A Sort-of Defense Of Hillary's Campaign Spending

by Noam Scheiber | February 22, 2008

Granted, the Clinton campaign has spent money in some pretty egregious ways. And I'm not sure how you give the checkbook to Patti Solis Doyle again after she let you spend $30 million in a re-election campaign against bums, as they say in the boxing business. Still, there are some details in this Times piece that seem completely defensible to me. For example:

As part of their get-out-the-vote effort in Iowa, the campaign came up with a plan to have a local supermarket deliver sandwich platters to pre-caucus parties. It spent more than $95,384 on Jan. 1 at Hy-Vee Inc., a local grocery chain in West Des Moines, Iowa, in addition to buying loads of snow shovels to clear the walks for caucusgoers. Mrs. Clinton came in third in the Jan. 3 caucus. It did not snow.

Okay, so it didn't snow on caucus night. But so what? Is the implication that the campaign shouldn't have planned for snow? Having spent most of December in Iowa, I can assure you that would have been a criminally stupid risk to take. 

Also, as the piece notes, the Obama campaign has actually spent more on media, polling, and other consultants--$40 million to Clinton's 35. Now, my sense is that they're getting a lot more for their money. Not only are their consultants apparently making better decisions, but the Obama campaign seems to spread the money out a lot more (four polling firms, for example, whereas the Clinton campaign just uses Penn's firm, I'm told), which means it's getting more manpower for its buck--and, conversely, not concentrating so much power in a handful of highly fallible operatives. But that only underscores the point that it isn't how much you spend on any particular category or line item, but whether you spend intelligently.

I think this Jim Jordan quote at the end of the piece gets it about right:

“Obviously, some campaigns are more careful and wise with their money than others,” Jim Jordan, a Democratic consultant who ran John Kerry’s presidential campaign until November 2003. “But these budgetary post-mortems tend to follow a familiar pattern; winners are by definition smart, and losers are dumb and wasteful. In truth, campaign budgeting is hard and complicated and three-dimensional and just impossible to understand without the full time-and-place context of the whole race.”

Good for the Times for giving him the last word, even if it kind of undercuts the rest of the piece.

--Noam Scheiber

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