The mysterious political consultants making millions to influence elections

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Though broadcast and radio advertisements paid for by multi-million dollar super PACs draw scrutiny, little attention is paid to the political consultants that produce them. For these groups, politics is a lucrative business.

Super PACs and independent expenditure hybrid PACs gave out a combined $552 million to the top 10 highest-paid political consultants during the 2018 election cycle, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, meaning only a handful of groups produce a majority of the political ads that fill the airwaves come election season.

Data on expenditures from outside spending groups, including payments to political consultants, is now included on the profile pages for super PACs and other outside spending groups on no deposit bonus, making it easier than ever to see which consultants are being paid by these groups.

Political consultants — which use money from super PACs to produce political ads and purchase them on stations along with other duties — tend to stick with one side of the ideological spectrum and are often staffed with former political operatives.

With more than $149 million given to the group by super PACs and hybrid PACs, liberal consultant Waterfront Strategies claims the top spot among outside spending vendors in 2018. Waterfront’s dominant position isn’t particularly surprising, as it is an arm of the massive D.C. firm GMMB Consulting. Between GMMB and Waterfront, the two groups have combined to be the highest-paid consultant in each election cycle since 2012.

Waterfront was the top vendor for a number of major liberal super PACs, including Senate Majority PAC, Women Vote! and League of Conservation Voters. The group also handled nearly all of the advertising duties ($39 million) for outside spending reported to the FEC by Majority Forward, this cycle’s leading dark money spender.

While some consultants like to advertise just how successful they are at winning elections, others keep prefer to keep their operation secret.

Nebo Media comes in second place among outside spending vendors, receiving $115 million almost entirely from the conservative super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF). The firm has no online presence whatsoever and had just two large clients prior to 2018 — the National Republican Senatorial Committee ($7.4 million) and Liberty for All Super PAC ($1.3 million) in 2012.

The firm shares the same Arlington, Virginia address as longtime GOP consultant Strategic Media Services — CLF’s second-highest-paid vendor in 2018 at $5 million — as well as fellow conservative ad makers including Red Rock Media, Designated Market Media and U.S. Chamber of Commerce-linked R Street Films.

When a single consultant gets paid to make most of the advertisements for a major super PAC, they will probably rank high on this list. Conservative consultant Main Street Media Group falls into the category, receiving $68 million from Senate Leadership Fund — enough to place them third among largest super PAC vendors.

Bully Pulpit Interactive got $59 million from super PACs and hybrid PACs. A majority of those funds — $38 million — came from Democratic super PAC Priorities USA Action, which spent $126 million in negative ads against Trump during the 2016 election. Bully Pulpit Interactive also received $41 million from Hillary Clinton’s campaign that cycle.

With more than $37 million coming in from outside groups, liberal consultant SKDKnickerbocker rounds out the top five vendors. More than $32 million came from Michael Bloomberg’s Independence USA PAC.

Red Eagle Media Group just makes the top 10, getting nearly $22 million from pro-Trump super PAC America First Action. The group faces scrutiny for allegedly facilitating coordination between Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign, the National Rifle Association and America First Action.


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