By Ellen Zeng, author of a recent article in the Harvard Law & Policy Review
Campaign consultants perform a Jekyll and Hyde role in electoral politics. On one hand, they make critical decisions that lead to Election Day victories, such as crafting the candidate-defining phrase describing President George W. Bush as the "compassionate conservative." On the other hand, they use tactics that ultimately harm democracy, such as strategically arranging for voters to receive phone calls right before the election asking if they would "be more or less likely to vote for [Candidate X] if [they] knew her staff is dominated by lesbians?" Neither the glorifying view that campaign consultants are indispensable nor the vilifying view that they harm democracy can actually be arrived at without first analyzing how campaign consultants impact electoral politics and our democracy.
Are Campaign Consultants Valuable? starts by describing the impact campaign consultants as a group have on the electoral process and our democracy. Then the article evaluates whether campaign consultants are a valuable part of both the electoral process and our representative democracy, and through this evaluation exposes a difficulty: how to measure consultants' positive impact on election results against their negative impact on democracy. This difficulty of comparing an ability to win races with damage to democracy suggests asking whether is it possible for consultants simultaneously to benefit democracy and ensure their candidate's victory.
Ultimately this article concludes that maintaining effectiveness in order to ensure a candidate's victory cannot concurrently guarantee democracy's betterment. The inability of consultants to prioritize both the client and democracy reveals a need to address a logically prior question of values: should campaign consultants only be responsible for getting their clients elected or should they also have an obligation to improve our democracy?
Given the ubiquity of consultants, understanding their impact on democracy is important. A better understanding of their role provides guidance for reforming the campaign consulting industry in order to increase its value both to the electoral process and to our democracy.