Diving for Dollars

DollarsCampaign fund raising as a challenger is something I would not wish on my worst enemy. Doing the ask does not bother me. Pitching to strangers is something I had to do repeatedly in the early years of XMission. However, I’ve had a higher hit rates selling chocolate Santas as a teenager than with donors who have traditionally given high amounts to Democrats in other races.

Many have expressed dismay at the amount that has been raised in this campaign, versus my opponent who has over $4 million dollars. I can only wonder where he finds the time outside his Senate office to make all those calls. Yet minimal amounts are par for the course for Democratic federal candidates challenging incumbents in Utah. Looking at one of my favorite websites, Open Secrets, the following record is presented. In the past eight years, wunderfund and former party chair, Donald Dunn comes in first with $379,269 total, with individual contributions at $273,610 and an additional $87,189 from PACs. The mark slopes rapidly from there. My predecessor, Scott Howell raised $189,037 and received $14,000 from PACs. Post BCRA, Paul Van Dam brought in $93,057 with PAC contributions of $18,750. The Democratic challengers in congressional districts after 2002 averaged contributions of just over $32,000.

Although I applaud Howard Dean’s 50-state-strategy, supporting the candidates in all states by connecting them to donors is equally as important as hiring party employees. I called a number of consistent donors on the national level and the reaction was always the same, “You’re running against who?” with a laugh. This attitude needs to change inside the Democratic party. The races that make the most difference in winning are the races that are hardest won.

Some have joked to me that BCRA was otherwise known as the Incumbent Protection Act. Admittedly, I had a completely different picture of campaign finance reform before I became a candidate. The fund raising advantage has long been in the hands of the incumbent, and BCRA didn’t do anything to resolve that. Talking to Chris Cannon at the Scandinavian Days Festival in Ephraim he lamented the state of campaign finance, but when I brought up public financing he told me he was opposed to it, because it gave the advantage to the incumbent. He didn’t elaborate on how this worked out, but it continues to puzzle me to this day.

Right now, I have to walk a tightrope between calling potential donors and getting out to meet the public. Frankly, I would rather that all candidates did only the latter and none of the former. A bipartisan group of four former senators seeks to do just that with “Just $6”. While it is nice to have former senators and potential senators calling for federal finance reform, what we really need is existing senators to be on board. Rabbits running the cabbage shop, kids in charge of the candy store, raccoons collecting garbage, find your favorite euphemism, but there aren’t many that want to see the status quo change. What is needed is to replace them with people who are committed to this change and I promise that I am.

Of course, until that day arrives, I still need your donation.

10 thoughts on “Diving for Dollars

  1. Hey Pete!

    Quick question… I don’t recall from my work all those years ago on another campaign whether anonymous donations are even possible…

  2. I suspect few people believe it’s a good idea for government to finance the news media because it would enable public officials to discourage publication of anything challenging their views. By that same argument, government financing of elections, even in part, is a poor idea. This is why public financing of campaigns gives the advantage to the incumbent. We’re already battling many attacks on freedom of speech without adding this one to the list.

  3. Bryan, I’d be interested in your alternative proposal. As I see it, if the process is transparent, then its a far sight better than the existing system.

    I don’t think government involvement in the media is a good idea, nor do I see the direct relation. I also don’t think that saying one idea is bad because an unrelated idea is horrible is justifiable either.

  4. Bryan,

    Incumbent congressmen are allowed to use office funds to send out promotional materials up to three months before an election. Typical office budgets for congressmen range around one million dollars per year.

    Incumbents are also allowed to use office staff to promote their policy agendas throughout the district.

    So we already have public funding of incumbent campaigns, just not directly through media advertising. Similar arrangements for challengers shouldn’t run up against the obejctions you raise.

  5. I’m very much in favor of more transparency in campaigns and in government. I believe this is an area where we fully agree and I think you’d be able to help in this area with your knowledge of technology whether or not you’re elected. I’d like see legislation to facilitate this instead of additional limits to free speech.

    It’s alarming how many people fail to see the relationship between the power to control the money and the power to control the process even if not given explicitly. If I allow someone to finance the media, I give him power over what gets published. There is always the implied threat if not explicit legislation that the entity that displeases the person in power will regret it. Nobody is suggesting that government finance the media – it’s an effective illustration because it’s clearly inappropriate and the problems are the same as with publicly financed campaigns.

    If I give someone power to finance campaigns, I give him power over the process. If he doesn’t like a candidate or some other entity influencing the campaign he can create legislation to either directly limit their ability to participate in the process, can hurt them using legislation indirectly, or just uses the threat to control things.

    This same power applies to private entities financing campaigns, however, they don’t have the power to make the rules except as they can influence public officials. More transparency lets the people decide when something inappropriate has been done without limiting their freedom to speak.

    Brian Watkins describes well an advantage of incumbents. Using taxpayer money to finance a campaign is clearly wrong and yet it’s sometimes hard to separate campaigning from legitimate business. Perhaps we must make it more transparent where the money is coming from. For example, what if we required any communication from public officials to clearly state if taxpayer money was used including use of staff and such. Given full disclosure the people then decide whether it was improper use of their money. The media and challengers can of course point out problems and will be happy to do so if they have adequate access to the information.

    The models for public financing of campaigns I’ve seen all have limits imposed. If you want to use taxpayer money, you have to limit your communication. This increases the incumbent’s advantages mentioned.

    Free speech works the other way as well. I believe it’s wrong to force me to pay for advertising I find objectionable. The money for public financing of campaigns doesn’t just magically appear – it comes out of my wallet.

  6. Another issue is the “artificial ceiling” put on public financed campaigns. In a case where the incumbent is well known and his/her misdeeds are well spun, that incumbent can use the “ceiling” to their advantage. Any challenger has 2 major objectives in taking down an incumbent, one is to make themselves known to the public, the second is to make the public aware they are a better representative than the incumbent. If you place a ceiling on funding, incumbents would (be wise) to make it as low as possible. It is already difficult to “raise the profile” of challengers to the level of those in office, where many people see a suspicious/crooked incumbent as being more qualified than a challenger. Issues like seniority will be empasized even more, resumes will be more scrutinized (but only for the challengers most likely), and the end result is likely to be more career politicians rather than less, safer incumbency, with people following a line of progression…city council to state assembly to state senate to US House to US Senate…or similar…using the previous office to help promote the leap to the next office. I am really not sure this is the ideal solution.

    One way I believe we could improve the system is a long term solution, require everyone to work (volunteer) on a political campaign (for office or issue/initiative) for 30 hours in 3 months or less before attaining the right to vote. If more people understood what and how the campaigns operate…they would value their votes more. They would be more likely to learn about the candidates they are voting for. As a recent graduate in Poli Sci I was amazed at how many of my graduating classmates had no concept of how campaigns operate, if political science grads are not getting this civics education, what does that mean for the 90+% of grads in other areas of study?

    One issue with this type of plan is that you would likely have to draw a line and grandfather people of a certain age in, or develop some form of petition for exemption. Another flaw is that you have to put some sort of a system in place to oversee completion, whehter it comes in simple form, such as a campaign signing off on a persons hours and then submitting the form to the registrar of voters along with the persons registration card or something more complex, there is a processing cost that will have to be absorbed somehow.

    If people were more knowledgable on campaigns, strategists would be less able to play on the ignorance of the people when creating campaign literature, ads (radio & tv) and speeches. Additionally, politicians would be more likely to support/get involved in the civics education process. I have taken a Congressional candidate to several High Schools, giving the students an opportunity to speak with someone outside the education system, ask questions about the issues that are important to them, explain to them how other issues are significant to them, it’s remarkable how interested they become.

    I do think there needs to be some reform of campaign finance laws, but that is minor compared to the party based gerrymandering protecting incumbents (does not effect the Senate directly). The whole “magic words” and soft money thing needs to be re-evaluated, soft money ads should be required to advocate positively for issue education, not turn into partisan mudslinging venues (See the Busby v Bilbray ads where all of hers focus on the word lobbyist and all of his the word liberal – no real issue education or substanitive content). That was the intent of the decision, was it not?

  7. It seems to me that you’re in a double bind. I’ve noticed what your campaign signs don’t say — the same thing Matheson’s signs don’t say. But how do you stir the Democratic voters without doing the things that might light a fire under them? I thought DK was the answer. All you needed was a little fire-breathing, roof-rattling speechifying. Get on the netroots train. But then I realized you’d be painting a large bullseye on your forehead. The sheeple can’t evaluate the positions without being told what to think and you’d just be a target of the sheeple herders. “See what the bad liberal did…”

    And beyond it all, the voters seem to carry a sense of detachment. Even among my highly educated co-workers, there’s too much shoulder shrugging. So many people don’t care. They’re numb, I think. Or maybe exhausted.

  8. Back in January my resolve was not to contribute to any political fund raising, especially on the national level. Like New Year’s resolutions, mine have failed. So far you have been the receipient of my largest giving. I expect to make at least two more, of the same amount, between now & election time. I also feel a neeed to contribute to the Utah Democratis party and Steve Olsen’s campaign.

    On a more mundane level I expect to start visiting with people in my neighborhood. Need to convince them it’s time to send the “philadelphia” lawyer home.

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