Saturday, October 27, 2007

More than a fund source.

I recently received a call (in fact, several, based on the phone numbers of calls I had missed but which showed up on my caller ID so they really wanted to get hold of me) from an outfit which had evidently been hired by one of the leading Democratic campaigns (I will decline at this point to identify the campaign, other than to say it is one of the candidates presently ahead of Bill Richardson, who I support and who is presently running fourth). They got right to the quick of things and asked if I wanted to donate money to that campaign.

I told them I support Bill Richardson, so they thanked me and presumably will call again if their candidate ends up being the nominee.

Now, forget for a moment the fact that I'm not in any position to donate money, since I have kids who will be starting college in a few years, or that I am making two mortgage payments (my daughter and son in law rent from me and pay part, but not all, of what I would need to offset that mortgage payment). To be honest, whether I was in a position to donate money or not, I give what used to be considered much more useful than money.

I give time, effort and energy. I have taken the time to be elected as a precinct committeeman, and I work hard for the candidates who I work for. I also stay in with them until the end, whether that is a good end or a bad end. Several years ago I agreed to support a candidate who was running for Congress. It turned out that he was running his campaign pretty much alone out of the back room of his house; his (homemade) campaign literature listed 'campaign accomplishments' in lieu of any real accomplishments and talked about where he had gone to visit-- and in the end he got 1.8% of the vote to finish last in a field of unknowns in our oversized congressional district (the largest city in the district is about 50,000 people and it covers an area the size of the state of Illinois.) But I worked my tail off for him anyway, put in the time and the miles, and on the day of the primary although he didn't win, he did get votes in our county that I'm sure he (not having been here) would not have gotten, and at least in my precinct he did get more votes than the person who actually won the primary district-wide. So if I don't have money to give, I believe I have a lot to give that is not money.

However, by not asking whether I would be willing to volunteer first, I believe that the campaign of that candidate is missing a step (even though in my case, my answer would be identical, that I am committed to working for Governor Richardson.)

Paul Tsongas once said while running for President in 1992 but scraping by for funds, "Money is the mother's milk of politics." And in fact, that year I felt inspired to give $20 to Tsongas, and later it turned out that many of his contributions were embezzled by a campaign worker. That disillusioned me on giving any campaign donations at all for a long time, at least a decade (well, I worked hard for that twenty bucks, and I gave it to Paul Tsongas so he could get his message out, not to buy some crook a Mercedes.)

Nobody wants to be thought of as nothing more than a source of free cash, and that is the message I got from the call. Further, if they asked if the people they contacted wanted to volunteer first, they could still ask for cash later in the call (either, 'Great! Thank you for agreeing to volunteer! Would you like to also make a donation today?' or, 'I'm sorry you're too busy, would you be able to show your support with a monetary donation instead?') Doing it that way would get you a local volunteer list, still give you a chance to ask everyone who isn't otherwise committed for money, and make people feel like you want them to do more than just write a check to your campaign.

I am also volunteering for another candidate who is running for another office. Recently I asked about whether that candidate had some literature available for an event I was working at. When I called, the phone representative answered that they didn't have any literature yet, or really any well developed campaign, because at this point in the campaign, they were focusing on raising money. Well, I'm glad they are raising money, but was it really worth missing a chance to get your name and information out to hundreds or even thousands of potential voters? The whole point of a campaign organization is that you can have some people raising money while other people are out there organizing, canvassing and talking to voters-- it is possible to do both at the same time.

One guy I will mention that I worked for (and for that matter gave a few dollars to) is Paul Babbitt, in 2004. He raised $2 million, and never really got his message out (but at the end of the campaign, there were boxes and boxes of unopened Babbitt literature). So he got thumped by 22 points. He could just as easily have done that with no money, and frankly if the focus had been on getting him out there more, Rick Renzi's misleading attack ads might not have been as effective.

Republicans have for a long time held a significant edge in fundraising (they after all have a lot more wealthy donors, who can simply write a check for the max, and then go get the same from all of their friends.) One of their problems during the past few years is that Democrats have become more effective at raising funds, and the GOP was so addicted to simply getting a bigger megaphone by spending more on ads than Democrats that they didn't know as well how to campaign when they were behind in the cash totals. Now, that can be a good thing for Democrats, but only if we make sure we don't fall into the same trap as Republicans did. We can't disconnect with our own base and volunteer network simply for the blind pursuit of funds.


GiG said...

Hi Eli, it's been a while since I've posted.

I have to agree with you 100%, and even though I haven't received any phone calls, my poor email is being bombarded with almost daily pleas for money, and quite honestly, it's a "turn off", for one thing I don't have any money to give, but more importantly, even if I did, I wouldn't give to a campaign that tried to guilt me into giving money. If I want to give, I will do so on my own, I don't need a daily email reminder.

Having said that, I did give $5.00 to a local potential candidate who has formed an exploratory campaign to run against Chambliss for US Senate next year. Here is a little snip from a local blog:

The unique thing about Josh's campaign is that instead of talking about clean campaign finance, he's actually doing it. Josh is running his campaign based on the bipartisan Fair Elections Now Act.

What this means is:
* The campaign will not accept any contributions greater than $100.
* The campaign will collect $5 donations from 500 people in all Georgia's 13 congressional districts.

I gave the $5.00 to show my support, and guess what, I received a personal email back from the candidate, not some automated response, thanking me for my support. We need more candidates like this everywhere.

I am also a Bill Richardson supporter, I think he can thank you a little for that, I remember you talking about him on the DNC years ago, and I took the time to learn more about him. I hope you enjoy the little video clip a local democrat took during Bill's visit to Atlanta. Bill spent the whole day here and helped local Georgia Dems raise funds, how refreshing. Unfortunately I missed the event and have yet to see him speak in person.

Bill Richardson brings Mi Famila to Georgia

Eli Blake said...

Hey, gig! Long time no see.

Hope things have been going well for you, and now that you are an American citizen (though I'm sure you still occasionally nibble on the knockwurst), I'm glad to see that you are fully 'invested' in the electoral system (of course we knew you would be!)

The whole $5 'clean elections' system is actually a very good one. We have that here in Arizona but only for state and local offices, not federal ones (the Republicans are always trying to get rid of it, without success).

I'm glad to here you are for Richardson. He is the only candidate who both understands that just by being in Iraq we play right into the hands of the Islamicists (since their whole propaganda set-up has been about Americans occupying muslim lands, and here George W. Bush walks right into it by invading Iraq to prove their point), and also he has the experience to negotiate a settlement.