Spending on the presidential contest this year, along with all Congressional races, is expected to top 2008’s expenditures of nearly $5.3 billion, as estimated by the elections watchdog group The Center for Responsive Politics. That figure includes outlays by candidates, political parties, and political interest groups.
Opportunities to snag some election-related business may be bigger in battleground states like Ohio, which are expected to decide the outcome of the presidential race. The intensifying campaigns in these swing states create demand for a host of products and services, including printed handouts, outdoor party tents, catering, hotel rooms, and lawn signs. (Related: Micro-Entrepreneurs and Job Creation)
But it’s hard to quantify how much election revenue actually ends up with businesses in each state, judging from disclosures on campaign expenditures filed with the Federal Elections Commission. Candidates and political parties often sign their checks to consultants, who in turn farm out work and make purchases not detailed in the public expenditure reports, said Edwin Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics. And many services, such as telephone polling, social media outreach, and printing, can be done outside the target states.
Small businesses, such as lawn sign makers, often profit more from localized races for state legislative or city offices than they do from federal elections when the White House is at stake, said Art Murray, a political consultant with the campaign management firm AmeriCan GOTV in Flat Rock, North Carolina.
In the highly centralized presidential campaigns, lawn sign manufacturers are competing with their peers all over the country, Murray said. Because of the competition, prices are pushed lower. Profit margins are often higher when the customer is a local candidate who lacks the same buying power, he said.
More money is spent in presidential election years than in off years, but those federal campaigns also compete for political contributions with local candidates who may be better clients for small firms in their home states, Murray said.
Without doubt, though, television stations in highly contested regions will be major beneficiaries of the costly campaigns in 2012.
“The TV stations make out like bandits,’’ said Michael Hartley, vice president of government relations for the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, and a former campaign operative in five elections.
As Election Day draws near, TV ad rates can double, Hartley said. Some of that revenue goes to outside media conglomerates that own local stations, but some flows to companies such as the family-owned Dispatch Broadcast Group in Columbus, Ohio, operator of the CBS affiliate WBNS-TV.
Money will also land with companies renting passenger vans that transport door-to-door campaign canvassers and shuttle voters to the polls, Hartley said.
“Usually you can’t get a van in the state of Ohio,’’ he said.
Restaurants are chosen for campaign stops because the owner is a known supporter, Hartley said. Campaign managers know that reporters will ask the owner’s opinion of the candidate, and they don’t want any unpleasant surprises, he said.