Campaign spending shares the wealth

Political candidates aren’t the only ones reaping the rewards of campaign spending.

During election season, Oregon political committees contract with local businesses to meet their campaign’s needs, such as consulting, advertising and event planning. From signs to catering at fundraisers, every detail can make or break a candidate’s image.

Since 2008, political committees statewide spent about $27.4 million in campaign expenses on businesses, individuals, advocacy groups and others in Salem, according to data from the campaign finance database ORESTAR. Most of the money was spent on political consulting firms, payroll, taxes or passed to political action committees.

Businesses that don’t work exclusively in politics, such as commercial printers and restaurants, also rake in big money as elections heat up, spending records show.

The commercial printer Lynx Group, Inc., for example, was paid $1.2 million in the past four years to print brochures, fliers and other literature mainly from The Leadership Fund, the Senate Republican political action committee.

And like in many industries, who you know can dictate where you get your business.

Giving campaign advice

Political consulting firms that also provide advertising and marketing services benefited the most from campaign spending in the last four years.

“Candidates are naturally uneasy during an election cycle because it’s a combative process,” said Chuck Adams, who owns New Media Northwest. “There’s a lot of hand holding, encouragement and helping them navigate through that landmine.”

The consulting, advertising and marketing agency caters to Republican candidates and business-oriented issues. It earned $2.7 million since 2008 from campaign spending, records show.

One of the firm’s recent achievements included helping Rep. Matt Wand, R-Troutdale, get elected to his first term in the November 2010 election. The win helped to evenly split the House of Representatives, 30-30, between Republicans and Democrats.

Another firm, Hopkins + Sachs, Inc., formerly known as Sachs Communications, was paid $3.1 million during the same period to give campaign advice and design logos, ads and direct mail for Democratic candidates and other political action committees.

“If you’re working for people and supporting issues that you believe in, there’s no better job,” said Hiram Sachs, the firm’s owner.

Both owners said their firm’s success rate and quality services help attract clients during the election cycle. The pace of campaigning has also quickened with the popularity of social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and electronic communication.

“In politics, you’re always being thrown a curve ball,” Sachs said.

While political consultants play to win, Adams said he never guarantees an election outcome— although 90 percent of time he said he’s not surprised by the results. A candidate can get outspent or the campaign might miss a point on strategy.

“Sometimes, it’s just not in the cards,” he said.

Mixing business and politics

Political consultants intentionally gravitate toward helping one party, but businesses said they try to steer clear of mixing business and politics.

It doesn’t always end up that way.

Photographer Lynn Howlett said he’s worked hard for years to avoid being pegged as the “Republican’s photographer.” He’s shot portraits for both parties; the first political image he remembers taking was of now Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, about 10 years ago.

“He got in a three-point stance like he was playing football,” Howlett recalled.

Howlett, who also shoots photos for a Republican political consulting firm, said many of his clients are Republicans, although he never intended for it to be that way.

Sometimes it’s difficult to work for both parties at the same time, said Kelly James, whose clients are mainly Democrats.

Both photographers, who described themselves as independent, said they have turned away business if the photo is going to be used negatively or the candidate is from an opposing campaign to one for which they’re currently working.

“I don’t know if it would be ethical,” James said.

Campaign spending data also show that some commercial printers had clients primarily from one party. Democrats tend to use print shops that are unionized.

Select Impressions owner Mike Basinger, former director of the Salem Keizer School Board, said he also draws the line at printing campaign materials for two opposing candidates. His clients are primarily Republican.

“Everybody’s really sensitive and rightfully so about what their campaign is about. So by dealing with one side of the issue you minimize any ethical conflicts,” he said.

Patrick Sieng, former chief of staff to Newport Democrat Rep. Jean Cowan, runs a website design company that works with both parties.

Once a registered Democrat, Sieng also described himself as an independent.

“I merely develop the website based on information that they have, but I’m not going to make suggestions about what wording they should use,” Sieng said. “I stay out of the political strategy.”

qwong@statesmanjournal.com, (503) 399-6694 or follow at twitter.com/QWongSJ

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