“It’s The Money, Stupid”
I once worked on a campaign for a Libertarian candidate. In this particular election, he was the only candidate running against a strongly entrenched Democrat (the Republicans could not find anyone to oppose her).
My candidate was offered $10,000 by a GOP donor. The donor stated that he wanted to donate to my candidate because he hated the Democrat and would be willing to donate even to a member of another party to see her defeated. The donor was clear that there were no strings attached, he just felt that anyone would be better than her (my own personal theory was the donation was because he felt that a Republican might have more success in the next election facing an incumbent Libertarian rather than a Democrat).
My candidate turned the offer down because he made a decision in the beginning of his campaign not to accept any donations over $200 in order to demonstrate that he “could not be bought”.
Obviously, he did not raise much money and lost (only getting about 13% of the vote). This Democrat incumbent was actually very vulnerable to a Libertarian candidate. I am certain that the $10K donation would have given him enough funds to properly advertise his campaign, raise more funds, and would have allowed him to get his message out. He had a strong message that would appeal to the liberal voters in the district. Because they never heard it, he was beaten like a cat in a Monty Python movie.
All too often, I hear Constitution Party candidates talk about the corruption of campaign donations and then proceed to shoot themselves in the foot even before the race begins by imposing self-inflicted campaign donation limits. This is a critical mistake and it shows a complete misunderstanding of how politics work, how campaigns work, and the true nature of politicians in American politics.
Let’s start with the issue regarding donations and political corruption: MONEY DOES NOT CORRUPT POLITICIANS. THEY WERE ALREADY CORRUPT. It is not like they were honest and upright people who sold out their principles because of large donors. C’mon, don’t tell me that you fell for that one! They were corrupt before they started their campaign and had already made up their minds that they would sell out to anyone that donated to them. You honestly think that they had principles and integrity before they entered into politics?
Constitution Party candidates need to understand the realities of running for a major political office. You cannot win without lots of money. It is impossible. You will lose every time. If you hate the idea of having to raise lots of funds, then you may be able to get away with a local office (city, school district, etc..) but any major political office (federal, state, and some county offices) is going to have lots of expenses and that means that you are going to need to raise lots of capital to fund your campaign. The average state-wide election costs about $300,000 in essential expenses (i.e. absolutely required to get your message out) with gubernatorial races averaging in the millions. The average federal position normally runs between $700k – $2M.
Campaigns are expensive ventures. It is not just advertising expenses that you have worry about. There are administrative costs and personnel costs. You cannot ask all your volunteers to work 8-10 hours a day, 7 days a week. For a Congressional election, you will need a minimum of 10-20 full-time employees. Many campaigns require a professional Campaign Manager (and they are not cheap). Equipment and furniture costs, travel costs, printing costs, sign costs, marketing materials, and advertising all add into the expenses. All of these expenses are critical to getting your message out. If you don’t spend the money on these requirements, then no one will ever hear about you. You must be realistic about the costs involved.
One big political myth is how voters feel about Campaign Finance Reform. Really interested, right? They will show strong support for a candidate that refuses to take large donations, right? Sorry, but every election results show that they don’t really care. They talk a lot about it, but when it comes down to elections, they show their true colors. In recent elections, no major candidate has ever won based on their stance of self-imposed Campaign Finance restrictions. If it was really important to voters, then they would elect “honest” candidates based on that. The election results, however, tell a different story. Those candidates (in major elections) that do self-imposed restrictions are always soundly defeated. I have never witnessed one that even made a respectable showing. It was as if they did not even campaign. While voters would like to see campaign reforms, it is not an important enough of an issue to get them to change their vote based on it.
So, how do we handle the issue about donations? How can we keep personal integrity and truthfulness in a campaign but still have sufficient funds to win? I advise the following:
- Stick to your principles. They are not for sale. No Quid-Pro-Quo donations. Make it public that your integrity and honor is not for sale. Refuse any offers that have even the slightest hint of reciprocity.
- Only take funds from donors that have good reputations in the community. They need to be respected members of the community or be from organizations that stand for the same principles that you do.
- Take every legal donation that you can get and as much as you can get. Don’t be afraid of donations. They are not evil. The same philosophy that applies to guns applies to campaign donations. It is not the money that makes politicians bad, it is how it is used that determines if it will be for good or evil purposes. If you get a million dollars and use that money to change government for the better, isn’t that a good thing?
Honesty and integrity is the responsibility of the candidate, not the donor. Money does not make you corrupt, it only confirms it. Using funds responsibly and for the right cause is honorable and worthy. Whether you spend $100 or $1,000,000, the amount of the spending is not the problem – it is what you spend it on and what you compromise to get it. If every dime goes to necessary and honorable expenses and you do not sacrifice your principles or integrity to get the funds, then what does it matter how much is given to you?
My recommendation to all Constitution Party candidates is that you need to focus on the candidate (you), not the money. You can promote your honesty and integrity by adhering to the First Pillar principles and programs (i.e. writing a Contract with your constituents is a good start).
I also recommend that our state and county organizations make it clear to the public that we will accept no quid-pro-quo donations. If anyone wants to donate to the party or to a candidate, it has to be because they believe in what the party/candidate is doing and that they will benefit from having an honest, accountable, constitutionalist elected official. We will reject any donations that come with personal gain strings attached. We need to make this clear when we speak to our donors. If they want to donate $10,000 because of a campaign promise to lower taxes, then there is no problem. If they want to donate $10,000 so that you send government contracts in their direction, then you reject the donation. Candidates need to make it clear to Campaign Managers, staff, and local party affiliates that you will maintain your principles and there will be no compromises, regardless of the donation amount. As a party, we make it clear to our candidates that the party endorsement is contingent upon the candidate being above reproach in this regard. They need to be unequivocal in their stance that there cannot be gains for the donor for their donations. The party needs to take the lead in this regard and be the watchdog for unscrupulous candidates. If it is ever discovered that there was a quid-pro-quo donation, the party will immediately disavow and rescind their endorsement of the candidate. If it happens in the middle of the campaign, so be it. If it happens while the candidate is in office, so be it. The party must take a “Principles before Party” mentality. Even if you lose the election, you will gain supporters by showing that our principles are not for sale.
We also need to have a better understanding of donors. We cannot assume that every large donor has evil intentions. You have to understand that $10,000 to a multi-millionaire is like $100 to you and me. They don’t see it as a “big” donation. You cannot assume that they have evil intentions just because the amount is large. To them, it isn’t. Get to know your donors and, if they check out, be open to accepting any legal amount that they want to give you.
I also want us, as a party, to wake up and realize that current Campaign Finance Reform (CFR) laws are scams. They do not have any effect on political spending and never were intended to. From the very beginning, they were designed to accomplish two goals: (1) Fool the voters into thinking that they truly wanted to “clean up” campaign finances and (2) Dupe stupid third party politicians into playing by the rules and actually trying to live by CFR rules. I have not seen any major political campaign that did not actively flaunt the disregard for CFR rules. Using PACS, fake organizations, false advertising, and very big loopholes that were written into the laws, campaign spending by major party candidates have hit all-time highs. Just like a business, if you do not keep up with your competitor's marketing and advertising spending, you are going to get your teeth kicked in every time. It is the reality of politics and not understanding how they work will ensure that you go home on election night thoroughly humiliated and embarrassed. That means that you need to form PACS and other organizations that will take up your cause and spend money to get your message out. I know that many of you are groaning at this. It is not illegal, it is not immoral, it is not unethical. It is how the game is played. Faking a handoff is not considered a “sneaky and unethical” play in football. Forming PACS and other organizations to help you get around CFR laws is the same thing. It is simply how you play the game.
Here is the main point that I want to make: Simply not taking Quid-Pro-Quo donations will put you behind those corrupt candidates who are willing take it. As such, you don’t want to restrict yourself any further than you have to. Be legal, be honest, and be honorable, but be smart. Your message (Three Pillars) will allow you to spend less than the other candidates because the voters will respond to it, but they need to hear it first. If you think that you can be successful by spending 5% of the funds that typical campaign costs then you need to think again. No matter how great your message is, nobody will hear it. You need to be around 50% of the average costs if you want even the slightest of chances. I would prefer that you be around 70%.
In my next article, I will go into details about how to effectively fundraise but we needed to first discuss the realities of campaign costs so that our candidates will realize that they can no longer be naïve in understanding the true nature of politics.