The Thinker

Warily opening my checkbook for candidates

Millions are being raised and spent right now to elect candidates this November. Yesterday was the end of a quarter, which put the usually shrill political fundraisers into hyperdrive. My inbox is stuffed with dozens of emails a day from candidates, many of who I never heard of but all of who earnestly need my money, but yesterday was an incredible deluge of pleas. They don’t need it next week; they want it now. Apparently they survive by eating hand to mouth from dumpsters.

Many are craftier about it. First, get you hooked by signing an email petition on a favorite topical cause, say the Chick-Fil-A boycott (I’m in), which is easy to do. Then quickly get directed to a prominent donation page. Next, expect you will be put on their short list, which means you will get more requests for donations. Lastly, expect that your email will be sold or given to potentially friendly political candidates. Minnesota is over eight hundred miles away, but I recently got a solicitation for money for some Minnesota state senate candidate. What the hell?

I reluctantly opened up my checkbook (well, actually my credit card) last night to give. It was the end of the quarter and it was getting time to give. I gave Barack Obama a hundred bucks, even though he has frozen my federal salary for three years, and there are likely more years like this in site. I gave Tim Kaine fifty dollars given that “Macaca” candidate and former senator George Allen is likely to outraise him. There are so many other worthy candidates out there that it was hard to know where to start. Elizabeth Warren? Darcy Burner? I ended up giving fifty dollars to the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. I figure they know better than I do whom to give it to.

All the candidates claim to be desperate for money. Call me skeptical but I suspect I threw about $190 of the $200 I gave yesterday right down the sewer. This is because there are very, very few minds out there that are likely to change between now and Election Day. Surveys suggest at least ninety percent of Americans have already made up their minds about whom they will vote for. The vast majority will vote the party ticket, and the rest simply aren’t paying much attention and may simply be too apathetic to vote.

In fact, the smart money has already been spent. Republican interests in Republican controlled swing states have already gotten their legislatures to pass voter ID laws that effectively make it more difficult for “those people” (poor, elderly, students and in general Democrats) to vote. Virginia is a swing state and our Republican legislature has done its part. It used to be that I would go vote, they would ask me my name and address and that was good enough. It used to be not unreasonable to assume if you had all that information on you, that you were in fact that voter, particularly because if you weren’t, you were a criminal. Now I need to show an “acceptable” ID. A concealed handgun permit will work, if I had one, as well as a current utility bill or bank statement in a pinch. First time Virginia voters in a federal election must show a federal ID, which is carefully limited and qualified. It was certainly not lost on our Republican legislators that first time federal voters are probably students, and they are likely to be voting absentee if they vote at all. Oh darn, so this makes it less likely that they will vote. In any event, voter suppression is heaps cheaper and much more effective than the endless squawking of political ads on TV or radio. It is much easier to put onerous hurdles in front of undesired voters, many of which, such as getting a photo ID, are time consuming and costly. It is effectively a poll tax. All this to solve a nonexistent voter fraud problem. Naturally this problem is supremely important, but limiting rounds of ammunition to the mentally ill is not on our legislature’s agenda. In fact, they are so owned by the NRA they are probably working on legislation to allow morons to purchase automatic weapons by the truck-full.

So disenfranchising voters: check. It is estimated that at least two percent of voters will be ensnared by these new laws, and most would be inclined to vote Democratic, so that’s an easy way to tip the balance in a close election. This is perfectly legal, unless the Department of Justice protests, but there are also patently illegal ways as well that are well practiced. These include robocalls that purport false voting facts, general intimidation, misleading flyers and signs, and the classic tactic of putting insufficient numbers of voting machines in poor districts.

The other primary factor in winning elections is turnout. This is how the Tea Party won in 2010: Democrats yawned and stayed home. Republicans are super-enthusiastic this time around, as they see Obama as an illegal Muslim socialist president. Also, given that Republicans are arguably a minority party, turnout is crucial. Democrats need to have a compelling reason to vote in the same numbers. Here’s another reason why I think my donations to campaigns won’t matter that much. What bring out voters are compelling issues. Since ninety percent of voters have already made up their mind, to bring out Democrats in droves you have to speak to stuff we care about. I think Obama understand this, given his recent campaign speeches. He sells himself as a champion of the middle class. This is smart because there is no way Republicans can claim this, particularly on a day like today when House Republicans rejected tax cuts for the middle class because it wouldn’t include millionaires.

Most of the money spent on TV and radio ads that will do much good has already been spent. Advantage here to the Obama campaign for spending heavily these last months by planting the idea that Romney simply doesn’t understand the middle class and is out of touch with reality. For an undecided voter, the first candidate to make a convincing case generally gets the vote, and it seems to be working marginally for Obama. Romney’s general cluelessness is actually helpful to Obama.

Money on ads from this point on is generally going to be ineffective, at least on the presidential campaign. Money spent on getting out the vote, however, is money well spent. It certainly was well spent in 2008. It’s my hope that most of the money I gave yesterday goes for get out the vote efforts. Organizing turnout is what truly matters at this point.

All this makes me wonder if candidates really need all the funds they claim they need to wage their campaigns. Some money is certainly needed. For the most part money spent on one side will cancel out money spent on the other side. The most likely reaction by an independent voter to the endless barrage of political ads will be disgust. However, if you look at independent voters, many of them are not so independent and lean toward a political party. The truly independent voter is likely apathetic, not paying attention and probably won’t be voting.

Candidates: I work hard for my money. Use it wisely.

 

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