FEC records show how $50 million dollars was actually spent on the special election in Georgia
It’s widely understood that the GA CD-06 special election between Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel was the most expensive of its kind. Hefty donations poured in from both sides to run ads attacking the other candidate, volunteers canvassed the Atlanta area to no end, and direct mail campaigns flooded voter’s mailboxes. The role money played in this election is undeniable, and analyzing the Federal Election Campaign records tells a unique story about how all of this money was actually spent.
This election to replace Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, from his Congressional seat in Georgia was microcosmic for larger national trends. With such a drive from both sides to defeat their opponent at a more localized level, an interesting juxtaposition arose between innovative digital strategy and traditional methods of grassroots advocacy. On one hand, thousands of dollars were spent to utilize the newest technologies in politics, while money was simultaneously spent on conventional yard signs, robocalls and direct mail. Thus introducing the transition from classic campaigns to more digitally focused ones.
Focusing on the intersection of innovation, politics and technology, the prominence of digital advertising in this election becomes clear. Both campaigns employed similar types of companies to help with the digital aspects — this was the most expensive and resolutely crucial part of their results.
Starting with the victor, FEC records show Karen Handel’s most frequently and highest paid vendors included Targeted Victory, Convergence Media, Revshare and Creative Direct. Targeted Victory is a well-known, traditionally conservative public affairs, strategy and marketing fim — their more promient past and present clients include Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio. Handel for Congress made the first payment to Targeted Victory in early February, and spent just short of $200,000 throughout the duration of the campaign.
Other major expenses include $260,186 to Convergence Media LLC for website and domain fees, over $200,000 to RevShare for email lists and a hefty $455,598.78 to American Media & Advocacy Group for various media buys. Interestingly, $216,805 was also spent on Creative Direct LLC for direct mail and yard sign campaigns. While large sums of campaign funds were allocated to more modern, online outlets the emphasis placed on localizing the campaign is clearly seen through the committment to direct mail and other in-person efforts. These traditional methods are targeted more directly to constituents while digital advertising and email campaigns are aimed at a wider online audience.
While specific numbers are hard to differentiate from others, the manner in which the Handel campaign spent their money demonstrates the importance of digital advertising in this special election — and in the future of campaigning. More emphasis was placed on digital efforts than other more traditional methods. Further, it becomes possible to recognize trends in the industry through these spending habits. Branding is still deeply important to campaigns, but equally are strategic media buys for digital advertsing and directly emailing voters and constituents.
The Ossoff story is not drastically different, though it has elements that are more unique to the younger candidate’s story. While the Handel campaign dispersed thier funds to various groups to perform individual tasks, the Ossoff campaign put more money into a smaller number of companies. The most prominent, Mothership Strategies, a progressive D.C. based digital agency. From January through the end of March, the Ossoff campaign paid them $1,884,219.00 for “online fundraising consulting/ad production/media,” while the Handel campaign allocated these duties to several different companies.
Additionally interesting in the Ossoff campaign’s digital strategy was their use of Facebook as a form of advertising. They routinely paid $500 charges to Facebook to promote content and drive viewers to their page, a method their opponent did not employ.
While strategists on both sides of the aisle can hypothesize about the results of this historic special election, the answers lie in the public records. The takeways regarding digital advertising, technology and innovation remain the same regardless of the outcome. Largely, active websites, direct email outreach campaigns, strategic online ad placements and digital branding played a large role in this election and will only continue to grow in prominence from here.