This post from Jim Geraghty on NationalReview.com has rightly dropped some jaws, and the number that stands out to me is the $127 million to $177 million scam PACs have raised from grassroots donors.
Now, people aren’t stupid, especially when it comes to money, but the fact that conservative grassroots activists were willing to part with that much money tells me this: They are giving to these groups because they asked.
The candidates’ actual campaigns aren’t investing the resources they need to build their email lists and grow online donation programs. As a result, con artists don’t have any competition for list building and they can do so cheaply.
Geraghty starkly outlines the consequences of inaction,
“Imagine if instead of disappearing down rat holes and being spent on more fundraising, just $10 million of that $127 million to $177 million sum had been better spent. Imagine if that $10 million had gone to the campaigns of the GOP candidates in the 20 House districts that they lost by five percentage points or less in 2018. That’s $500,000 per campaign. If Mia Love had 625 more votes in Utah, she would have held her seat. Think she and her campaign could have identified and mobilized another 700 Love-supporting voters in her district if they had another half-million?
In California’s 21st District, David Valadao lost by about 900 votes. In Maine’s 2nd, Bruce Poliquin needed about 3,500 more votes. In Georgia’s 6th, Karen Handel needed 8,000 more votes.”
But what did these campaigns do to pursue their own online, grassroots fundraising operations? The Love campaign only spent $74,695 with their digital agency and, according to the Facebook Ad Archive, didn’t run a single list building ad between May 2018 (when the archive began) and Election Day.
Even campaigns who are spending significantly on digital aren’t investing in building their email lists. The Valadao campaign spent $368,015 with its digital agency and out of $22,316 spent on Facebook there wasn’t a single list building ad.
Only 6% of Valadao’s campaign funds came from individuals contributions less than $200, compared to his opponent, TJ Cox, whose small dollar program accounted for 21% of his campaign’s funds. In the case of Maine’s 2nd district, the Republican raised 1.7% of his funds from small dollar donors, the Democrat raised 24%.
Now, I’m not giving the grifters a free pass and Geraghty’s points all stand. I’m simply outlining a proposed response for conservatives to tackle this problem. There is a piece of the fundraising pie we can grow and it’s very easy to do.
The challenge Republicans face in addressing the online donation crisis is not technological, but cultural. We’ve got to adapt our mindset to a new era in politics:
- Your Cash on Hand total isn’t scaring anyone away. The outdated conventional wisdom that says having a large campaign warchest keeps potential challengers at bay doesn’t hold up anymore. So if you’re holding off on building critical campaign infrastructure to inflate your COH number, you’re really just hurting your campaign and limiting the amount of money your campaign can raise.
- Building your email list and growing your online donation program is a year round endeavor. For numerous technical reasons I won’t go into here, your email fundraising program needs to run the entire time an incumbent is in office, but you’ve also got to build your list 24/7/365. It can take the average supporter 45-90 days between the time they sign up on your email list to become a donor. That time should elapse in the off year, not during an election year.
- You can’t afford not to share your list. An email list isn’t like a major donor list because grassroots donors will give multiple times to multiple campaigns over the course of the cycle. When it comes to online fundraising, a rising tide lifts all boats.
Sadly, the grifters know each of these points better than the good guys. If con artists understand the economics of small dollar fundraising, why don’t campaigns?