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Bloggers proliferate on campaign payrolls

With increasing frequency, candidates across the country are paying bloggers to write, develop Web sites, connect with energetic allies on the Internet, respond to online critics, and advise their employers about how to behave in the blogosphere.   By K. Daniel Gover, NationalJournal.
/ Source: National Journal

Bloggers paid by campaigns were a rarity two years ago -- so rare that their work and their ethics, whether for Republicans or Democrats, became fodder for controversy. Bloggers on the campaign dime (and off) have been even more controversial this year, but that is at least in part because there are so many more of them.

With increasing frequency, candidates across the country are paying bloggers to write, develop Web sites, connect with energetic allies on the Internet, respond to online critics, and advise their employers about how to behave in the blogosphere. Others are paid to do more traditional campaign work like communications consulting and opposition research.

Their pay scales range from a few hundred dollars a month to a few thousand, with some of the bloggers earning top dollar for their expertise.

The best-known example is Jerome Armstrong of MyDD, the "blogfather" of Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas Zuniga. Armstrong and Moulitsas rose to Internet fame together during the 2004 presidential race. But with the exception of the book "Crashing The Gate" that they co-authored this year, they have pursued different professional routes since then.

Moulitsas focused his energies on blog publications, in sports as well as politics, while Armstrong chose to make his money in political consulting for Democrats. He has earned a nice wad of dough, too -- more than $200,000 in less than two years.

Armstrong's first gig via his company Political Technologies was with then-Sen. Jon Corzine of New Jersey, who was elected governor of the Garden State in 2005. State campaign records show that Armstrong earned $24,000 for "media time" and another $15,000 for "Web site fees."

From February through November of last year, Corzine also paid Matt Stoller, now a lead contributor at Armstrong's MyDD blog, nearly $31,000 for his work on the campaign's blog, Corzine Connection. Stoller netted another one-time fee of about $240 for "media time."

While working for Corzine, Armstrong was on the payroll of at least two other politicians: Rep. Sherrod Brown, who is now leading the Senate race in Ohio; and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who recently announced that he will not seek the presidency in 2008.

Federal Election Commission records show that Armstrong netted more than $100,000 in his work for Brown from April 2005 through this July. The payments were primarily for Web design, hosting and services. Forward Together, the political action committee that Warner created as he pondered a presidential bid, had paid Armstrong $65,000 for "computer consulting services" through September, the last figures available.

In addition to making the most money for his Internet-related services, Armstrong arguably has been the focus of the most controversy. His work for Warner and connections to Moulitsas sparked a rush of critical commentary in both the traditional media and on blogs this summer.

On the right side of the blogosphere, Patrick Hynes of Ankle Biting Pundits, who blogged at the now-defunct Crush Kerry in the 2004 presidential race, has done quite well as a new media consultant. His most notable job is with Straight Talk America, the political action committee of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is considered a leading GOP presidential contender in 2008.

Hynes' fees so far, according to FEC records, total $31,500 to his company, New Media Strategics. The latest $5,000 payment was made Sept. 1. After catching grief for not telling his readers of his work for McCain, even while penning friendly blog entries about the senator, Hynes also disclosed that he has provided consulting for the seniors' group AARP.

At least two other PACs of presidential contenders have blog experts on their payroll.

The HILLPAC of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., has retained both Jesse Berney and Peter Daou. Berney earns more than $1,300 a month, according to the PAC's finance records, and Daou, who still writes The Daou Report for the online magazine Salon, is paid $1,250 a month. Both joined HILLPAC a few months ago.

In September, Daou helped organized a luncheon between former President Bill Clinton and liberal bloggers. Although the gathering generated criticism for various reasons, Daou promised that it was the first of more to come.

Volunteer PAC, which is affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., also has a new-media whiz on staff. Stephen Smith's salary from the PAC is about $1,870 a month.

He did not blog before joining VOLPAC but said in an e-mail interview that based on Frist's "real willingness to engage aggressively with the blogosphere and to harness new means of communications and activism, I jumped at the opportunity to assist him." His projects for Frist have included creating a blog aimed at confirming John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations and recruiting "iFrist volunteers" to work on behalf of the Republican agenda.

Democratic Senate nominee Ned Lamont in Connecticut hired two "netroots" experts fairly early in his campaign and added two more in the fall. The aides are Aldon Hynes, Charles Monaco, David Sirota and Tim Tagaris. (Hynes' wife, Kimberly, also is a paid scheduler for the campaign.)

Tagaris, the Internet director, earned nearly $21,000 from late July through Sept. 29, according to Lamont's October quarterly report. That ranks him among the campaign's highest-paid aides. Before joining the Lamont campaign, Tagaris blogged for the Democratic National Committee and for Sherrod Brown in Ohio. Brown paid him nearly $17,000 over four months in 2005.

Earlier this year, Tagaris told "Beltway Blogroll" that he eventually plans to run for office in Ohio.

High-profile bloggers like Armstrong, Patrick Hynes and Tagaris are just the tip of the emerging political Internet. While identifying blog experts can be a daunting task for multiple reasons, including the lack of electronic searches for many campaign finance records and the disparate approaches to disclosure taken by bloggers, it can be done.

Here are some of the paid campaign bloggers and new media advisers that have been identified:

Dan Gerstein of the now-dormant LieberDem. He was a senior adviser to Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., for years before opening his own consulting shop. After he stopped blogging at LieberDem, Gerstein recently rejoined Lieberman's campaign as a paid staffer. He received payments of $7,000 and $14,000 in September.

Jon Henke of QandO. He was hired by the campaign of Sen. George Allen, R-Va., after a string of verbal gaffes by the candidate. Henke was paid about $2,300 on Sept. 15.

Abraham (Josh) Chernila and Lowell Feld of Raising Kaine. This summer, they began working for Senate candidate James Webb, D-Va., as grassroots coordinator and netroots coordinator. The latest FEC report shows disbursements of about $7,700 to Chernila and nearly $3,600 to Feld.

Scott Shields. He has been on hiatus from MyDD since May to work as the Internet director for Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. Shields' starting monthly wage was $2,562; it was bumped up to $2,905 in September.

David All. The "spokesblogger" to Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., All currently is on leave and working for Senate candidate Mike Bouchard, R-Mich. In September, All was paid $6,468 for "communications consulting." The Bouchard campaign also spent more than $9,600 on Web development in August and September, presumably for its revamped, blog-based site. (All earned more than $49,000 while working for Kingston from July 2005 through January 2006, according to data at LegiStorm.)

Laura Packard. Her duties as Internet communications director for the campaign of Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., include writing at the campaign blog. Her salary is nearly $3,700 a month. Aaron Hofman also posts entries to Stabenow's blog, and he earns about $2,200 a month.

Michael Brodkorb of Minnesota Democrats Exposed. The Senate campaign of Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., has paid Brodkorb nearly $4,600 a month for press consulting since May, he said in a telephone interview. He also received one-time payments of $5,500 each this year from GOP House candidate Michele Bachmann and the National Republican Congressional Committee. He offered press advice to Bachmann and did opposition research for the NRCC.

Julie Fanselow, the freelance writer behind Red State Rebels in Idaho. Since May, she has been the "blog manager" for Democrat Larry Grant at a rate of $1,300 a month. Despite Idaho's Republican leanings, Grant suddenly is a strong competitor for the open seat, arguably in part because of support from the blogosphere. Fanselow also disclosed that she did paid consulting work for another candidate in April.

Aaron Silverstein of HeadingLeft. The campaign payroll for House candidate Bill Winters, D-Colo., includes $850 a month for Silverstein's services. Silverstein also was hired this year as the get-out-the-vote coordinator for Jefferson County Democrats in Colorado.

Jesse Taylor. He quit blogging at Pandagon last year to blog instead for Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland and has been earning slightly more than $2,050 a month. Strickland, a Democrat, appears likely to defeat Republican Ken Blackwell.

Mindy Finn. As the director of new media and political technology for Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., she is one of the contributors to the campaign blog. Her salary is about $4,400 a month. Luke Bernstein ($4,300 a month) and Stanley Olshefski ($2,300 a month) also post entries. Jon Jones, the blogger for Santorum challenger Bob Casey Jr., earns some $2,800 a month.

Andrew Tweeten. He earns about $2,600 a month as the blogger for Democrat Jon Tester in Montana, who currently is in a good position to oust Republican Sen. Conrad Burns.

Alex Armour. As the political director for Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., he writes at SchaBLOGsky, one of the earlier candidate blogs. Armour's salary is about $3,200 a month.