An Introduction to Politician-Targeted Marketing and the Political Customer in the United States

ABSTRACT - Mounting evidence suggests that a significant proportion of corporate profitability arises out of idea-based marketing efforts directed at political officials (i.e., political customers) in the United States. Despite this evidence, consumer researchers have been at best reluctant to address the behavior of political customers. This exploratory inquiry serves as a first step toward remedying this situation by examining the political customer via the historically informed application of superordinate inquiry.


Terrance G. Gabel and Gregory W. Boller (2003) ,"An Introduction to Politician-Targeted Marketing and the Political Customer in the United States", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 325-331.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 325-331


Terrance G. Gabel, Truman State University

Gregory W. Boller, University of Memphis


Mounting evidence suggests that a significant proportion of corporate profitability arises out of idea-based marketing efforts directed at political officials (i.e., political customers) in the United States. Despite this evidence, consumer researchers have been at best reluctant to address the behavior of political customers. This exploratory inquiry serves as a first step toward remedying this situation by examining the political customer via the historically informed application of superordinate inquiry.

I can do more for General Electric by spending time in Washington and assisting in the development of responsible tax policy than I can by staying home and pricing refrigerators.

- Former General Electric CEO Reginald Jones (quoted in Birnbaum 1993, p. 197)

I have tremendous respect for them [lobbyists], I have confidence in hose people. I believe them. They are serious people who aren’t coming in to waste my time... And, importantly, they have a good product to sell.

- Former U.S. Senator John Chafee (quoted in Birnbaum 1993, p. 203)

The amount of money being spent in this town [Washington, D.C.] on lobbying today is at least 100 times more than it was when Bill Clinton came [into office]... It’sCit’s a lotCit’s a lot of billions [of dollars].

- Preeminent Washington Lobbyist Thomas Hale Boggs, Jr. (quoted in CBS News 60 Minutes 1999, p. 3).

Consumer research is concerned with understanding human behavior in the marketplace. More often than not, this behavior is examined with a view toward improving the ability of practicing marketers to both market their goods and services and, ultimately, maximize profitability. One important means by which marketers maximize profitability involves the marketing of ideas to U.S. political officials (i.e., political customers). Consumer researchers, however, have essentially ignored this important realm of marketing and consumption activity.

This exploratory inquiry serves as a first step toward remedying consumer research’s neglect of the political customer. Below, we first both discuss the pervasiveness and importance of marketing efforts directed at U.S. political officials and address the limited manner in which disciplinary scholars have dealt with this type of marketing activity. We then discuss superordinate inquiry, a methodological approach developed in sociology to examine the nature and consequences of the behavior of societal elites, as a potential means by which to generate knowledge pertaining to both the behavior of political customers and the manner in which they are targeted. Finally, as an example of superordinate inquiry’s promise in this regard, we historically examine the consumption behavior of one prominent (former) political customer.


Politician-targeted marketing is here defined as marketing efforts strategically directed at political officials (i.e., political customers) with the objective of increasing net resources flows to the firm as a result of either: 1) receiving direct benefits (e.g., subsidies or tax breaks) and/or 2) having macro-level competitive/consumption environments structured or restructured in a manner favoring the interests of the marketer. The process is founded on the marketing of an ideological product to the political customer. The sales effort is supplemented via the offering of some form of valued political product to the political customer. [Common thinking holds that money, in the form of campaign contributions "donated" directly into the campaign coffers of politicians, is all that corporate marketers "give" to their political customers. However, campaign contributions are but one of many political products routinely offered to political customers in exchange for buying the ideological products of the marketer. Although a more detailed discussion of the nature of the "things of value" exchanged in politician-targeted marketing is beyond the scope of this paper, note that other political products frequently provided to political customers include: 1) soft money (i.e., money given to political parties [rather than individual politicians]), 2) assistance in writing legislation, 3) various forms of information, 4) blocks of loyal voters, 5) vacations, 6) reasons to use to publicly legitimate the making of marketer-friendly decisions, and 7) visibility and prestige associated with being part of particular causes (see: Choate 1990; Clawson, Neustadtl, and Scott 1992; Greider 1992; Birnbaum 1993; Phillips 1994; Boller 1997).]

As a case in point, consider the example of Microsoft and the Software Export Equity Act (SEEA). [Numerous examples of other firms and industry associations successfully using politician-targeted marketing to increase their profitability in ways quite similar to Microsoft can be found in any of the following: Choate (1990); Clawson, Neustadtl, and Scott (1992); Greider (1992); Birnbaum (1993); Phillips (1994); Bovard (1995); Mother Jones (1995); Boller (1997).] In the mid 1990s, Microsoft was reportedly looking to boost its profits by simultaneously increasing non-domestic sales and decreasing its tax liability to the U.S. government. Toward this end, in 1996, the company invested $1.1 million in politician-targeted marketing efforts, hiring a seasoned team of lobbyists (i.e., politician-targeted marketing agents/salespeople) to market its self-serving ideas to key U.S. politicians (i.e., political customers) in both political parties. As a result of these and other marketing efforts, political customer behavior was greatly influenced. Specifically, targeted politicians, namely members of the House Ways and Means Committee, bought Microsoft’s ideological product by restructuring the U.S. tax code so as to grant software exporters a tax break worth an estimated $1.7 billion over the next ten years (Silverstein 1998). The SEEA, inserted surreptitiously into the 1997 Tax Bil, benefits less than 100 companies, with Microsoft being far and away the primary beneficiary (Silverstein 1998).

The case of Microsoft is but the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to politician-targeted marketing in the United States. The importance and pervasiveness of the phenomenon is evidenced at a more systemic/macro level by considering several key facts. Firstly, lobbyingCthe commonly used, obfuscatory term employed in the mainstream U.S. media for this marketing practiceCis a 1.5-3.0 billion-dollar industry (see: Bates 2001; CBS News 60 Minutes 1999). [It should be noted, at this early stage of our discussion, that it (unfortunately) appears highly unlikely that recently approved or currently debated campaign finance reform legislation will do much to curtail the level of exchange taking place in the lobbying/politician-targeted marketing industry. This assertion is based on the fact that: 1) this legislation will soon face stiff opposition by powerful parties who claim it is unconstitutional (Hansen 2002), 2) previously enacted legislation similarly designed to curtail industry activity has failed miserably (CBS News 60 Minutes 1999), and 3) the new/proposed legislation may open as many doors/loopholes as it closes for politician-targeted marketers and their political customer targets.] Further, it is estimated that up to half of all Congressional legislation in the U.S. is written directly by either corporate lobbyists or corporate employees (see Sidener and Mayes 1996). Finally, the importance and pervasiveness of politician-targeted marketing activity is suggested in the fact that the (usually conservative, pro-corporate) Cato Institute estimates that in 1995 alone more than $85 billion in U.S. taxpayer money was given to transnational corporations (TNCs) and other corporate entities as part of corporate welfare programs (see Moore and Stansel 1995). [It should be noted that it is not only critics of what is here termed politician-targeted marketing that recognize the existence, importance, and pervasiveness of the phenomenon. The case could be easily made, for example, that TNC executives (i.e., the sponsors of politician-targeted marketing activity) and political customers are the best salespeople for the notion that TNC success is often predicated significantly on this type of marketing activity. See Birnbaum (1993) and Bradley and Howells (1994) for discussions highly supportive of this assertion.]

Why do U.S. politicians give corporate representatives the opportunity to write legislation? Why do they hand out billions of dollars of taxpayer money to often massively profitable companies? The concept of politician-targeted marketing, which views politicians as the political customers of corporate marketers, suggests that these and other benefits accrue to their recipients not by sheer coincidence but rather as the result of carefully formulated, targeted, and implemented marketing strategy. Unfortunately, as discussed below, marketing researchers and, to an even greater extent, consumer researchers have paid but scant attention to addressing: 1) the manner in which corporations market themselves to political officials, and 2) the manner in which political customers behave in response to these marketing efforts.


Consumer research’s contribution to politician-targeted marketing and political customer knowledge is largely limited to Jones and Venkatesh’s (1996) discussion of how the large financial resources of massive TNCs have enabled these entities to disproportionately reap the benefits of increasingly standardized global corporate operating environments. Several marketing researchers, however, recognize that corporations can and do influence the behavior of politicians. Terms used by marketing researchers to describe what is here termed politician-targeted marketing include environmental management (Zeithaml and Zeithaml 1984; Varadarajan, Clark, and Pride 1992), power, megamarketing, and political marketing (Kotler 1972, 1986), macroenvironmental change (Varadarajan, Clark, and Pride 1992), standard setting (Prahalad 1995), and firm-level political behavior (Keillor, Boller, and Ferrell 1997). [Management researchers, while not referring to such activity as marketing, have similarly recognized that corporations engage in strategic activity aimed at influencing that macro-level environments in which they compete (see: Baysinger 1984; Keim and Zeithaml 1986; Boddewyn and Brewer 1994; Dean and Brown 1995; Hillman and Keim 1995).] However, these researchers, while suggesting that firms do indeed market themselves (and key issues affecting their profitability) to political officials, typically deny that (quid pro quo) exchange, arguably the central concept of marketing, transpires between corporations and their political customers. [Most exemplary is Varadarajan, Clark, and Pride=s (1992) contention that although "environmental management is surely one of the most effective ways for companies to compete" (p. 47) Philip Morris= effective politician-targeted marketing-based defense of its (and the cigarette industry=s) interests is best viewed as "no-strings-attached philanthropy" (p. 39).] As an apparent result of the claimed absence of exchange, politician-targeted marketing, as well as the associated behavior of political customers, is seldom if ever looked at in detail as strategic marketing activity in marketing scholarship. In turn, also ignored are the responses of the targets of this "non-marketing" activity.

In summary, marketing researchers and, to an even greater extent, consumer researchers have largely ignored both the manner in which marketers target politicians and the behavior of political customers. We are left to erroneously believe that corporations are prohibited from influencing, and therefore cannot significantly influence, the behavior of politicians. We are left to believe that there is no such thing as a political customer. As the examples of Microsoft and other firms suggest, this is a highly invalid and extremely naive perspective.

Below, we discuss one largely unexplored methodological path disciplinary scholars might take in an effort to remedy our unfortunate neglect of politician-targeted marketing activity and the political customer. This methodological approach, superordinate inquiry, is, as discussed below, particularly well suited to generating knowledge pertaining to the nature and consequences of the behavior of societal elites such as political customers and the corporate executives who target them with their marketing efforts.


The superordinate research approach originates from the field of sociology and is based primarily on the work of Galliher (1973, 1980). Most generally, it entails situations in which the researcher "studies up" in the social hierarchy by examining the behavior, for example, of members of the political and corporate/economic elite. Galliher (1980) contends that social scientists have not only neglected their responsibilities to members of civil society with regard to examining and reporting elite behavior but may also be implicitly endorsing social inequality. As Galliher (1980) suggests, the fact that researchers seldom if ever investigate the activities of superordinate people and groups implies the at best questionable assumption that these parties have the public’s best interest constantly in mind and will not seek to abuse the power that their positions bestow upon them. According to Galliher:

... calls for accountability do not necessarily assume that public officials are inherently evil but merely that their high position gives them power which can be abused. Publicly, social scientists have not objected to the general idea of such research, but simply ignored it (1980, p. 298).

Further, Galliher (1980) holds that: 1) the public’s "right to know" the details of elite behavior, 2) a reluctance on the part of elites to discuss their behavior, and 3) the potential magnitude of the harm done to members of the lower ranks of civil society via abuse of superordinate power not only warrants far greater academic attention but also often overrides the need for informed consentCthus justifying clandestine inquiry and other forms of researcher deception. Finally, Galliher (1980) strongly contends that (rarely conducted) investigation of the behavior and motivations of superordinate/elite persons is necessary to attain both scientific adequacy and complete phenomenon description in the social sciences.

This exploratory inquiry, in a modest attempt to move consumer research in the direction of scientific adequacy and complete phenomenon description [Questions have been raised as to whether these objectives are either realizable or worthy of pursuing (see Brown 1996). The terms scientific adequacy and complete phenomenon description are employed here in an effort to: 1) be consistent with the spirit of Gallihers= original call for superordinate inquiry, and 2) communicate clearly the value of superordinate inquiry to consumer researchers, the vast majority of whom appear to believe that scientific adequacy and complete phenomenon description are both possible and salutary.] adopts the superordinate perspective to generate knowledge pertaining to the manner in which political officials: 1) are the targets of corporate marketing activity, and 2) are influenced by this marketing activity. Our discussion is based largely on analysis of unobtrusively gathered historic data drawn from publicly available sources in the late 1980s and early and mid 1990s. [Note that historical analysis need not be confined to the study of social phenomena of the distant past. Tuchman (1994), for instance, contends that "we all live history" and suggests that researchers should pay greater attention to the historical significance of their own epoques (p. 313). Similarly, Atkinson and Hammersley (1994) assert that "perhaps the most distinctive feature of the twentieth the increasing recognition that the problem of understanding is not restricted to the study of past times and other societies--it applies to the study of one=s own social surroundings too" (p. 250).] The use of historic evidence in this manner circumvents potential ethical problems inherent in collecting data on elite behavior via other (e.g., clandestine or deceptive) means. Further, consistent with Galliher (1980) and in accord with standards of interpretive/ humanistic inquiry forwarded by Lincoln and Guba (1985) and inculcated into consumer research by Hirschman (1986) and Wallendorf and Belk (989), our unobtrusive historical approach to superordinate inquiry lends itself to relatively high levels of both research integrity and trustworthiness as a result of the fact that our discussion is not based on direct questioning of political customers and the corporate elite who target them with marketing efforts. [This assertion is based on: 1) Galliher=s (1980) contention that the elite are often unwilling to give honest or complete answers to sensitive questions, and 2) the fact that the issue of corporate marketing efforts targeted at political officials with a view toward influencing the direction of politician behavior and, therefore, public policy is likely to be considered as highly sensitive by both political customers and corporate elite who target them.] We now historically examine the consumption behavior of one prominent, archetypal political customer (turned politician-targeted marketing sales agent).


On October 1, 1995, Robert (Bob) Packwood resigned from the United States Senate. The official reason widely cited in the U.S. media for his resignation was his desire to avoid forced expulsion as a result of apparent sexual misconduct. Although Packwood’s at times comical and/or disgusting sexual escapades received considerable media attention, Senate Ethics Counsel findings suggest that his decision to voluntarily relinquish his long-held, high-level Senate post was also based on a keen desire not to have the details of his life as an active political customer publicly revealed.

Our following discussion of Packwood’s behavior as aCperhaps theCquintessential political customer [The assertion that Packwood is perhaps the quintessential political customer is based on numerous reports that his behavior is not atypical of many of his past and present colleagues in high political office in the United States. See any of the following for specific discussion of how Packwood=s behavior is by no means unique: Fasciocco (1995); Goldman (1995); Palm Beach Post (1995); Smith (1995). For other accounts of the similar behavior of other political customers see: Choate (1990); Clawson, Neustadtl, and Scott (1992); Birnbaum (1993); Hilton (1995); Moore and Stansel (1995); Lewis (1996).] focuses on both the official findings of the Senate Ethics Counsel (as published in The Packwood Report [Senate Ethics Counsel 1995]) and on various other reports of his questionable dealings with corporate lobbyists. Although many corporate marketers effectively influenced Packwood’s behavior in their favor, particular success was experienced by: 1) Japanese electronics and industrial conglomerate Mitsubishi, 2) Dutch oil mega-TNC Shell, and 3) the National Cable Television Association (NCTA). These marketing entities, like others, attained their politician-targeted marketing objectives by hiring former U.S. government officialsCPackwood’s personal friends and/or former employeesCto act as salespeople for their ideological products in Washington, D.C. The specific manner in which each marketer strategically targeted Packwood as a political customer is described below.


According to the official findings of the Senate Ethics Counsel (1995), Steve Saunders had for many years been a close personal friend of both Senator Packwood and the Senator’s estranged wife Georgie. From 1977 through 1981, Saunders was a high-ranking staff member in two Congressional committees chaired by Senator Packwood. In May of 1982, Saunders established his own political consulting firm. In testimony before the Senate Ethics Counsel investigating Packwood’s alleged improprieties, Saunders recalled that his consulting firm was retained by Mitsubishi "in the 1980s" to provide advice "on various trade issues" (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995, p. 252). Saunders testified that in 1987 or 1988 his firm began working with Mitsubishi’s Washington, D.C.-based lawyers, lobbyists, and public relations advisors regarding negotiation of a settlement of a Japanese patents rights dispute between Mitsubishi and Fusion, a small U.S. high-tech company headquartered in Maryland. Fusion’s president, Don Spero, discussed the issue with representatives of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). The ultimate result of this discussion was that the Deputy USTR suggested to Mitsubishi executives that they should settle their dispute with the American firm "on terms favorable to Fusion because the issue had become political in the United States" (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995, p. 253). Saunders testified before the Counsel that the most effective way to deal with the publicity generated by Spero would be to present information about both the Japanese patent system and the Mitsubishi/Fusion dispute to members and staff of the Senate Commerce and Finance Committees (Senate Ethics Counsel 195). Saunders was directly involved in this presentation because it became apparent to Mitsubishi’s Washington lobbying firm that "they needed to contact Senator Packwood, who was a senior member of the Commerce Committee..." (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995, p. 253).

Mitsubishi was indeed able to contact (and influence) Packwood through its politician-targeted marketing agent. Based on Senate Ethics Counsel findings, it appears that Mitsubishi was able to sell the ideological product of acting on its behalf by providing the (former) Senator an opportunity to appease his estranged wife with both money and a job opportunity. The situation is addressed in a November 3, 1989 diary entry [Packwood=s personal diary, kept to chronicle his 25 years as a legislator, was the central source of evidence against Packwood in his Senate Ethics Counsel hearing.] made by Packwood.

Saunders arrived and he and I went over to the Tortilla Coast or whatever that place is for beers. I drank two quickly and I said, "Steve, I need to talk about the purpose of the meeting." Steve said, "I think I know. You and Georgie are splitting." I said, "Well, I think we’re going to separate and I kind of want to know if you could be of some help." He said, "In what fashion." I said, "I don’t know how much your firm makes." He says, "We’re doing $600 to $700 thousand a year now." I said, "I wonder if you can put Georgie on a retainer." He says, "How much?" I said, "$7500 a year." He says, "$7500 a year???" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Consider it done..." (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995, p. 245).

Three days later, Packwood wrote the following passage in his diary.

At a request of Steve Saunders I stopped in at the Finance Committee to read two questions which I wanted asked of a man named Spero, the President of Fusion something or other. This guy’s been carrying on a vendetta with the Japanese about patents for years... I said of course I’d go and ask the questions (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995, p. 246).

Fusion President Don Spero, speaking with regard to Packwood’s appearance before the Finance Committee, states that: "Halfway through his first question, I said, #Mitsubishi wrote this, he’s reading this, why has this happened?’ Then he left and didn=t even listen to our answers" (Tackett 1995). Shortly after being questioned, Spero thought he had figured out why Packwood had acted on Mitsubishi’s behalf when he discovered that the Japanese firm had given about $2,000 in campaign contributions to the Senator (Tackett 1995). However, it was not until the involvement of Saunders and Packwood’s solicitation of a position for his estranged wife was announced by the Senate Ethics Committee in late 1995 that Spero had a complete explanation. Ethics Committee Chairman Mitch McConnell, commenting on Packwood’s behavior in the Fusion-Mitsubishi case, states that: "It was completely unexplainable. Now it’s pretty obvious. It’s a clear, flagrant abuse of power and it’s wrong" (Tackett 1995). The Senate Ethics Counsel’s official conclusion on the issue reads as follows:

Senator Packwood and Mr. Saunders engaged in discussions about job offers and income for the Senator’s wife at a time when Mr. Saunders was actively representing a client with a specific and direct interest before Senator Packwood’s committees... Counsel finds that Senator Packwood rearranged his schedule at the last minute to personally attend the November 6, 1989 hearing at Mr. Saunders’s request, within three days of the meeting where a job offer for Mrs. Packwood was discussed. Additionally, Counsel finds that the questions asked by Senator Packwood at the hearing, directed to Fusion’s president, were virtually identical to the questions submitted by Mr. Saunders on behalf of Mitsubishi (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995, pp. 269-270).

Shell Oil

In the late 1980s, Shell faced what Packwood, then the Senate Finance Committee’s senior Republican, termed in his diary a "special problem" regarding taxation on property transferred between the company’s partners (Engelberg 1995). The Dutch oil TNC hired long-time Packwood personal friend and Washington lobbyist Ron Crawford to market its interests in Congress. Crawford was hired because, according to a Shell spokeswoman, "he did have a way to get in and meet with" Packwood (Engelberg 1995).

Packwood and Crawford first met in 1968 during the recount of Packwood’s first Congressional election (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995). For the next 25 years, Crawford, who describes the former Senator as "one of his best friends," was an active fundraiser for every one of Packwood’s successful reelection campaigns (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995, p. 299). Beginning in the early 1980’s, Crawford was employed as a registered lobbyist for a long list of corporations and trade associations including General Motors, the National Cable Television Association, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturer’s Association, the National Rifle Association, the National Restaurant Association, and the American Iron and Steel Institute (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995). In this capacity, he successfully marketed the interests of these clients, and others, directly to Packwood (see: Engelberg 1995; Senate Ethics Counsel 1995). Packwood discusses Crawford’s distinctive competency in accessing the powerful Senator on behalf of his clients in the following excerpts from his personal diary.

But Ron wanted me to meet with them [pharmaceutical firm representatives] because they want to retain Ron because, as Ron says, "People hear that you’re tough to get to and they know how I can get to you." I said, "Well, that’s a happy relationship for all of us" (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995, p. 300). [bracketed text added for clarity]

The advantage Ron brings to me in the Washington PAC [Political Action Committee] scene is that much of his income is dependent upon his relationship with me (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995, p. 299). [bracketed text added for clarity]

On September 13, 1989, (then) Senator Packwood recorded in his diary that Mr. Crawford called on him on behalf of Shell Oil. According to diary entries, the following conversation transpired:

Crawford: "I know how much you hate the oil companies."

Packwood: "... I still hate the oil companies but I’ll do you a favor" (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995, p. 299).

Shortly thereafter, the Senate Finance Committee and Congress passed into law a "special tax bill avidly sought by Shell" (Engelberg 1995) which, through important loopholes, provided the company with "a tax break worth millions" of dollars (Fasciocco 1995).

The National Cable Television Association

On June 7, 1990, a Commerce Committee vote took place concerning re-regulation of the cable television industry. The National Cable Television Association (NCTA), represented in Washington by long-time Packwood friend Ron Crawford, strongly opposed the bill. The bill was passed by the Committee with but one dissenting voteCthat of Senator Bob Packwood (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995). Although Packwood testified before the Senate Ethics Counsel that his dissenting vote was simply a result of his position on the issues in question being consistent with that of the cable industry, the Counsel concluded that the political customer’s vote had indeed been influenced by Crawford’s marketing efforts on behalf of the NCTA.

Once again, as was the case with Mitsubishi, the ideological product of the marketer (i.e., the notion that the Senator/political customer should behave in a manner favoring the interests of the marketer) was successfully sold on the basis of the provision of job opportunities and money to appease Packwood’s estranged wife. Packwood diary entries dated October 18, 1989 chronicle a discussion he had had with NCTA lobbyist Ron Crawford: "Talked to Ron Crawford. He’ll put up $7500 a year for Georgie" (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995, p. 300). In a late March 1990 diary entry, Packwood again documents the discussion of employment opportunities for Mrs. Packwood between himself and Crawford.

I said, "Well, if you’re going to support Georgie in the style to which I’d like her to become accustomed..." and he laughed. He says, "Yeah, I’ll guarantee the $7500 for five years." And he said, "If you’re Chairman of the Finance Committee I can probably double that." We both laughed (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995, p. 303).

A diary entry of April 15, 1990 documents Packwood’s desire to have Crawford submit to his estranged wife a letter regarding employment opportunities.

... at least we have the ducks lined up... I’ll have Ron Crawford send her a letter that says "Georgie, I’d be willing to talk with you about employment," perhaps having put in the letter in the magnitude of $7500 a year (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995, p. 304).

Crawford drafted and sent to Mrs. Packwood a letter discussing employment opportunities in the manner suggested by Senator Packwood. It was dated June 13, 1990, just six days after the Senator had cast the lone dissenting vote on a bill strongly opposed by Crawford’s client, the NCTA. The Senate Ethics Counsel concluded that this series of events had transpired as a result of more than mere coincidence.

Senate Ethics Counsel finds that Senator Packwood did in fact solicit or otherwise encourage an offer of personal financial assistance from Mr. Crawford, an individual representing clients with particularized interests in matters that the Senator could influence... there is evidence to suggest that there was some connection between Senator Packwood’s official position and his relationship with Mr. Crawford (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995, pp. 311-312).

Overall Counsel Conclusions and Packwood’s Resignation and Transformation

Contradicting his diary entries, Packwood, in his personal testimony before the Senate Ethics Counsel, vehemently denied being influenced by the marketing efforts of Mitsubishi, Shell, the NCTA, and other corporations and trade associations. However, in accord with their individual case findings discussed above, the Counsel concluded that:

Senator Packwood abused his United States Senate office and engaged in improper conduct which has brought disgrace upon the United States Senate, by inappropriately linking personal financial gain to his official position, in that he solicited or otherwise encouraged offers of financial assistance from five persons who had a particular interest in legislation or issues that he could influence (Senate Ethics Counsel 1995, p. 320-321).

After briefly contesting the Counsel’s conclusion and stating that he would not resign, Senator Packwood shortly thereafter stepped down from his Senate post. Although Packwood was roundly praised by colleagues as a model Senator, his saga and appeal to marketers such as Mitsubishi, Shell Oil, and the NCTA was perhaps best summarized by an Investor’s Business Daily reporter just days after the Senator’s resignation.

Packwood was a solid member of the Washington establishment, in part because he was the swing vote everyone needed. His deal-making earned him a reputation as a master of the details of legislation... But it’s clear that Washington often respects what the rest of us see as corruption... Bob Packwood epitomized the way such business got done (Fasciocco 1995).

Several months after his resignation, Packwood joined a long line of other well-known former political customers on the otherCfar more lucrativeCside of the politician-targeted marketing fence with the establishment of his own Washington, D.C. lobbying firm. When interviewed shortly after the office’s opening, Packwood, while declining to name any of his customers, stated that: "... the clients are starting to come in... I love the privacy... The wonderful part of this position is I no longer have to reveal (details)" (Burger 1996). Packwood’s early business dealings were reported to be in the areas of taxation, trade, telecommunications, and health careCall issues he had dealt with extensively in his top posts on the Finance and Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committees (Burger 1996).


Consumer researchers concern themselves most typically with understanding and describing human behavior in the marketplace with a view toward improving the ability of practicing marketers to both market their goods and services and, ultimately, maximize long-term profitability. What is here termed politician-targeted marketing, an important means by which marketers seek to maximize long-term profitability, has been essentially ignored by disciplinary scholars. Neglected, as a component of this phenomenon, is the consumption behavior of members of the target marketCthe political customer. This neglect not only detracts from the discipline’s ability to attain honorific scientific status and achieve complete phenomenon description but, as Galliher (1973, 1980) might contend, supports and perpetuates both elite abuse of power and its deleterious consequences.

Several implications for marketing and consumer behavior research, as well as public policy, emerge from this exploratory inquiry. As for future (marketing) research direction, suggested is the opportunity and need to revisit the commonly held notion that firms can do little if anything to impact the macro-level environments in which they compete. One possible avenue for future consumption research emerges from the fact that our data suggests that much present dy political customer consumption behavior can be viewed as a form of surrogate consumption (see Solomon 1986) "gone wrong" wherein surrogates (i.e., governmental officials elected to spend/distribute money wisely on behalf of those who have elected/hired them) end up serving mainly themselves (e.g., to stay in office/power) and but a very small group of highly privileged constituents. Public policy implications include the basic notion that correcting the balance of democracy back toward mass civil society begins, perhaps, with an understanding that the marketing efforts of TNCs and other corporate entities have done much to tip the scale in the favor of but a few (already privileged) persons.


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Terrance G. Gabel, Truman State University
Gregory W. Boller, University of Memphis


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30 | 2003

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