Presidential hopefuls spent $1 million on S.C. consultants

COLUMBIA -- Democratic and Republican candidates for president spent more than $1 million on advice from S.C. political consultants, according to federal campaign finance reports.

South Carolina firms account for about a tenth of the total amount spent nationwide by presidential campaigns in 2007, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The amount spent here, said Clemson University political scientist -- and sometime consultant -- Dave Woodard, is evidence of the state's importance in selecting a president.

"The appeal of South Carolina is it doesn't have real expensive media markets," Woodard said. "It's a reasonable expenditure given the importance of South Carolina this year."

Consultants provide local knowledge to out-of-state candidates trying to win votes. South Carolina hosts first-in-the-South primaries for both Republicans and Democrats, so Southern expertise is a must.

Democrats spent at least $681,000 on S.C. political consultants, outspending Republicans by more than 2 to 1. But the amount spent had little to do with how well a candidate performed.

For example, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois spent little on in-state consultants -- hiring Rick Wade for $24,000 -- but still easily won the S.C. Democratic primary.

Obama's Democratic opponents spent more and fared worse.

Among all candidates, former U.S. Sen. John Edwards from North Carolina spent the most in the state, $307,000 split among at least three firms. More than half of that money went to Palmetto Political Consulting, a firm owned by John Moylan, Edwards' S.C. campaign chairman.

Edwards finished third in S.C., garnering only 17 percent of the vote, down dramatically from 2004, when he won the state's primary.

U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton from New York was second in S.C. spending and the state's primary, losing 2-1 to Obama. Clinton spent $180,000 to hire Sunrise Communications, a firm owned by Richland County state Sen. Darrell Jackson.

Still, that's better than U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut who spent $178,000 on S.C. consulting and dropped out before the state's primary.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani topped spending among Republicans, paying out $160,000 to S.C. firms. Spartanburg-based Palladian Group, run by former state superintendent of education candidate Karen Floyd, received $111,000 of that money.

Giuliani did not actively compete in South Carolina, winning only 4 percent of the GOP primary vote. However, Giuliani was the top fundraiser in the state in 2007, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- who spent $86 million, more than any other candidate, on his campaign before dropping out last week -- spent $116,000 in South Carolina, most of it to the Tompkins, Thompson and Sullivan consulting firm.

Romney came to South Carolina early and built an extensive network in the state. However, Romney finished fourth in the S.C. GOP primary. Supporters blamed that poor performance on Romney's decision to pull his S.C. ads days before the vote and focus on other states.

"I'm a bit surprised because Romney was here the earliest," said Neal Thigpen, a political scientist at Francis Marion University. "Everything seemed to suggest that he gobbled up the best consultants."

Because some campaign expenses are not categorized, it is difficult to determine an exact figure of how much was spent. In addition, some out-of-state consultants were hired for S.C. campaigns.

Experts estimate the campaigns could spend more than $1 billion before a president is elected. But Virginia-based pollster and adviser Whit Ayres said that number needs to be kept in perspective.

Said Ayres, "That's less money, by a major factor, than Americans spend on dog food each year."

The Big 3

The three highest-paid S.C. political consultants during the presidential campaign, according to federal records:

• Sunrise Communications: Richland County state Sen. Darrell Jackson and his firm -- which includes other state lawmakers -- worked for U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton. Clinton paid Sunrise $180,785.

• Palmetto Political Consultants: The firm is owned by John Moylan, state campaign chairman for John Edwards. Moylan received $158,000 from Edwards for his work.

• Palladian Group: This Spartanburg firm, headed by former GOP candidate for state education superintendent Karen Floyd, helped Rudy Giuliani with fundraising in S.C., earning $111,312.

NOTE: Some expenses were not credited to specific firms.

-- The (Columbia) State