On the Trail — Surefire election winners

This article has been corrected.

Voters can debate all they want on whose campaign is worth their support. But when donors shell out their money in this year’s citywide election, there’s one side that invariably wins: the consulting industry.

Of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's spending so far, a sizeable chunk has gone to campaign consultants. Graphic by Sebastien Malo.

Of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s spending so far, a sizeable chunk has gone to campaign consultants. Graphic by Sebastien Malo.

They are companies like the Advance Group, the Chung Seto Group and Berlin Rosen, and out of each dollar spent during this election cycle, 30 cents has been used to pay their services, according to campaign finance records.

That means that out of the $28 million in funds that campaigns and political action committees have disbursed so far, $9 million have found their ways to the pockets of political consultants — more than any other type of expense.

And with campaigns intensifying their reconnaissance work as they enter the homestretch to primary day, just five weeks away, that spending will continue to swell.

In 2009, by the end of the election cycle that saw Mayor Michael Bloomberg re-elected, the industry had reaped in excess of $21 million in fees.

This time around, the Advance Group leads the way with just over $1 million in contracts so far — including $695,000 paid by the PAC New York City is Not for Sale for a slew of ads lashing out at mayoral candidate Christine Quinn.

These guns for hire – who will generally fight for whoever signs them first – have drawn their share of criticism for specializing in the art of political scheme. But Kenneth Sherrill, political science professor emeritus at Hunter College, says that they may have become essential.

“It’s part of the decline of citizen-based politics,” he said. “Skilled volunteers have disappeared, and candidates now have to pay for help,” he said.

That assistance can take the form of political advice, public relations, mailing costs or creative services, among other offerings.

Jon Reznick, a consultant with the firm Competitive Advantage Research and a former staffer for various campaigns, also points to the belief that hiring a respected consulting firm is helpful in pulling in support.

“It’s almost a signal of viability,” he said. “If you don’t catch a consultant for your race, it’s as if you have been passed over.”

The business opportunities for consultants don’t end on primary or election day.

Among the 10 groups that have pocketed most money in this election cycle, nearly half – the Advance Group, Chung Seto Group, Pitta Bishop Del Giorno & Gibl, Peter Allen Consulting LLC and Hudson TG LLC – offer lobbying services to represent special interests with the officials they have sometimes helped to get elected.

“They do the work of getting somebody elected and then make themselves available for more substantial fees,” Sherrill said.

“By then they have access to the officials.”

Correction: This article originally said that the Advance Group was paid by Jobs for New York for attack ads against Christine Quinn.


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