The bane of bad and ineffective political fundraising

The Thinker by Rodin

I once wrote about how most proselytizers are morons. I can add to that list the fundraisers for candidates running for political office, at least the ones that write me. And write me they do, constantly! Lately my email inbox overflows with fifty or more of these pitches a day all of which boil down to ohmigod the world is going to come to end right now if you don’t empty your bank account and send all of it immediately to my candidate!

Thankfully Gmail seems to recognize a lot of this garbage and throws it into a spam folder, which is good except that means I’d be seeing more than fifty of these a day if it weren’t. There may be a Can Spam Act but it doesn’t apply to solicitations for public office. This means there is no penalty for campaigns contacting me and so they do, over and over again.

Occasionally I do click on the unsubscribe link. Sometimes it actually works, but most of the time it doesn’t last for long. Sometimes I get more emails from the candidate later that same day, even after receiving an email telling me I was unsubscribed from future mailings. I went through a period of several months where I religiously clicked on unsubscribe links for the stuff that did come in my inbox. It rarely worked for long. There is no penalty for candidates swapping email lists. Candidates selling their lists to other candidates appear to be one of the principle ways they make money. The result is there is no way to turn it off.

Proactive contributors know what to do: create an email specifically for this crap and give that to these campaigns. This works fine if you are consistent about it. However, give out your primary email address just once and you are doomed. Your only choice is to abandon that email address for another one. Since almost everyone I care about knows my real email address and it is tied to more businesses and websites than I can count, that’s not an option.

I actually try to read some of this fundraising spam from time to time. Like Craigslist casual encounters postings that I review monthly, it can be amusing. In fact, I could make it a feature of my blog to highlight the sheer inanity of it all, as I actually have done before. Only unlike Craigslist casual encounters, which I assume most people don’t regularly visit, most of you are also getting this crap, so it’s probably not that amusing.

Nonetheless, they occasionally tickle my funny bone. I got one recently from “Vice President Joe Biden” but doubtless some low level staffer at the DSCC or DCCC instead. Joe told me he was personally reaching out to me. He even called me by name (as they all do, as they have harvested your name.) The inanity of it though was funny because there was nothing the least bit personal about it, other than substituting my first name into an email template, which they all do. Since Joe likely has my snail mail address, if he wants to personally reach out to me, he can knock on my door. There’s a good chance I won’t open the door but since he’s vice president I might. And I might give the DSCC, DCCC or whatever group he is soliciting for $50. So come on over, Joe.

Quarterly FEC fundraising deadlines, but now new made-up end of month “deadlines” seem to ratchet up the emails as the month ends. These days any poll that shows a candidate down a few points, or a poll suggesting they are close to beating an incumbent, will stimulate requests for money. It often feels though like they are simply making up stuff. In any event these pitchmen make used car salesmen took ethical. In the process they treat their potential contributors like morons, which probably means they don’t deserve a contribution.

In fact, most of the money given to candidates is wasted. Hillary Clinton of course is taking in heaping piles of money right now. I get not just email but snail mail regularly from her campaign asking me to send $100 or more now! How is she spending it? It’s being spent mostly to buy TV and radio time. This is a complete waste of money. I can find better ways to spend that money on something actually useful.

Why is it a waste of time? It’s because the number of us who are persuadable is vanishingly small. Look at Clinton and Trump’s polling numbers over the past six months. They have fluctuated a bit but their percentages are pretty much where they were six months ago, and Clinton still has the lead. And that’s because six months ago people already knew whom they were going to vote for — yes, our political opinions are that hardened. The vast amounts of the money Clinton is spending now is going for TV and radio ads and it’s pretty much all wasted.

If Clinton wanted to persuade me to send her money, her staff might document that they are spending it wisely. Campaign ads even in swing states aren’t going to move the needle. At this point in the campaign only one-thing matters: turnout. So I want to see a treasurer’s report showing 80% or more of contributions are going to fund turnout efforts. And I want to see evidence that this door knocking and phone banking is working. I want to read about the fleets of buses that will help minorities get to polling stations that are too far away; that they are helping poor people get voter IDs or that they’ve prepaid for a taxi to take these people to the polls who otherwise could not make it. Then I might cough up some more money. But to see it wasted on TV and radio advertising tells me the campaign is run by a bunch of hacks. I’m not spending my hard earned money to prop up the profits of Clear Channel, which owns so many of our nation’s radio stations.

The most effective time to spend money is at the start of a campaign, not its end. At its start the candidate is relatively unknown and needs introduction. Even this is a pretty poor use of campaign money. What we really need are candidates that speak to us; a candidate we can relate to. When that happens we become naturally enthusiastic and the money part tends to take care of itself. Witness Bernie Sanders nearly successful campaign this year as evidence. I gave him money when I saw real potential in the candidate. No one needed to prompt me.

Money is also well spent early in the campaign when memes are set. Obama did in Mitt Romney in June and July 2012 when his campaign brilliantly aired those “47% will never vote for me” ads, showing Romney’s disdain for the working class. Romney would have had a tough campaign regardless, but doing it then when voters were forming impressions about Romney as a genial guy was brilliant, but also fortuitous for the Obama campaign.

With a few exceptions like the Sanders campaign, campaigns in general seem tone deaf to what really works and how to spend and raise money effectively. I can tell the candidates worth supporting by their smart management and the way their candidate naturally connects with voters. The rest of them, including the Hillary Clinton campaign, don’t deserve my support until they demonstrate to me that they will use my hard-earned money wisely. It’s clear from these shrill solicitations in my inbox that the descendants of P.T. Barnum are running their fundraising and that’s a bad sign.

Please don’t call or write

The Thinker by Rodin

Not you personally, dearest blog reader. You are always welcome to leave a thoughtful or respectful comment on this post or any other.

I am talking about all these businesses, organizations, random people on the Internet and web sites that want me to invest my precious time and/or money in them. You know who you are. You should be ashamed.

Here is a recent example, but it is one of many. Back in January, I had tarsal tunnel surgery at Georgetown University Hospital. The surgery was preceded by a few visits to doctors down there. Three weeks after the surgery I was back at the hospital for a post-surgical evaluation. Overall, the experience at Georgetown Hospital was good, as I documented. Over the next couple of months, my relationship continued. The hospital and various physicians services associated with the hospital sent me confusing and belated bills for their professional services. Grudgingly, I sent them checks for the inflated costs of their services. At that point, I assumed our relationship was over until the next time, if ever, I needed Georgetown Hospital. Since the hospital is more than twenty miles away and a huge hassle to get to, I will obviously prefer physicians and facilities much closer to home.

But no. Based on one outpatient surgical operation, a few consultations, and a follow up visit, Georgetown Hospital has decided I must be very interested in supporting the mission of the hospital. I figured I was already supporting them by giving them my business, which between my co-pays and payments by my insurance company probably came to more than $10,000. Ah, but Georgetown Hospital is a non-profit hospital. So surely, I would like to be called on the phone and encouraged to contribute to their fund so they can improve Georgetown Hospital, provide fancier doctors and even more innovative services?

Surely not. Why would they even think this? Yet, there they were using my phone number that I gave them so they could contact me on purely medical matters to hustle me for donations.

Georgetown Hospital is not unique. The same week I also got a phone call from the George Mason University Alumni Association, asking me for a contribution to their Alumni fund. As with Georgetown Hospital, I confess I had a good experienced with GMU. In fact, GMU is an excellent school. I spent three intense years there getting my graduate degree. I got my degree in 1999.

I am sure some students have plenty of time to enjoy university life there. Not me. Between my full time job and two classes a semester, I was hustling and exhausted most of those years. I had no time to use my student rates to take in a basketball game at the Patriot Center or attend a performance at their then new Center for the Performing Arts. Call me old fashioned, but somehow I think between my tuition and state subsidies they should be able to balance their books. They shouldn’t have to hustle alumni like me for donations. Believe me, I gave in blood, sweat and tears as well as tuition for three years. By the time I got my degree, I felt like I had been repeatedly run through a wringer. It took a few weeks for the fog to lift from my brain and discover there was more to life than rushing to and from class, burning the midnight oil, working on group projects as well as being a dutiful employee, father, husband, lawn mower and chief bill payer. Apparently, if I join their Alumni fund I can go to homecoming and mingle with strangers over dinner and cocktails at their alumni events. No thanks. However, they keep calling me every year like clockwork.

Maybe I was just being dreadfully naïve, but no one told me that when I signed a petition on a web site I was also going to be endlessly marketed to, mostly by left leaning political organizations since I tend to lean left. Many of these sites send me more than one copy of the same email, perhaps because they have different email addresses for me. Here is a sample of some of the emails I received in the last twenty-four hours:

  • Erin Hill of ActBlue sent me two copies of the same email. She wants me to download their mobile app so I can give them money more conveniently and thoughtlessly.
  • Stephanie Schriock of Emily’s List wants me to know crazy congresswoman Michele Bachmann said President Obama is a felon for convincing BP to set up a $20B fund for those impacted by the Deep-Horizon Oil Spill and thus (not sure how she made this connection) I should contribute right away to Emily’s List. If I had to donate $20 every time Bachmann said something outrageous, I would be bankrupt!
  • Change.org says over 4,000 people today will die of preventable pneumonia so I must sign their petition right away. I guess yesterday it didn’t matter as much.
  • Common Cause wants me to know that they are struggling to prevent a takeover of the government by corporations but it won’t happen unless I send them money pronto because, I guess, they are the only organization working on this issue. I thought they were smart enough to know that corporations already own the government.
  • Democracy for America wants me to sign a petition to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell right now. Do not pass Go and do not collect $200, but by all means give them $200, or more if possible.
  • The Democratic Governors Association needs $150,000 right now but not necessarily all of it from me personally. I am not sure how I got on their list as I never gave them a donation before but they sure are persistently clogging up my email box. Hate to tell you this, DGA, but I am not really concerned about the political affiliation of any governor except here in Virginia because I don’t live there.
  • MoveOn.org who I stopped giving money to six years ago because of their vendetta against Fox News wants me to rate ideas for reducing corporate influence in government and, of course, give them money.
  • Amnesty International needs me to expose “the darkest hell hole in Burma” and send them money otherwise, I guess, they can only expose the hole in their underwear.

The other day I got a call from some campaign volunteer from some candidate I had never heard of asking me to volunteer and/or cough up some bucks for his campaign. WTF???

Here’s what I have to say to all these folks: don’t call me, I’ll call you. Furthermore, just stop marketing to me. Stop selling my email address to any tangentially related cause. Most of these causes are certainly worthy. Who cannot agree that we need better government, need to deal with global warming, empower women as politicians and reach zero population growth? Who could be in favor of torturing political prisoners except, apparently, George W. Bush and those who ran his administration? I agree with all these things, and more. Just reading, responding and debating these daily emails would leave no time for eating, working, sleeping or going to the bathroom. I feel like a heel sometimes, but the vast majority of these emails go directly into my digital trashcan unread.

Sometimes I also get actual snail mail letters. The Virginia Democratic Party wants me to volunteer and of course send them money. The same is true with the Fairfax County Democrats. While I prefer Democrats over Republicans, some Virginia Democratic candidates are substandard. I doubt I want to help these substandard candidates be elected. I am much more inclined to give directly to a candidate that I think shows real potential. Perhaps in retirement I will have the leisure to add a couple of these causes to my life. I’m not there yet. While it’s true I don’t have small children to deal with anymore, I do have a demanding job, a house that needs constant maintenance and obligations that often take me out of state for a week or more at a time. Like most Americans, I am busy. My major leisure activity is this blog. I can’t be a slave whose life is devoted to trying to address every pressing issue of the day. You think I’m going to spend my weekend attending a rally you put together? You think I am suddenly available to drop into D.C. to knock on some congressman’s door or shout something on the steps of the Capitol? Are you nuts? Who has that kind of time and leisure except the out of work bums of D.C. and the homeless? I guess I should include the probably pampered children coming from six figure families who get subsidies from their moneyed Moms and Dads to live full time in D.C. pouring out their passions on these causes.

So sorry. I wish I could care about stuff as much as you want me too, but I can fit only 1% of the solicitations I get into my schedule and pocketbook. Don’t take it personally. Meanwhile, would you at least extend me the courtesy of not selling my email address, stop calling and writing me relentlessly for money? Would you just leave me alone please? I’ll be in touch when I feel strongly enough about your issue to find both the time and money to give. Moreover, if you suspect that my association with you has been only tangential, then assume I don’t want a phone call as well.

Thank you very much.

(P.S. Yes, I have and do continually click on those unsubscribe links, but it doesn’t seem to matter. I usually become mysteriously resubscribed some time later, or end up on someone else’s list. It’s a never ending battle.)