fundraising

Right now, our most important Founding Father is Benjamin Franklin

It's three weeks out from election. This is the crunch time.

Air time is getting hard to find at the local TV stations. Printers are busy. Ad deadlines are looming. And they all require cash on the barrelhead.

I've been there. I've been in the room when the radio ads were cut out to pay for the TV ads; or when we were told we could mail to 100,000 households in a state with over a million voting households. It's not fun. And this was a "well-funded campaign". 

Sadly these decisions will be made all over America this week and we may lose a lot of deserving candidates because qualifications don't pay the bills. Across the nation, we have plenty of Democratic incumbents sitting on million dollar warchests and plenty of great Republican challengers with  cash on hand of less than $250,000. You can win when you are outspent. You rarely win when you lack enough funds to deliver your message.

Now is the time, if you want to help campaigns, when it matters. The cash isn't going to fight primaries or get stuffed in the bank. It's going to be used against the Democrats. And if you give the week before the election, the ability to use this cash effectively diminishes.  You can't buy air time that already sold.

I suspect that somewhere around a million people across the country have marched at one Tea Party rally or another over the last year. If each of them gave $100 to a deserving House candidate this week we could change American politics for a generation.

That's right. Stop the Gadsden Flags, the Twitter posts, and the e-mail forwarding and get out and give somebody a Benjamin. Now.  

Yep, a Benjamin is lot of discretionary cash for a lot of people. For others's its walking around money. But what's our society worth?  The apolitical majority is not going to rallies or reading blogs. They are watching CSI, listening to drive time radio, and reading their snail mail & e-mail. We better pay to get our message out to them where they are paying attention.   The time for rallies are over. The campaign is now.

Nate Silver has 87 races are in the balance. And there are other late breaking races coming into play, like CT 1 or AZ 7. They all could use funds. Now is the time.

Not sure who to contribute to? Trust me, it might be your own district or one right around the corner. About 45 states have one or more competitive House races.  If you live in Newport Beach, help Van Tran in Garden Grove.   If you think the Republican running in Manhattan is not viable, help Mike Grimm on Staten Island.  There are resources to find challenger races like 40 Seats.  It takes little time to find the website of a candidate worth supporting. 

There are probably 100 possible choices out there--so whatever your preference among race, gender, age, position on social issues, military background, medical background, business background or relative level of libertarianism I'm sure everyone can find one candidate to send a check to this week that meets their agenda.  Whover suits you works find by me.   We need all of them to run strong on November 2.

That's why they need the cash THIS week so they can buy their ads and mailers now before it is too late.   

It's possible we have caught the Democrats in a giant Maginot Line, where they stockpiled ammo to defend the 30-40 most vulnerable incumbents only to find public opinion has enable Republicans to fly over this battlefield and engage relatively unprepared Democrats on another 60 battlefields.   That still means we need ammo to use down the stretch of the campaign.

Within the next 72 hours I'll have a Benjamin in the hands of my local House candidate and plan on sending some $ to two other House challengers. 

What are you doing? As the great Mr. Franklin said. "We will either hang together or we most assuredly will hang separately"  

What Up? Michael Steele's One Year Job Review

What up, GOP?

I’ve never been to Grover Norquist’s Wednesday meeting. It is, for many, a mainstay of the middle of the week and, for others, a launching pad into a fruitful career in Republican politics. But, for all who know about it, there’s no question that it is regarded as the de-facto braintrust of the center-right coalition that makes up the Republican Party. Thus, when I woke up Wednesday morning after Tuesday’s two-count of Democratic retirements, I couldn’t but imagine that the coffee at ATR tasted a little better than it did yesterday.

But, on a day that should be regarded as a pretty good one for Republicans, it’s very likely that this group was a little distracted by, to borrow a little from the French, our faux pas du jour—our great Chairman’s tactful use of the phrase “honest injun” in describing a platform that nobody knows about. Or, perhaps, to digress a little further, the news that, under his leadership, the money to run the races that just became within our reach  just may not exist (at least not under the RNC’s control)?

This is not an ad-hominem attack on Michael Steele—God knows the left has a monopoly on those. But, at some point, shouldn’t somebody step back and objectively evaluate, today almost one year after he was elected, how he’s performed in our party’s top job? Tragically, at this important moment in the history of our party and our nation, it’s very possible that, with seemingly endless embarrassments coming out of a cash-hemorrhaging RNC, Michael Steele has become a distraction worth dumping.

Notwithstanding the “honest injun” incident, the main political stories this year involving the RNC have centered on intra-party conflict and poor decisions by Mr. Steele. Most recently, The Washington Times reported on the disturbing trend of major donors fleeing the RNC as Steele makes paid appearances and prepares for his book tour on his six figure salary. Think about this for a second—in his capacity at the RNC, which pays him to give speeches and raise money, Chairman Steele has routinely collected speaking fees to stuff his personal bank account rather than fund our candidates. In many ways, this is tantamount to the CEO of a public company charging money to speak to his shareholders. Here’s a wake-up call, Mr. Chairman--- the shareholders have noticed, and they’re no longer buying.

The RNC has started the year off in the worst financial position in over ten years. Spending record amounts to win a race in Virginia by a whopping eighteen points, we now find ourselves wondering how to fully fund this year’s races (although, to be fair, Chairman Steele isn't sure that we can win them). In the real world, a company losing its stockholders after spending wads of cash would experience declining share values. In Washington, where we all know there is no accountability, inertia dictates business as usual. Except, of course, for Trevor Francis, the former RNC communications director who was fired for failing to get Steele enough credit for said victories—sorry, Trevor.

It's hard to believe that, just one year ago, we were arguing over Chairman Steele's conservative credentials.  Now, it's astonishing that we ever believed he had any credentials at all. If, in the 2008 elections, Barack Obama was the most idyllic image in his party’s history, Michael Steele may have become our party’s greatest liability. Republicans, at the very least, were relieved that, at the end of the Bush years, we would no longer have to hold our breath every time our party’s leader opened his mouth. Alas, that was life before “honest injun,” “hip-hop Republicans,” and, of course, “what up.” If we can’t trust Michael Steele to represent Republicans well, much less effectively manage our party, than why do we keep him around? I was at last year’s winter meeting, and the largest single justification for electing him was his communication ability. How do his passionate advocates of yesteryear feel today? Satisfied? I’m imagining some of you will read this, so please comment below.

Of course, there is life after the RNC. The RGA under Nick Ayers’ great management demonstrated this past November that we’re nowhere close to the depression that we felt in 2008. Donors that once donated in masse to the RNC have redirected their money to the campaign committees. And, in large part because of Democratic policies, personal fundraising by candidates is looking strong. But, is that the point? Should there be an adversarial relationship between the various parts of our larger party? Or, should they move in unison as a well-oiled machine, with a common message and a common goal? Just ask the Democrats of 2008.

Many comparisons have been made of 1994 and this upcoming cycle and—believe me—I hope to God they’re all true. But, there’s a part of me that wonders, when I think back to the spectacular year of the Republican Revolution—what would Grover’s Wednesday meeting have looked like then? Led by folks like Haley Barbour and, of course, Newt Gingrich, I want to imagine that the party of then was far more united than the party of now,  if there were disagreements along the way. But, that’s not now. And, it certainly isn’t an environment that’s encouraged by Michael Steele’s leadership. So, what now, GOP? Happy New Year, it’s 2010--- What up?

Note: Michael Steele's response to recent criticism (which has surely not come just from me): ""I'm looking them in the eye and say, 'I've had enough of it. If you don't want me in the job, fire me. But until then, shut up. Get with the program or get out of the way.'"

Thoughts?

Don't Bet on Crist Over Rubio

At about this time every three months, we have to endure the typical quarterly fundraising roundups. This one from The Hill shows the problem with the genre, headlined "FEC reports show Crist the man to beat in Florida." This in response to Crist raising an eye-popping $4.3 million in the 2nd quarter, against Marco Rubio's $340,000.

Crist may be a slight favorite in the Republican primary, but money will have nothing to do with why.

I bang this drum pretty often, but ask presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney how far early, high dollar bundler support got them. Or Virginia Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe on how much a 10-to-1 cash advantage is worth.

Underfunded candidates like Rubio don't need more money now. The need an argument. A bulletproof argument from a plausible candidate is worth tens of millions of dollars in any primary, overwhelming a financial advantage of any magnitude. While frontrunners confuse high-dollar fundraising for actual grassroots support, a conclusion that headlines like The Hill's do nothing to discourage, smart underdogs would do right to focus on building an impregnable message advantage. Because that's the part that counts for 90% in any electoral victory.

John McCain's campaign was defunct and broke at this point in the race, without money to pay a pollster. Mike Huckabee had no money. Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani spent $60 million plus to win a single delegate, attending fundraisers when he should have been in New Hampshire. A leading Republican strategist recently told me that he wonders whether money doesn't wind up making our campaigns worse while the lack of money makes them better and more focused. Look at McCain with no money, vs. McCain with money (pre-implosion and general election).

Crist's fundraising aside, he's still a relatively popular governor with 100% name ID, and so still the "man to beat." But fundraising trophies don't make it so. Complacency is his biggest enemy.

Crist's campaign is the antithesis of Rebuildness. Of Crist's $4.3 million how much was online? How much came from donations of $100 or less? How many people have signed up on his e-mail list since he announced? How many of his supporters would crawl on glass to see him win?

In running a campaign, that latter kind of support is the kind I want, and I think Rubio has it.

And not only that, but he's a particularly strong and plausible kind of grassroots candidate. He's no Mike Huckabee or Ron Paul. Had Crist not stepped in, he'd be considered a top recruit and a rising star. Rubio would easily beat Kendrick Meek in a general election.

We have two uniquely talented people running for Senate in a seat we will probably hold in Florida. Instead of elbowing one aside, we should be grabbing the popcorn and watching this one go the distance.

The primary will be close. Among voters who know both, Crist and Rubio are tied. Crist's money will not buy him more name ID or goodwill; only his bully pulpit as Governor can do that, and he's surrendering it. Meanwhile, Rubio's talents as a candidate, his crossover potential, and his appeal to grassroots conservatives mean he has nowhere to go but up. I still think Crist narrowly wins absent a massive screwup, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it. Recent elections have not been kind to moneyed "frontrunners."

Did Chris Dodd patronize Joe Cassano's AIG laundry?

What  started this morning at the Washington Times has become a huge local story for Chris Dodd.

Joseph Cassano, the "Patient Zero" of the global financial meltdown, supposedly demanded huge contributions from AIG employees to fund Senator Chris Dodd's campaigns.

 

 According an email obtained by the Times, Cassano urged executives at American International Group's Wilton-based Financial Products division to donate to Dodd in Nov., 2006, as he was poised to assume the chairmanship of the critical Senate banking committee."As he considers running for president in 2008, Senator Dodd has asked us for our support with his re-election campaign and we have offered to be supportive," stated the email quoted by the Times. 

The executives were reportedly asked to write checks for $2,100 from themselves and their spouses, and to send them to Mr. Dodd's campaign. The Times said the executives were, in turn, supposed to pass the message down the line to senior members of their management teams. 

This leads cynical old me to wonder if AIG reimbursed their executives for these large donations. Perhaps, among Mr. Cassano's other talents, he was running a successful money laundry from his Wilton, CT offices.

Go to fullsize image

This all seems very reminscent of the hi jinks that sent Randy Cunningham to jail.  

Maybe Mr. Cassano might want to do some singing--and not for Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul.  Seems he's being investigated for fraud in bankrupting AIG. 

Right now Joey is hiding out at his London mansion. But I suspect the UK authorities will be happy to send us something a bit more valuable than useless DVD's....perhaps a witness in custody?

Were this to happen, the details of what Dodd offered Cassano for the nearly $200,000 in campaign funds might make for, hmm, entertaining reading.

 

Did Chris Dodd patronize Joe Cassano's AIG laundry?

What  started this morning at the Washington Times has become a huge local story for Chris Dodd.

Joseph Cassano, the "Patient Zero" of the global financial meltdown, supposedly demanded huge contributions from AIG employees to fund Senator Chris Dodd's campaigns.

 

 According an email obtained by the Times, Cassano urged executives at American International Group's Wilton-based Financial Products division to donate to Dodd in Nov., 2006, as he was poised to assume the chairmanship of the critical Senate banking committee."As he considers running for president in 2008, Senator Dodd has asked us for our support with his re-election campaign and we have offered to be supportive," stated the email quoted by the Times. 

The executives were reportedly asked to write checks for $2,100 from themselves and their spouses, and to send them to Mr. Dodd's campaign. The Times said the executives were, in turn, supposed to pass the message down the line to senior members of their management teams. 

This leads cynical old me to wonder if AIG reimbursed their executives for these large donations. Perhaps, among Mr. Cassano's other talents, he was running a successful money laundry from his Wilton, CT offices.

Go to fullsize image

This all seems very reminscent of the hi jinks that sent Randy Cunningham to jail.  

Maybe Mr. Cassano might want to do some singing--and not for Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul.  Seems he's being investigated for fraud in bankrupting AIG. 

Right now Joey is hiding out at his London mansion. But I suspect the UK authorities will be happy to send us something a bit more valuable than useless DVD's....perhaps a witness in custody?

Were this to happen, the details of what Dodd offered Cassano for the nearly $200,000 in campaign funds might make for, hmm, entertaining reading.

 

Fred Thompson Unleashes PAC 2.0 to Send 20K to Tedisco

On Friday morning, Fred Thompson sent out an e-mail to his 2008 presidential list through his PAC telling people to go directly to donate to Jim Tedisco.

Our fundraising total for the now 80K for NY-20 campaign stood at around $28,000 when the e-mail went out. Since then, over $23,000 has come in, bringing the public total to over $51,000 at this writing. It's prudent to assume that about $20,000 of this came in through Fred's e-mail list.

This is a very smart use of a PAC's list that too few Republicans leadership PAC take up. Effectively, Thompson has maxed out x4 to Tedisco's campaign, not by circumventing the legal $5,000 limit on PAC contributions, but by directing his donors to give directly to Tedisco.

Every cycle, the Congressional committees lean on their members to write checks to the committees and targeted races. And PACs are pressed to write $5,000 checks. That's the Old Way. The New Way is to aggregate contributions over and above the $5,000 from your supporters, $25 or $50 at a time, thus amplifying your influence. To anyone whose responsible for generating more money from PAC and campaign committees, have you considered allowing these PACs to count indirect contributions from grassroots donors toward their goals -- a far more leveragable source of resources for battleground Republican campaigns?

If you ran in 2008, don't just send Tedisco a $5,000 check. Help him find 500 -- or 5,000 -- new donors from your campaign e-mail list. Fred has shown the way here. Who will follow?

Disclosure: My company designed the Tedisco fundraising widget and is helping the campaign with online fundraising.

Fundraising is Not an Independent Variable

This is reposted from the GOP Tech Summit on Ning. The RNC will be collecting ideas for online activism and its broader implications (my focus here) through the end of the week -- and this is your chance to get your two cents in.  

Traditional campaigns usually unfold in this order:

  1. Raise money and stockpile resources so that you can afford to get your message out.
  2. Spend the money to get your message out and gather support, usually through expensive mediums like TV, radio, or mail.

Barack Obama flipped this model in 2008. Yes, he was able to raise impressive sums early on from bundlers like David Geffen and Penny Pritzker. Considering how the campaign unfolded, this round of funding can be likened to angel investors in a startup: they give enough to buy the pencils and fund operations for a few months, but the company is ultimately expected to sink or swim of its own weight by selling direct to the consumer.

In this case, selling direct to the consumer meant money and volunteer hours, not just votes. Fundraising was not the province of a few bundlers or a few closely guarded lists or of a few direct mail tricks, but of an innovative campaign that fused fundraising, volunteer activity, and vote-getting.

This is what a typical McCain fundraiser in the last campaign looked like:

And this is what a typical Obama fundraiser looked like:

If you're telling yourself that was primarily a rally, not a fundraiser, you're right. The difference is that 1) the event in question was held on February 23, 2007 -- two years ago Monday -- on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, not exactly when we're used to seeking big rallies and not exactly Iowa or New Hampshire. And 2) to get in to the event, each person had to register for tickets online. Getting someone's e-mail address is like raising $10 or $15, and in Obama's case, probably more like $35 or $40. The 20,000 people at that event probably donated $1,000,000 collectively to Obama -- and the cost of acquisition was nearly zero -- more than all but the most successful rubber chicken Republican fundraisers.

In this way, the traditional model was turned upside down: for the most part, Obama gathered political support and only then did he really kick the fundraising into high gear. This is different -- in a messier and unpredictable way, but also in a more lucrative way -- than stockpiling resources to meet a budget and shifting the focus late in the game from fundraising to grassroots. Cashflow issues aside though, I doubt that the Obama people minded much when the money came in.

The lesson here is that fundraising is not an independent variable. Fundraising is a dependent variable and the independent variable is the message. There does not exist an innate ability to fundraise independent of a strong message -- unless the candidate is fabulously wealthy and can self-fund. And in cases where there might be, all the fundraising in the world cannot overcome a poor message. If a candidate is wealthy or has rich friends, but has no message, the GOP should run -- not walk -- away from that candidate.

This is directly relevant to the RNC -- and all our campaign committees -- because they will often seek out self-funders with the thought that it might relieve the financial burden on the committee and allow it to invest in races where more help is needed. Political consultants often tend to favor this type of candidate -- because they pay. This is all well and good, if the candidate is a good candidate with a strong message, but if not, we're in trouble. And if a race really matters, the RNC or any other committee will probably pour in resources regardless. Paid media is not very leverageable and even $10 million can go to waste quickly if the force multiplier that is the message is zero.

Beyond a focus on self-funders, the all-consuming focus on early high-dollar fundraising is a direct threat to those of us who would like to a see a pervasive grassroots focus throughout the entire campaign. Hundreds of man hours are spent putting together an individual event, by which time the $2,400 check collected at the door nets you $1,500. Hours a day of the candidate's time are spent on the phone with big donors, and then we wonder why candidates are seen as insiders who can't connect with the grassroots. There is no doubt that this model can raise a lot of money. But not enough. Barack Obama shows that the alternative to this can not only raise enough money to compete -- it can utterly destroy the 100 city, $2,400-a-plate tour. Ask Hillary Clinton what it feels like to be the candidate of big donors.

The big donor, big bundler model worked in 2000 and was on its last legs in 2004, but we must now confront the reality that it just doesn't scale very well. It's important that we lay down a clear marker for future campaigns, and institutionalize this at the RNC: finding a creative way to collect 100,000 online petition signatures is now more important than the New York City finance event. I'm sorry, but it just is. It should require more executive level focus. It's more efficient and it scales better and it allows you to do everything you need to do in one fell swoop: get donors and activists all at the same time.

Role of RNC Chairman

Are we clear on the role of the RNC Chairman or does it need to be better defined? 

As a co-founder of Rebuild the Party, I’m staying neutral in the RNC Chairman race (at least for now); yet, I’m heavily invested in the process and ensuring we elect the best man for the job. 

I’m encouraged that the race for Chairman, hopefully in small part due to our efforts at Rebuild, has morphed into a more open process.  For a job as important as RNC Chairman, candidates should endure at least as stringent a job interview process as candidates for office.  In years when our Party holds the White House, we don’t have such a luxury.  In years when we get crushed, like we have the last two cycles, we do have that luxury.

Our Party is in crisis.  Let’s resort back to our Crisis Management 101 books.  Crisis is defined as a “turning point” and “danger and opportunity.”  At this turning point, we have a tremendous opportunity to leverage our best talent to revive the Party. 

RNC voting members have power, this time around, to choose who our fearless leader will be.  We all have an opportunity to use our voices, and any communication tool at our disposal, to influence the choice of the voting members.

The process for picking an RNC Chairman is crucial.  If we can agree that the RNC Chairman’s race is a job interview, then we should have a specific job description, at least as it fits each cycle, understanding that the job of Chairman with a Republican president differs from the job when there is not.  From what I can see, the only official job description of the RNC Chairman is “CEO” of the Republican National Committee.

Similar to the Vice Presidency, the RNC Chairman’s role is amorphous, so I seek to define it for the upcoming term:

1. Director of Operations at the Republican National Committee, providing guidance and leadership on message, fundraising and political strategy for the Republican Party.

2. Chief messenger of the Party, communicating the Party’s positions, ideas and opinions on current events through all media.

3. Chief fundraiser of the Party, making themselves available to headline Republican events across the country to raise money for the RNC and local Party organizations.

4. Director of Party Relationships, building and maintaining strong relationships with State Party leaders, allied 3rd party groups, issue groups, demographic groups and niche “wing of the party” groups.

What is not included in the job description as Kathryn Jean Lopez touches on (and I’ve been musing about):

1. Chief Policy Advisor for the Republican Party

2. Chief Agenda Setter for the Republican Party

This is not to say that showing leadership on issues, and robust knowledge on tax, energy, health care, and [name that issue] policy, is not a plus.  It is.  But I think we need to take care to frame the RNC Chairman’s job for what it should be, unless I’m totally off base and we expect a Chairman to be what we want in a 2012 presidential candidate.

I’m interested in your thoughts.  

We Should Not Minimize Obama's Fundraising Advantage

Today, the final fundraising numbers of the 2008 election cycle were released, showing Barack Obama climbing to a staggering $750 million haul for the election season. Obama's spending in the general election was $300 million to McCain's $84 million in public funding. Obama outspent McCain by $135 million to $26.5 million in the final two weeks of the campaign.

Several prominent conservatives have sought to minimize the significance of Obama's accomplishment, pointing to this Campaign Finance Institute study showing that Obama's mix of small and high dollar donations was roughly similar to President Bush's in 2004, or pointing to the Obama campaign's poor protections against online credit card fraud.

All of these rationalizations miss the point. Saying that the Obama campaign's fundraising is not noteworthy except for its scale is like saying Mount Everest is not noteworthy except for its height. Online fundraising empowers small donors -- but it also reduces the transaction costs for big donors and enables more people to join the ranks of large and medium donors through multiple donations throughout the course of the election season. Obama's fundraising marked a categorical shift, not so much in empowering small donors, but in building an infinitely scalable campaign that could be dialed up to virtually any level Obama wanted.

Yes, Obama's fundraising was a big deal, but the real story is the bodies

I am bewildered that some people try to make the arguments that they do. The Campaign Finance Institute argues that, "[i]t turns out that Barack Obama's donors may not have been quite as different as we had thought."

Ummm. Except that there were 3.1m of them. And that's not a trivial difference. But it doesn't stop there.

CFI notes that there was a significant difference in people who started out small and moved into a larger donor group:

Many of the repeat donors who started off small ended up in the $201-$999 middle range. Among Obama's total pool of 403,000 disclosed donors on August 31, more than half (about 212,000) started off by giving undisclosed contributions of $200 or less. About 93,000 of these repeaters gave in cumulative amounts of no more than $400 for the full primary season. Another 106,000 repeaters ended up between $401 and $999. By comparison, Clinton and McCain each had about 100,000 donors in the entire $201-$999 middle range, and for them the number included both repeaters and one-time givers.

So what we found here is not only that there were more donors, but the Obama campaign did a better job of converting their one-time donors into repeated donors. Oh, and, by the way, they did a better job of turning thier interested observers (12 million on the mailing list) into donors (1/4 donated)

So it wasn't just a difference in mass -- although that's significant enough -- but in process.

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