One of the major talking points around the state during this race, particularly among Democratic activists was about the “burn rate” of spending in the Sheldon Campaign. George Sheldon’s expenses mostly revolved around travel; every little expense counted in the campaign, from food to gas to airline tickets was put into his campaign expense report. The candidate lives and based his campaign in Tallahassee, which is the city that boasts the highest airfares in the state.
Sheldon heavily relied on in-person functions to advertise himself, so the travel was extensive. He spent a lot of money flying around the state, which used a lot of money on airline flights and hotels. He spent almost a quarter of a million dollars before the middle of May, mostly on consultants and fundraisers with little results – three $10,000 payments were paid to a professional fund-raising service March-April-May with little increase in donations. Professional fundraisers and consultants did not seem to do much for the campaign or bring in money. He also paid the legal fees to settle his residency questions out of his own campaign account. There were no expenses for television or direct mail.
Palm cards were printed, although the amounts listed for printing suggests these were minimal. Staff costs were incredibly high compared to other costs – lots of individuals. There were no expenses on media, no spending on television, and no spending on direct mail services. The expenses tell the story that his campaign mostly relied on George himself traveling around the state. He had several staff members, all paid from his campaign, who traveled with him as well. He wrote himself several large checks in the last couple months which could not be identified.
Pam Bondi’s expenses show little similarity. Her expenses mostly to consultants and firms instead of individual, with dozens of different consulting firms represented. There was substantial spending on media – television, radio, internet, and other advertising – and also substantially more printing cost, presumably on mail. Most of the spending occurred in September and October, which was substantially different than Sheldon, who spent money steadily since January. There were no traveling expenses included in her reports – not even gas for her RV tour, however, when she did fly she used a chartered private jet, which was listed in her campaign report. Only one individual was paid through her campaign – not even her campaign manager, Pablo Diaz, was paid through her campaign. Impossible to tell how much support and how the RPOF gave support, but it was substantial. She also wrote herself several large checks, but in much more specific amounts that George Sheldon did.
The biggest difference between these two campaigns is the teams that they gathered in order to run their campaigns. Pam Bondi relied on high-priced consultant teams for everything from image consulting to issue consulting. However, with all the consultant teams it was hard to pin-point exactly who did what for her campaign. Even her own staff payments are hard to pin-point. Her campaign manager, Pablo Diaz, was paid by the Republican Party of Florida. Her finance director, Debrorah Aleksander, was paid through her PAC. Her media consultant was paid through her official campaign fund (although there were payments to Adam Goodman listed under ‘in-kind’ from the RPOF which may have been additional payments). Her other consultants are paid with both funds, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes individually, sometimes to corporations. The people who ran her campaign made quite a bit of money, some more than the total of money that was raised by Sheldon.
Sheldon on the other hand, used one fund raising consultant in the beginning of the campaign, yet this expense did not yield increased donations. He had a few individuals on the payroll since March, but he waited to really assemble his team until after he won the August 25th primary. Overall, he used seven individuals instead of consulting companies – individuals with varying backgrounds, yet none with state-wide experience that included a victory. He paid these individuals far less than Bondi paid the consultants. Every expense for them – benefits, travel, ect. – came directly from Sheldon’s campaign, where Bondi’s staff were paid from various sources. Ultimately, the campaign organization was a major handicap for Sheldon. This was always going to be a difficult race for any Democratic candidate. No Democrat has held the office of Attorney General since Bob Butterworth won reelection in 1998 and no attorney general had lost re-election in 50 years. Statewide candidates for office were solidly Republican over the last three elections, even though there are technically more registered Democrats in the state and Obama has managed to carry this state twice. Obama in 2012 utilized the I-4 corridor for the advantage and pumped millions of dollars into the area to turn out votes, so while he increased performance and showed it could be done, this momentum was not carried through in either 2010 or 2014. Obama won with money and an extensive organization structure and neither of these were available to Sheldon, yet Bondi had both.
In the end, George Sheldon failed in the field and the fact that he spent no money on media in the General hurt him in areas where he could not afford to lose. People by-and-large just did not know who he was. His field plan relied on personal contact with voters instead of media buys and this choice was made because it was supposedly the cheaper option. He spent an incredible amount of time with voters who were highly likely to vote and highly likely to vote for him – and that did not raise money. While Pam Bondi relied on the field presence of the Republican Party of Florida, Sheldon had virtually no Florida Democratic Party field presence to rely on and had to completely build a field presence on his own – something that was costly and time consuming. There was simply no feasible way to do that between the primary and general election
Overall, the expenses tell the story of the two campaigns. There were huge contrasts beyond what is already mentioned in this paper. Most notably, Republican Party of Florida put substantial amounts of money directly into the campaign of Pam Bondi. George Sheldon showed no money directly from the party. While much of the current rhetoric focuses on the amounts of money that Pam Bondi raised (as did all Republican candidates), upon further examination the way that the two candidates spent their money is vastly different and the contrasts goes far beyond dollar amounts. While George relied on individuals to run his campaign, Pam Bondi’s payments were mostly made to consulting firms. Pam Bondi, but she also spend a lot of money on a slew of consultants. She spent almost one million dollars to a Maryland company called Metzner Media, which specializes in timing and frequency of ads instead of the actual production of ads. The vast majority of campaign expenses were for media buys – television, radio, print, and online. There are at least 14 consultation firms lists, beyond her campaign staff and their own consultation firms, and quite a few other expenses for campaign support.
While George Sheldon had more individuals donate to his campaign, Pam Bondi out raised him by millions of dollars. Even though Bondi vastly out raised him, both candidates took state matching funds, getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money. However, this public money merely kept Sheldon’s campaign afloat, where Pam Bondi’s directly went to campaign consultants as her spending increased going into August and September. Sheldon spent steady money and Bondi by contrast spent almost everything the last few weeks of the campaign. While very few things seemed to be similar about the way these candidates spent money, ultimately Sheldon’s lack of media spending doomed this campaign from the onset.
The biggest lesson is that party help matters. The Republican Party of Florida has created an industry of campaign support. There is much more than simply a campaign manager and a few staff – it is an entire team of teams to win an election for them. The media consultants alone pulled in tens of millions of dollars, along with image consultants, issue consultants, and various other third party groups. By contrast, Florida’s Democrats have no such structure and no mechanisms for statewide candidates to tap into. Sheldon was forced to create his own structure and given the other mistakes in the campaign, lack of resources and time this was never going to work. This race was not a battle over ideologies, but a game of money management. In the end, the two candidates simply were not playing on the same field.