The proof that media consultants abuse their clients, according to Doug Bailey, founder of The Hotline political news service and former Republican consultant, is the sheer volume of airtime they advise candidates to purchase now.
The number of times each political ad airs has risen exponentially over the years — a phenomenon other consultants confirm — and in Bailey's mind, for no valid strategic reason.
He's convinced that bloated ad buys flow directly from the consultants' pecuniary interests.
A study by the Center for Public Integrity found that in the 2003-2004 presidential election cycle, candidates for national office, party committees and independent "527" political groups spent more than $1.78 billion on campaign consultants, 67 percent of which went to media consultants who handle ads.
The silver-haired Bailey says that with each passing year, he sees an escalation in volume of political advertising, which is measured and priced in the television business according to "rating points."
"In the seventies, a campaign that bought 500 gross rating points a week in a market was considered to be either on the verge or having crossed the line [of] too much," he says during an interview in the third-floor lunchroom down the hall from his office at the Watergate. "And yet today, in the closing weeks of any contested campaign, it's not unusual for campaigns to be buying 3,000 gross rating points. Which is just a massive, massive buy."
And why? "Because consultants earn more money, the more ads that are bought," he says.
To put the numbers in perspective, a 500-point buy means the entire viewing audience will see a commercial — on average — five times in one week. A 3,000-point buy means viewers — in theory — will see it an average of 30 times.