The Lesson of the Ricketts Fiasco: Politics Is Business

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Mitt Romney has already "repudiated" a proposed independent ad campaign that would have used President Barack Obama's former relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright to attack the president. It wasn't a hard call for Romney.

Obama is no longer a freshman senator from Illinois; he has been president of the United States for more than three years. The kind of ad envisioned by Republican consultant Fred Davis seemed designed to appeal to the emotions of the prospective donor, businessman Joe Ricketts, rather than those of voters. It had the markings of an entrepreneurial venture, not a strategic one.

In the political media business, most consultants still get paid a percentage of the buy. In the golden age of media consulting, 15 percent was a standard take. But clients have wised up over the years. So let's assume that Davis would've agreed to accept, say, a 7 percent fee. That's $700,000 on a $10 million ad buy -- the amount Ricketts reportedly intended to spend. From the looks of the ad story boards obtained by the New York Times (most likely from a Republican trying to stop the project) the five-minute ad could've been slapped together in a studio from stock film and photos.

It might take days.

Davis is a Republican, but he's also a businessman. And a $700,000 fee for not a whole lot of work counts as pretty good business. The effort would probably not have done much for Romney, but it would’ve done fine by Davis.

One of the goals of Karl Rove's American Crossroads super-PAC is to funnel the loose change of people like Ricketts to where it will do the most damage to Obama and other Democrats. Crossroads promises to keep fees and expenses low and the strategic quality of its ads and its geographic targeting high.

But politics, for many, is a business. And with ultra-rich guys like Ricketts looking to make their mark, there are plenty of consultants willing to give them what they want -- whether it benefits Republicans or not.

(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)

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