December 2, 2014

Most of my clients are deep into planning for 2015. Here’s a tip – the absolute key to effective marketing is controlling your message. Unfortunately, this is no longer possible in politics because of “dark-money.” As stated in an editorial from The Philadelphia Inquirer (published in the Medford Mail Tribune), the Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited, undisclosed political contributions that can’t be controlled by the candidate has fundamentally changed political marketing.

In Southern Oregon I saw this first-hand. Oregon Senator Alan Bates beat his challenger, Dave Dotterrer, for the second time. Dotterrer said (in a Medford Mail Tribune story) that he was “happy with how he had run his campaign and how the Republican Party had pulled together.” Ok, that might be true.

But here’s the real truth. Mr. Dotterrer had little control of the message used in a slew of unbelievable stupid and ugly TV ads, funded by people outside of Southern Oregon, that were totally out of touch with voters. Talk about being off strategy and out of control. A couple of quick focus groups would have quickly showed how this strategy was not working.

But that’s not the point. The point is that dark-money groups run always run the most negative and misleading ads, aimed at confusing voters and often keeping them home on Election Day. And because they don’t have to disclose the sources of their money, contributors don’t have to answer to customers, shareholders, or anyone else who may disagree with their politics.

A Center for Responsive Politics study showed that the increase in outside political spending — including dark-money groups and those that disclose their donors infrequently, like super-PACs — coincided with a decrease in candidate and party spending. That’s too bad, because candidate and party ads tend to be a bit more honest and less vitriolic.

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