Obama's $2-Million Man: Campaign Guru Axelrod

Axelrod's firm has received more than $2 million from Obama since 2005.

August 22, 2008— -- Since 2005, Sen. Barack Obama's campaign has paid out more than $2.1 million to the consulting firm AKPD, run by its chief strategist and guru, David Axelrod, according to federal campaign finance reports reviewed by ABCNews.com.

Axelrod is credited with orchestrating Obama's presidential campaign and its overall strategy and message.

In the first seven months of 2008 alone, the firm, AKPD Media and Message, was paid $1,028,200.

"Every presidential election produces multi-millionaires," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

"Political consultants are businessmen, not ideologues," said Sabato, who wrote the book "the Rise of Political Consultants: New Ways of Winning Elections."

"While many of them believe in their parties and candidates, they also believe in their bank accounts," he said.

McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, a former registered lobbyist, was paid $98,996 in 2007 and is not taking a salary in 2008, according to the McCain campaign.

McCain strategist Charlie Black, a Washington lobbyist, also is serving in an unpaid role.

Jill Hazelbaker, the McCain campaign's communications director, said Davis and Black are "giving their time to McCain because they believe he is the best candidate to be president."

"They've already made their pile," said Sabato. "Don't worry, if McCain's elected, even if McCain isn't elected, they'll go out and make millions more. It all comes from that political involvement, and they cash in."

Payment records for Axelrod's counterpart in the McCain campaign, Steve Schmidt, were not available because he only joined the campaign this summer. Hazelbaker confirmed that Schmidt is being paid, though she would not specify how much.

For Obama, the payments to Axelrod's firm began in March 2005 from the Illinois senator's pre-candidacy political action committee, Hopefund.

Since Obama officially announced his candidacy in February 2007, the payments to AKPD have been made by Obama for President. They are listed in the records as payments for Fed Operating Expenses/Media Services.

The campaign says the payments are for a team of AKPD employees who work exclusively for Obama.

"AKPD Media has a dedicated team of professionals who have worked nearly full time for many, many months to elect Barack Obama president, and the payments we have made to the firm not only support this team but they also pay for the creation and production of many of our advertisements," said Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the Obama campaign.

"One wonders whether all those small donors would give knowing that such a big piece of their contributions is going to just a couple of people at the top," said Sabato. "They tend to think their money pays for TV ads and voter contact, and little staffer salaries in small offices. They don't think about the fact they're helping to create some millionaires."

A former reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Axelrod helped orchestrate Obama's 2004 US Senate victory and claims to have produced "winning media and messages" in over 150 political campaigns.

Obama's official campaign manager, David Plouffe is also a partner in the AKPD, but has taken a leave from the firm and is paid separately by the campaign.

The records show the Obama campaign paid Plouffe $118,532 in the first seven months of 2008. He was paid a total of $91,291 in 2007, according to the records.

"Plouffe hasn't yet become a multi-millionaire, though I can guarantee, whether Obama wins or loses, Plouffe is guaranteed to become a multi-millionaire," said Sabato.

Michelle Dubert is a freelance writer based in New York. Her work has appeared on ABCNews.com, RollingStone.com and in New York magazine.

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