Electioneering is an expensive game of self-promotion played over the airwaves, in print, and now on the Internet. A majority of voters will never meet the person who will be representing them, and instead they must rely on the images filtered through the media. Credibility is one of the most important assets a media member has.
No one knows that better than long time Republican Party operative Michael Brodkorb, senatorial candidate Mark Kennedy's press consultant.
With a background in opposition research gained in his years as Research Director of the Republican Party of Minnesota, Brodkorb has been able to parlay his skills and contacts into a consulting job that has been referred to in the Pioneer Press as "part-time researcher,"and in other venues as a simple part-time consultant. According to FEC reports, the Kennedy campaign considers him a "Press Consultant." With no clear definition available of what his position as researcher/consultant/press aide is, it seems easier to examine what it is not.
According to Brodkorb himself, it is not a position that involves his personal blog Minnesota Democrats Exposed. In his announcement about accepting the position with the campaign, he stated, "I am not now, nor have I ever been paid to blog." He wrote that it is his responsibility to ensure that running his site did not conflict with his consulting position, and vise versa.
The ultimate responsibility lies with each individual blogger to ensure they operate their blog without an inherent conflict of interest. As I am a Republican operative who exposes Minnesota Democrats, I am continually aware of my responsibility to disclose any conflict that could tarnish the effectiveness of my blog.
The over-all content of Minnesota Democrats Exposed will not change, but to ensure transparency you may notice a small drop in my coverage of the U.S. Senate race.
Instead, his coverage of the Senate race almost doubled, with nearly 70 posts in the three months since Brodkorb joined the campaign, in comparison to fewer than 40 posts on the race in the preceding three months, a period that included both the Republican and DFL endorsement conventions.
This escalation of coverage favorable to the Kennedy campaign is doubly surprising, given that Brodkorb once stated there would be no campaign that would ever be able to hire him and allow him to blog.
"I couldn't blog on Minnesota Democrats Exposed and work on a campaign. No campaign manager or candidate would allow me to continuing blogging on Minnesota Democrats Exposed and work on their campaign at the same time."
Yet as his work on his personal blog continued and the focus on the Senate race increased, Brodkorb now maintains that it is not a part of his part-time consultancy. "This is a reminder that I am a part-time consultant to Mark Kennedy's U.S. Senate campaign. Minnesota Democrats Exposed is not created, endorsed, sponsored, or authorized by any political party, candidate, or candidate's committee. It's all me and always will be and I am very proud of Minnesota Democrats Exposed," states his disclaimer, which he puts on a majority of his Senate posts.
However, despite this disclaimer, it has become apparent that material on his blog has been provided by the Kennedy campaign. One example of this close coordination between the campaign and the blog involves a dustup concerning Patrick Timmons, a writer for MNGOPWatch.com and DFLSenate.com (not affiliated with either political parties) just last week.
Patrick Timmons, the blogger behind Minnesota Republican Watch and a contributor to DFL Senate, contacted the website vendor of Mark Kennedy's campaign twice in the last 24 hours and requested information on any updated security features of Kennedy's campaign website.
Mr. Timmons never identified himself as the blogger behind Minnesota Republican Watch or as a contributor to DFL Senate.
Brodkorb put on the "independent blogger" hat to create the post, but in case there was any doubt that the information had been given to Brodkorb in order for him to write the piece, Brodkorb confirms it himself. "Mr. Timmons: I'll be posting the transcript of your voice-mail left at Kennedy's office later this evening."
Brodkorb then appeared to be fulfilling his job as press consultant, stating less than three hours after publishing the story that he is shopping the piece to the media.
I have spoken with a few members of the media about Patrick Timmons, the blogger behind Minnesota Republican Watch and a contributor to DFL Senate, contacting the website vendor of Mark Kennedy's campaign twice in the last 24 hours and requested information on any updated security features of Kennedy's campaign website.
Exactly how much does a "part-time press consultant" cost? According to FEC reports, $4500 per month, although a call to Brodkorb confirmed that his pay is actually $4583 monthly. On even a full-time schedule, this would come to more than $25 per hour. This amount is higher than all but four Kennedy campaign members, including, incidentally, Mark Kennedy's own (presumably full-time) campaign press secretary. This is also more than the monthly pay for all but three of DFL senate candidate Amy Klobuchar's staff.
When a journalist publishes a story, they do so under a newspaper, magazine, or foundation's mast. Everyone knows who is paying the journalist for that story, and most journalists are bound by a code of ethics. While analysts and commentators are free to embellish or take sides, journalists are expected to filter out or identify source bias in their accounts. Any reporter covering a "Michael Brodkorb story" should feel obliged to reveal to their audience that Brodkorb is a paid functionary on the Mark Kennedy U.S. Senate campaign.