Wednesday, November 18, 2009

American Political Consultants in Foreign Races

Summary: Profits and limited liability drive some of America's top political consultants to go international.

Ever wonder why the really well-known political consultants - the James Carvilles, Mark Penns, etc. - go overseas for work? Ever wonder why foreign campaigns hire them?

There’s an interesting article in Politico today which covers these very questions.

From the article:

In Kiev and Kharkiv and other cities in Ukraine, American political consultants who worked against one another in Iowa and New Hampshire and then in the general election are facing off again in a somewhat surreal Eastern European replay of the 2008 campaign…

…The Ukraine race is hardly the only international opportunity available for consultants who had a hand in the Obama campaign. Since Obama's historic election in November, AKPD and Benenson Strategy Group alone have advised candidates or parties in Argentina, Bulgaria, Romania, Israel and Britain and have turned down offers to work in many more countries around the globe.

The attraction is easy to understand. Foreign campaigns typically pay more than domestic ones do, and they are lower risks for consultants coming off the image-enhancing boost of a presidential campaign, according to James Carville, the former Clinton strategist and talking head, who has worked for candidates in more than 20 countries, including Afghanistan (where he worked this year on Ashraf Ghani’s second-tier presidential campaign along with [GOP consultant Tad] Devine.

“If you help elect a president and then you get involved in a governor’s race and you lose, it’s going to be a little bit damaging to your reputation,” he said. “But if you go to Peru and you run a presidential race and you lose, no one knows or cares. So why go to New Jersey and lose for 100 grand when you [can] go to Peru and lose for a million?”…

…AKPD client [Prime Minister Yulia] Tymoshenko was once seen as such a reliable American ally in a regional battle for pipelines and strategic influence that Russian prosecutors put out a warrant for her arrest on smuggling charges. But she’s since made her peace with the Kremlin and is seen as playing a more complex game with both sides — which may help explain her choice in American consultants.

"In the Ukraine and in other post-communist countries, they have this misconception about Washington politics: They think that somehow if you sign up AKPD or other former Obama people, you sign up the support of Obama," said Taras Kuzio, a senior fellow in Ukraine studies at the University of Toronto who has done political consulting in Ukraine.

"They don't understand the separation of business and politics, which doesn't exist in the Ukraine or in these other post-communist countries," said Kuzio.

Neither AKPD nor Benenson Strategy Group is registered to lobby the U.S. government on behalf of foreign governments, and representatives from both firms said they make clear to prospective foreign clients that their firms will not and cannot provide a foot in the door to the Obama White House.

Benenson this year has scored contracts to do survey research for Romanian presidential candidate Micrea Geoana and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose Labor Party previously paid Penn's firm for polling.

When the party trumpeted its deal with Benenson, London's Daily Telegraph called it "a major coup for the prime minister, who is keen to align himself with Mr. Obama." But Benenson said he discourages any impression among potential clients that hiring his firm is a way to court favor with the White House.

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