the same TV ads. She says ad blitzes can bedevil better-funded campaigns, like Hillary Clinton’s or Bush’s. “The Hillary campaign’s problem is not going to be the lack of budget,” she says. “It’s going to be avoiding these 60 exposures.”

Playing with information goes back to childhood for Davidsen, who as a girl loved organizing her box of crayons more than coloring with them. “I just would ask questions of the crayon box, then organize the crayons to the answers to the questions. What are the feminine colors vs. the masculine colors? What are the citrusy colors?” she recalls. “I have a natural inclination to sort.”

Photo: Marco Rubio is one presidential candidate who is using firms that follow web users’ interests in order to target them for ads for him. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Million-Dollar Donations Fuel Super PACs’ New Dominance

By Tim Higgins, Bloomberg News (TNS)

Nearly 60 people have already donated at least $1 million each to independent political committees supporting Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in what promises to be the most expensive election ever.

Super PACs and other outside groups raised more than $250 million during the first half of this year, according to filings with the U.S. Federal Election Commission.

That amount far exceeds what was raised during the comparable period before the 2012 election and is fast approaching the $374 million spent by super PACs on the presidential campaign during the entire 2012 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“These groups have gotten off to a much faster start than they have in the past,” said Brendan Glavin of the Campaign Finance Institute, a research group affiliated with George Washington University. “What will remain to be seen is how much can they go back to these people? Will they be willing to give again?”

That the groups raised a lot of money wasn’t a surprise. Right to Rise USA, for example, announced in early July that it had collected $103 million to support Republican Jeb Bush. The filings, however, gave the first look into how giving has changed since the 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the door for super PACs, which are political entities that, unlike candidates’ official campaign committees, can raise unlimited amounts of money. Super PACs must disclose their donors, and can spend directly on campaign advocacy as long as they don’t coordinate with a candidate, though some are run by former aides or associates of the candidates.

The aggressiveness with which super PACs are raising money also shows that the caution first displayed by campaigns after the 2010 decision has fallen away. At the comparable time in 2011, only one of the 12 Republican contenders had a super PAC. That was Mitt Romney, whose super PAC’s $12 million haul was less than the $18 million raised by his regular campaign fund at that point.

During 2011 and 2012, super PACs supporting Romney had 30 donors giving at least $1 million while a group behind President Barack Obama had 35 big givers.

This time around, the pro-Bush group Right to Rise, which raised more than any other super PAC, relied on two dozen individuals and corporations to contribute at least $1 million and another 22 that gave at least $500,000. The largest single donor was Mike Fernandez, chairman of private equity firm MBF Healthcare Partners in Coral Gables, Florida, who gave more than $3 million.

For some candidates, the generosity of a few benefactors is fueling much of their effort. Super PACs behind Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) raised a combined $37.83 million. Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund manager and the biggest individual donor to any super PAC thus far, gave $11 million, and Toby Neugebauer, co-founder of Quantum Energy Partners, a Houston private-equity firm that oversees more than $7 billion, gave $10 million.

(Gregory Giroux and Zachary Mider contributed to this report.)

Photo: Super PACs behind Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) raised a combined $37.83 million. Cruz speaks at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore via Flickr)