Presidential Bids a Boon to Business

Presidential candidates are raising record amounts of money this year — and spending it rapidly. That creates a multi-million dollar opportunity for businesses that keep the campaigns fed, housed and on message.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

The wide-open field of presidential candidates is raising record amounts of money this year. And six months before the first votes are cast, the candidates are also spending record amounts. That creates a multimillion-dollar opportunity for businesses that keep the campaigns fed, housed and on message.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani don't agree on much, nor do Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. But they all break bread at Wolfgang Puck's table. According to the candidates newly filed expense reports, Puck provided catering services for Clinton, Giuliani, Obama and Romney in recent months. The combined bill was more than $50,000.

Mr. CARL SCHUSTER (CEO and President, Wolfgang Puck Catering): Anybody running for president, you know, they can't do it on an empty stomach. So, somehow, we seem to be popular.

HORSLEY: Catering CEO Carl Schuster says Wolfgang Puck doesn't play political favorites, but the campaigns give a nice little boost to his company's catering business. John Hunter has been providing food and shelter for presidential campaigns since Jimmy Carter was in office. He is the owner of the Hotel Fort Des Moines in Iowa.

Mr. JOHN HUNTER (Owner, Hotel Fort Des Moines): I still have an unpaid bill from John Connally from 1989, now that you mention it.

HORSLEY: Hunter says the Iowa caucuses typically double his hotel's business in January, a time of year when Des Moines would not otherwise be a hot destination. But this year the political harvest is starting much earlier.

His hotel collected about $60,000 from presidential campaigns in the first six months of this year. That's a five-fold increase from the last election cycle.

Mr. HUNTER: It's a significant bump for our business, and has a profound effect on everyone at the hotel from the servers to the housekeepers - the service with their tips, the housekeepers with variable hours. And then it's good for the hoteliers as well.

HORSLEY: Collectively, the Democratic presidential candidates have spent more than $67 million this year, while the Republicans have spent more than 80 million. That includes everything from Mitt Romney's $150 makeup treatment before a televised debate to the $3,250 Joe Biden spent on lapel pins.

Mr. ANDY LIEBERMAN (Vice President, All-Ways Advertising): It's seems like every four years, there is a little bit of boost in the industry, you know, in certain product categories, such as lapel pins, buttons, balloons, bumper stickers. It does seem to correlate with the presidential campaigns.

HORSLEY: That's vice president Andy Lieberman of All-Ways Advertising, Biden's lapel pin merchant. The Bloomfield, New Jersey company sells mostly golf balls and other corporate gifts with company logos, but the political work is a nice sideline. Of course, for all the small businesses that make money off the campaigns, the number one expense for most candidates so far is their own payroll, backed up by a small army of political consultants.

The Pinnacle List Company, for example, manages mailing lists like Republicans to Stop Hillary and Christian Stewards of Conservative Values. Watchdog Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics notes that John McCain spent $437,000 this year renting names and addresses from the Pinnacle List Company.

Mr. SHEILA KRUMHOLZ (Research Director, Center for Responsive Politics): List rental, particularly lists of likely or potential donors, are a hot commodity and they don't come cheap.

HORSLEY: The campaign has also generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for telemarketers and direct mailing firms. Krumholz says there's bound to be some second-guessing now about how much the candidates have gotten in return for their spending, whether you count donuts or donations. The real return on investment, though, will be judged when the votes are counted.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.

WERTHEIMER: It's Morning Edition.

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