For a look at one of the real stories of the 2008 campaign, check out this NY Times article about attempts by the top Democratic presidential campaigns to cut back on the amount of money siphoned off by political consultants, bringing them more in line with their Republican opposites. In the past few election cycles, Democratic consultants have generally taken a percentage of television ad buys rather than a flat fee, creating an obvious conflict of interest when it comes to determining how a campaign should spend its money. Though the article doesn’t mention it, Howard Dean has criticized this practice repeatedly since he became DNC chair. The online revolution is wrapped up in the issue, in part because of the rise of the web as an alternate message-distribution channel:
But the bigger change may come as the Web redefines the entire media world. John Brabender, a Republican consultant who is working for Rudolph W. Giuliani’s presidential campaign, said that 5 percent to 10 percent of advertising expenses were already going to the Web. And Mr. Trippi, who helped pioneer the use of online fund-raising during Mr. Dean’s campaign, said the Edwards campaign had produced attack videos for the Web for as little as $800, a tiny fraction of what it costs to create and broadcast a television commercial.
Though of course we should note that online videos aren’t intrusive in the way that TV ads are, and so aren’t a true substitute mechanism for reaching the uncommitted and/or marginally interested. But, political campaigns have generally lagged behind the commercial advertising world in the percentage of money spent online, and removing consultants’ bias toward TV ads should help bring more balance to the system. Also, as online donations bring a larger group of small donors into the process, they’re going to demand that their money be well spent if campaigns want more of it.