It’s more than just competitive congressional elections in California that have helped launched the new boom. Big city mayoral races are also lucrative contests for consultants. San Diego will elect a new mayor in November, and Los Angeles holds its mayoral contest in spring 2013 in addition to its city council contests, where candidates can spend as much as some congressional aspirants.
It’s particularly big money for Southern California mail consultants. Since local candidates are often priced out of TV advertising, they rely on mail pieces to get their message out.
Another factor: term limits. California has a 14-year term limit for state lawmakers, which means that many up-and-comers in the Legislature are about to find themselves out of a job. That’ll mean more primary challenges and more open-seat races for legislative office.
And in a state famous for its propositions, 2012 will likely enhance the state’s reputation for messy and expensive direct democracy. There are several propositions that could spark a flurry of spending by outside groups. Taxes will likely be the paramount issue. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and his allies are pushing a tax increase on those making more than $250,000 to help close the state’s revenue shortfall. Brown’s proposal, though, is up against a rival plan pushed by attorney Molly Munger.
Munger, a wealthy Los Angeles resident and the daughter of billionaire Charles Munger, co-founder along with Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, has already spent more than $3 million of her own money to back the $10 billion tax increase proposal.
On the union issue, for instance, total spending could reach close to $90 million. The proposition prohibits unions from making automatic paycheck deductions for political expenditures, and millions alone went into gathering the 900,000 signatures to make sure the question, known as paycheck protection to conservatives, got onto the ballot.
Johnson, the Sacramento media consultant, estimates that $140-$150 million could be spent in total on issue campaigns alone. “And that’s maybe low,” he says. “November’s going to be wild.”
If the top-two primary system is popularized by California, the targeting techniques the state’s consultants pioneer could follow, and they could be the ones moving east in future cycles.
Schlackman predicted that it could take three cycles with the open primary for the level of competition to die down. Republican consultant Gorton also thinks the boom is likely to continue, though, in part because of the new primary format. The so-called jungle primary means that support from the traditional party structure is less important for a candidate’s success. Gorton predicts that independent candidates will be increasingly competitive as a result.
“Once we have one elected person from an independent party,” he says, “you’re going to see that really take off.”
Hall, the newly-California based Democratic consultant, said the primary system has woken up some of the long-time incumbents in Golden State politics.
"I think we're just staring to see the beginning of a decade of competitive congressional races in this state," he says. "I think you're see a lot of incumbent members of congress who have been around for a long time are starting to say, 'we have to start pay attention to this,’ and looking to build teams."