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How spending may define a campaign

Supporters stand in a corn field as US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivers remarks on the James Koch Farm in Van Meter, Iowa, on October 9, 2012.

Campaigns and political parties have to tell the Federal Election Commission how much money they spend on staff, and what they pay consultants, but neither campaign would go on the record and say how many people are on its payroll.

Steven Jarding, a lecturer at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, used to be a Democratic campaign manager. He says there is a reason campaigns regard this kind of information as top secret.

“It’s a card game,” he explains. “And you don’t want to tip your hand too much.”

According to Bob Biersack, a senior fellow with the Center for Responsive Politics, federal rules work in their favor. “They have to describe the purpose of all their dispersements, but there are a lot more rules in terms of how the money comes in than there are in how it goes out,” he says.

The Los Angeles Times reports the Obama campaign has about 900 people on staff, and the Romney campaign has about half that. Neither campaign would confirm those numbers to Marketplace.

Biersack says the 44th president’s re-election campaign has spent just over $44 million on salaries and benefits, or about three times as much as Mitt Romney’s campaign.

“Now, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, because the Romney campaign spends a lot of money on consultants,” he adds.

The Romney campaign has spent close to $32 million on consulting, or about six times more than the Obama campaign, which seems to prefer doing as much as it can in house, and that includes getting out the vote.

“Democrats, I think, historically have put more of an emphasis on what is called, for lack of a better word, a field operation,” Jarding says. “That’s the operation that’s the direct voter contact.”

Republican candidates have used other groups for that, including the Republican National Committee, and Mitt Romney is no exception.

There are benefits to how both campaigns are structured.  In the end, it’s the quality of a candidate’s field operation -- a campaign’s ability to get eligible voters to vote -- that will matter most.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
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