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Two Virginia Democrats Get It Right Online

Scores of articles have been written about Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s online prowess during the 2009 election cycle. 

Steve and I certainly tip our hats to Patrick Ruffini, Mindy Finn and Vince Harris, because they demonstrated for many skeptical onlookers how a Republican candidate who commits the right resources to his or her online campaign can be successful.  Unfortunately, not every candidate has the resources Bob McDonnell had, nor do they often commit to their online campaign with similar fervor. 

In working with several GOP House of Delegates candidates in Virginia last year, Steve and I saw both obstacles – resources and commitment to an online operation – manifest themselves repeatedly.  With perhaps only an exception for the benefits that ActBlue provides Democratic candidates, this problem extends to both sides of the aisle in the Commonwealth.

Trust us when we tell you, there will come a time (probably in 2011) when door knocking alone will no longer suffice for candidates seeking to become delegates or state senators.

Earlier this week, the 2010 Politics Online Conference was held in Washington.  The event drew some of the nation’s top political online experts from both sides of the aisle to share their insight on how candidates and advocacy groups can improve their online operations.

Here’s an unfortunate fact about the conference, though.  Out of the 140 members who serve in the Virginia General Assembly, Steve and I saw only two members attending the two-day event.  We understand that not every member could make it due to busy schedules and travel considerations, but it was odd to hear the McDonnell campaign as the backdrop to so many of the panel discussions and yet to see so few Virginians in the audience.   

State Senator Chap Petersen (D-34) not only attended the event, but he served as a panelist.  Joined by Democratic Congressman Mike Honda (CA-15), CNN’s Ed Henry (moderator) and Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson (D-Ward 7), Petersen discussed how he uses social media to connect with his Fairfax constituents.

As conservatives who’ve worked hard against liberals like Peterson in Virginia, Steve and I were treated to the disheartening lesson that Chap Petersen really does get it.  He utilizes social media and digital technology for three reasons.  First, so constituents of his district are made to understand that he is working on their behalf.  Second, to provide a forum for his constituents to express their opinion.  Finally, to aid his fundraising efforts. 

Peterson was not the only Virginia Democrat to patrol the Politics Online Conference.  On Tuesday, we ran into Delegate Mark Keam (D-35), who attended both days of the event, sitting in on panels and workshops in an effort to gain new insight into how to better execute his online campaign.

Both of these gentlemen do sit on the “other side” from us, but Steve and I have to congratulate them on their efforts to better their online presence.

Yes, Virginia politicos might be making strong progress with adopting digital technology, but members of both parties, as whole, still have a long way to go before we can categorize their use of social media and digital technology as being “cutting edge.”

If we happen to have overlooked any other member or staffers of the Virginia Legislature who attended the conference, we do apologize and hope you were taking notes.

Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson, Co-Founders, ProjectVirginia – “Where Politics Meets Social Media”

Are We Breaking the Law or Being Broken by Technology?

New technology overcomes old challenges. It also raises new ones. Nuclear plants generate the most electricity but have cleanup questions. The Internet has overcome and created challenges, too. Howard Dean used the internet to raise money at unheard of levels. Ken Timmerman reports Barack Obama’s campaign raised $427 million dollars, much of it coming via the internet.

Almost half of the $427 million came from donations of less than $200. Campaigns don’t have to identify donors until their aggregate giving exceeds $200. When giving was by check or cash, it was harder to cheat; cash deposits had to be accounted for and checks left paper trails. Credit card internet giving is the new way around the law.

Timmerman writes about an Obama donor, “Good Will”, who gave $17,375 in over 1,000 donations under $200, far exceeding the limit for individuals. The FEC has ordered the campaign to return the excess money, and they’ve started to. They’ve got thousands to go! Warner Todd Huston writes of testing the foreign donation firewalls of both Obama and McCain. Only one campaign had any checks on the process in place.

Complicating matters, current monitoring and regulating mechanisms are outpaced by technology. The FEC didn’t find “Good Will”. Activists did. Giving is at T1 speeds. Enforcement is stuck on dialup.

“While FEC practice is to do a post-election review of all presidential campaigns, given their sluggish metabolism, results can take three or four years,” said Ken Boehm, the chairman of the conservative National Legal and Policy Center.

If Presidential campaigns have these issues, what of lesser publicized and scrutinized down-ticket races?

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