The Donor Class

How do you get the Democrats to be something other than Republicans Lite, when politics depends on money?

Campaign consultants get a cut of the money a candidate spends on TV ads. So campaign consultants tell candidates it is vitally important to spend tons of cash on TV. So candidates need to raise tons of cash in a limited time period. So they need to appeal to people with the means to give $1000 contributions. Any way you cut it people who can freely give $1000 contributions are rich people. So the candidate spends his or her time associating with the rich – The Donor Class – appealing to them for money. So the candidate’s viewpoint naturally amends itself to the concerns of the people the candidate spends time with and depends on.

While money is always important, campaigns USED TO have get-out-the-vote (GOTV) mechanisms in place. Poll watchers, block captains, precinct captains and volunteers – all geared toward getting out the vote. Several years ago the national Democrats largely abandoned local GOTV in favor of putting their resources behind TV ads.

Poll watching works – I know it does because I increased the Democratic turnout in my precinct by 20%. It wasn’t a matter of great skill, mostly it was a phone call telling them where the polling place was, maybe offering a ride. (Increasing by 20% meant getting 6 more people to vote in a precinct where 30 Democrats had already voted, but increasing is increasaing and that is a good thing.) While unions contributed to a GOTV effort this time, it wasn’t enough and was starting largely from scratch. The old way, the block captain knew everyone on the block and talked to them about why they should vote Democratic and then got them to the polls on election day. I was calling strangers, starting that afternoon.

We just had an election where more money than ever was spent on TV ads, with the lowest voter turnout ever. Maybe now you know where I’m going with this. Maybe Democrats DON’T need to put all that money into TV ads.

If we’re going to rebuild a Democratic Party that isn’t a Republican Party Lite, we will have to reduce the dependence on the Donor Class. Building a strong GOTV machine, precinct-by-precinct is the way to get the job done.