02/12/2015 08:32 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

HUFFPOLLSTER: Political Spending Becomes More Transparent Thanks To A New Tool

Jeffrey Coolidge via Getty Images

Open Secrets releases a new tool that tracks spending on polls and other campaign expenses. Americans see growth in economy but little personal change. And immigration reform gets strong support. This is HuffPollster for Thursday, February 12, 2015.

During the 2014 campaign cycle, the top polling firms took in over $60 million in campaign disbursements, according to the latest financial disclosure forms filed with the Federal Election Commission.

That's just one statistic culled from a handy new search tool launched on Wednesday by the Open Secrets web site of the Center for Responsive Politics that breaks down disbursements by campaigns for president and U.S. Congress by campaign committee and vendor.

Until now, if you wanted to find out which campaign consultants did the most business in the last election cycle, or what candidates they polled for, you had to sift through thousands of pages of financial disclosure forms by hand. Now, thanks to improved electronic disclosure requirements by the Federal Election Commission and CRP's new search tool, answers to those questions are easy to find.

Of greatest interest to those who follow pre-election polls, the section includes an interactive listing of the top 50 "Polling Vendors". Each firm has a link that when clicked also reveals total receipts from each of their clients.

In the 2014 cycle, for example, the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies ranked number one, taking in $5.9 million in federal campaign polling expenditures. Another click shows total payments to POS from 99 separate campaigns and campaign committees, with just over $1 million in receipts from American Crossroads, the Super PAC led by former Bush White House advisor Karl Rove.


The top 10 listing also reveals a longstanding contrast in the way Republicans and Democrats handle campaign polling. Two large firms, POS and The Tarrance Group, dominate on the Republican side, ranking 1st and 3rd overall. Among Democrats, top campaign clients distribute their polling dollars more evenly, with seven firms among the top 10.

The listing also demonstrates the influence of the Obama administration among the Democrats, with three firms with longstanding ties to the Obama campaigns -- Benenson Strategy Group, Anzalone Liszt Grove Research and David Binder Research -- ranking 2nd, 4th and 7th respectively. These three firms took in a combined $11.3 million dollars in federal campaign funds during the 2014 campaign cycle, just over half of which ($5.3 million) came from the Democratic National Committee.

These totals come with some important caveats. First, since CRP's compilation is limited to federal campaigns, numbers do not yet include expenditures by candidates for governor or any other non-federal campaigns at the state or local level. Second, the database does not include spending by "out of cycle" senators (those who were not up for re-election in 2014) or spending by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee or the National Republican Senatorial Committee. As CRP's Andrew Mayersohn explains, the Senate committees "still file paper reports, often thousands of pages long, and the FEC only recently started to make their expenditures data available in an accessible format." CRP is working to include the Senate committee expenditures "very shortly."

Finally, CRP's polling totals rely on the "purpose of disbursement" reported by campaigns for each expense. As explained to HuffPollster, payment to polling venders were those listed for "polls" or "polling," plus those for more ambiguous labels such as "research" where CRP determined that the vendor is primarily a pollster. Payments were not considered part of the polling total, however, when they were categorized with vague labels such as "consulting" and the CRP's check found the company offers a wide variety of services other than polling.

Michael Bloomberg is a pollster? - One odd anomaly is the name Michael Bloomberg as number 8 on the list of top pollsters, with his pro-gun law Super Pac, Independence USA, listed for 15 payments of over $2.2 million dollars.

No, Bloomberg is not a pollster. And, according to Independence USA spokesman Stu Loeser, "IUSA PAC made no disbursements to Mike Bloomberg."

The payments were disclosures of "in kind" expenditures by Bloomberg for polling. Loeser explains: "The former Mayor paid directly for polling that he gave to the IUSA PAC as an in-kind contribution. The FEC's software reports a corresponding disbursement back to Mr. Bloomberg to prevent the in-kind contribution from affecting the report’s closing cash-on-hand figure."

Which actual pollsters billed Bloomberg for that $2.2 million dollars? Lesser declined to comment. Separately, CRP's reports show that Independence USA disclosed additional direct payments to pollsters Douglas Schoen ($635,250) and Global Strategy Group ($105,500).

Is Bloomberg's "in kind" reporting legal? Yes, says Lesser. "I obviously don't speak for the FEC, but they prescribe this manner of reporting to count the value of in-kind contributions but not misstate the amount of money the committee has left to spend."

Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, agrees that Bloomberg's filing meets legal requirements, but considers the FEC rules "deficient," since "the public is unable to determine who is providing services to the committee in the event of an in-kind contribution." Similarly, as Ryan points out via email, "political committees are also permitted to pay political consultants who, in turn, pay a bunch of specific types of vendors to render services to the committee, but only the disbursement to the consultant is required to be disclosed. At the end of the day, voters don’t have as much information about money in politics as they should."

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AMERICANS BULLISH ABOUT ECONOMY, BUT SEE LESS PERSONAL CHANGE - Dana Blanton: "Sure, things are much better. Just not for me. That’s how many American voters view the economy, according to the latest Fox News poll. The number saying the country is still in a recession is down more than 20 percentage points since 2010. Yet the number saying their family is 'falling behind' financially is the same. And while more people are getting ahead -- the largest portion is still just getting by. In 2010, an overwhelming 88 percent felt the country was in a recession. That’s down to 65 percent in the new poll, released Wednesday….When asked about their family’s finances, 31 percent say they are getting ahead. While still a minority, that’s up from 24 percent in 2013 and 27 percent in September 2009 (in the first year of President Obama’s first term)." [Fox]

A new Public Religion Research Institute poll finds 73 percent of Americans want Congress to prioritize passing legislation on comprehensive immigration reform. The consensus transcends party lines with 85 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of independents, and 62 percent of Republicans agreeing that Congress should prioritize and pass legislation on immigration reform. A slim minority, 17 percent, believe that Congress should focus on overturning Obama's immigration policy instead. A majority, 59 percent, support a path to citizenship for people currently living illegally in the U.S., "provided they meet certain requirements." When asked if they support the parameters for granting legal status as established by Obama, a majority are in favor. However, there is a divide over Obama choosing to act on immigration through executive action. Fifty-two percent say Obama was right to take executive action, while 42 percent say he was wrong. A closer look reveals there are clear political and racial divides on whether Obama should have used executive action. While nearly three in four Republicans oppose his use of executive action, an equal number of Democrats are in favor. In a racial breakdown, 53 percent of white Americans do not approve of the president exercising executive action. In contrast, 80 percent of Hispanic Americans and 80 percent of black Americans support the president's use of executive action. Fifty-eight percent believe that immigrants strengthen the country, while 31 percent see immigrants as a burden. [PRRI]

OPINIONS ON NETANYAHU'S SPEECH SPLIT ALONG PARTY LINES - HuffPollster: "Americans think that it was a breach of protocol for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress, but they still want members of Congress to attend his speech, a HuffPost/YouGov poll finds. In the survey, Americans say by a 23-point margin that it's inappropriate for a member of Congress to invite a foreign leader to speak in the U.S. without first consulting with the White House, and by a 17-point margin that Boehner's invitation to Netanyahu, specifically, was inappropriate. In both cases, about a quarter of Americans said they weren't sure. Despite disagreeing with the handling of the invitation, though, Americans were also more likely than not to say U.S. politicians should still meet with Netanyahu during his trip. The public's opinions on the whole debate were also partisan, with Democrats far more likely than Republicans to find the invitation inappropriate. While Democrats are 9 points more likely than not to say their representative should avoid the Netanyahu speech, Republicans say by a 59-point margin that their representative should attend." [HuffPost]

THURSDAY'S 'OUTLIERS' - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

-Twenty-two percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the influence of religion and want less of it. [Gallup]

-Across the 50 states, gay marriage is favored most in New Hampshire and least in Alabama.. [PRRI]

-A poll of Iowa and New Hampshire Democratic primary voters sponosored by MoveOn.org reads 10 positive statements about Elizabeth Warren and then finds her polling at an unusually high 31 percent. [WashPost]

-Forty-six percent of illegal immigrants live in the 26 states suing Obama over his executive action on immigration. [Pew]

-CrowdPAC ideological scores show Scott Walker tapping conservative donors nationwide. [NYT]

-Oliver Roeder tracks the growth of incarceration in America. [538]

-John Sides revisits whether the Bain Capital ads really mattered in 2012. [WashPost]

-Jenny Marder profiles a professional survey-taker. [PBS]

-Fact Tank compiles stats on the legacy of the Daily Show. [Pew]

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated misspelled the name of IUSA PAC spokesperson Stu Loeser.



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