For an example of how a firm’s politics can affect future business, look no further than Alabama’s special Senate election.
The NRSC understandably laid down the law that any firm helping a challenger to sitting Sen. Luther Strange would be banned from doing work for it in the future. Other committees also took note and are paying attention to who’s willing to cross a favored Republican Senate incumbent.
That hasn’t deterred Republican challengers from throwing their hats into the ring for the Aug. 15 primary, but it certainly gives their vendors food for thought. Conversely, those vendors who are willing to cross their party may give future clients something to think about.
But not all potential land mines are so clear. Here are some ways that clients can navigate a firm’s politics.
Search campaign finance reports for conflicts
The FEC and secretaries of state make available campaign finance disclosures. Other aggregate sources include FollowTheMoney.org for state races and OpenSecrets.org for federal.
Spend a few minutes searching for the firm’s name, address, principals, and past known clients.
Compile past candidates and see how much the firm you are looking to hire was paid. This not only gives you an idea of the company they keep, but also what they charged others for similar services.
Do some digging online
Conduct a few searches to find news stories, articles, and online conduct of the prospective consultant.
One good tip is to use quotation marks to ensure more accurate results, especially when the company or individual has a common name. For example, search for “Luke Richards” instead of just Luke Richards. I also like to add the state name or the word “politics” afterwards.
Pay attention to what others said about them and what they said about themselves. Look at their social profiles. What are they posting? Who do they retweet? What do they comment about?
Don’t be scared to just ask the consultant who he or she works with now, and has worked with in the past. Inquire about the best race he/she ever worked on. Moreover, what was the worst race and why?
Other good questions include: What was the last losing race you were involved in and what would you have done differently? Who have you worked for in the past that might make my spouse nervous? This takes the heat off you — you could say “finance team” or something similar. How do your peers perceive you/your firm and the type of clients you work with?
Roll the dice
In the end, the most important factor is whether you believe the consultant can help you achieve the most effective measurement of success in campaigns – victory on Election Day. It is a zero-sum game with a single factor determining whether it worked or not.
Taking a risk on who you hire will not be the first one of the campaign. Some of the best folks in the business, on both sides of the aisle, have worked on efforts that may not fully align with their ideology. Still, sometimes that gained perspective gives the consultant an edge.
Brent Buchanan is a president & founder at Cygnal, an integrated GOP polling, digital, and messaging firm.