I’ve been telling anyone that would listen that someone should comb through the FEC reports and figure out how much Presidential campaigns paid their web vendors during the first quarter. I did this because I wanted to know and was too lazy to do it myself.

Shira Toeplitz from Hotline dove in and wrote the story. She did an awesome job.

While interesting, as a campaign web vendor myself I find the data difficult to interpret because it is hard to know what the fees are really for. Here are some things to consider (FEC experts please correct mistakes):

(1) Some campaigns did the majority of their web building in the first quarter while others probably made the investment last year. So we’re comparing apples to oranges.

(2) A lot of these fees are likely for infrastructure type of costs. As an example, a web vendor’s fees might include costs associated with hosting, email sends and credit card processing.

Credit card processing could represent a significant portion of the money spent in some cases. Typically, for each donation a campaign will pay 2.25% or so to the credit card companies, a nominal fee to a gateway provider and potentially a percentage to the web vendor for use of software and compliance. If a percentage of the donations (either for vendor or processing fees) is being included in these fees, that is going to drive up the amount reported significantly.

(3) Some of these fees may be for out of pocket expenditures. Included could be third party software, servers, email list rentals and potentially even ad buys at places like Google. (FEC experts – correct me if I’m wrong on the Google and email list part – that is a guess).

With #2 and #3, what I’m getting at is that the consultants may not be keeping all the money.

(4) Most importantly, there is a lot of the work being done by web consultants that you can’t see. The initial reaction is to think Candidate X paid $XXX and their website is terrible, they are morons. In many cases I suspect campaigns are investing in their behind the scenes infrastructure (mastering and managing their data). This behind the scenes stuff might include building voter file databases, CRM solutions (like Salesforce), campaign extranets, etc. I cannot express how important this backend stuff is. It’s not as sexy as YouTube or Facebook, but it can make a real difference in whether you win or lose. It is also really hard work that few do well.

In the end I’m saying take all this with a grain of salt.

Check out the article.

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.