Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Elections, Contributions, and Me

One story that upset me deeply--I saw it on TV, but couldn't tell you where anymore--was an interview with a woman who runs a food bank, a nonprofit that provides free food to the poorest of Americans. She complained that every four years, contributions to her organization drop sharply, and that this year was the worst yet, to the point where she was in danger of having to cease operations.

She attributed it to the problem that her contributors' limited discretionary dollars were being sucked into the gaping maw of this year's election campaigns  (my wording), and I have no doubt that she is right.  This overload of campaign spending is a development that is bad for all--even Mitt Romney would say that private contributions to charity are a public benefit and need to continue. As for me, I know that her point applies to me--my contributions to private charities have dropped off sharply, that being partly a function of my deficient cash flow, but also that I am channeling my benevolent impulses in these months into (probably fruitless) campaign contributions.

I sometimes see articles by Democratic-leaning individuals patting themselves and their chosen party on the back for the party's platform stance and the inclination of many of its candidates to support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling, and then drawing distinctions with the Republicans who are fueling their campaigns with well-hidden, big-money Super PAC donors.  I don't like those articles, whether true or not:  This is not a partisan issue.  Even a moment's consideration would reveal that a constitutional amendment in the US can not be passed on a partisan basis--it needs two-thirds of both Houses of Congress and three-fourths of state legislatures (or a constitutionl convention, if you want to get technical).  There is no way that the Democrats, or Democrats plus Independents plus minor-party backers, are ever going to get close to that kind of dominance nationally--if they did,  there would be such a power monopoly that they wouldn't even need to spend on campaigns.  This is not a talking point to try to get more Democrats elected; it is critical to the future of our democracy that we change this system, and that it begin immediately after this election ends.  Unfortunately, it can't really begin any sooner.

It is absolutely essential that Republicans, too, see the futility of continuing to have campaigns funded in this excessive, wasteful, regressive fashion.  One way they could see it, I will admit, would be if the Republicans put their faith in huge TV spending and it fails, and they figure out that there has to be a better, more effective way.  Another, better, way is if the winning Republican candidates realize that what they just went through was something that a) they never want to do again; and b) they don't want their opponents or successors to go through, either.

It's false that no one benefits from the current system, though.  A few groups that probably gain:  the TV channel owners, ad agencies willing to produce sleazy campaign ads, the telemarketing companies that can put people on the phones dialing for dollars.  Maybe some others:  there have been some interesting articles to the effect that Sheldon Adelson's expected value for his $100 million or so contributions would be positive if his candidate has better than 20-1 odds of winning the election (he did, but now I'm not so sure).

The rest of us, though, are losers, and I'm particularly thinking of the small-time contributors, like me, who are conned into giving because of some media-report deadline, or scare tactics about a poll that shows their candidate about to lose, or about a poll that shows that their underdog candidate has a chance, after all, or even the one-in-a-Lotto chance that if I give money I'll get chosen to have dinner with the President and the First Lady.   Or the equivalent for the Nominated Suit and his Trophy Babymaker. I'm pretty sick of all of it, and I imagine my counterpart on the other side is, too.

Spending My Hard Earned Contribution Buck Wisely...
That would be a change, as I realize looking at my "act blue" contribution history.  Mostly I have given to false-hopers and easy winners.  Can I change my ways?

My record-keeping is pretty bad; I can see some contributions, but not what prompted them.  It suggests to me that my pattern is the equivalent of impulse-buying, and probably the results are no better.

I have given two or three times to the President's campaign  ("ofay",  I call "Obama for America";  I wonder if his team has absorbed the irony of that monicker); again, I can't really tell you what moved me to respond in those cases out of the hundreds of appeals I have received.  One was for a bumper sticker that said  "Obama!" (with an upside-down exclamation point before it--I have no idea how to produce that character on this keyboard) ; I don't think any of them saved the world, or any lives, or even his campaign.

Here are a few more I've been able to dig up:
 - One contribution to the national Democratic party; I was moved to do it by Debbie Wasserman Schultz's name-drop of Gabby Gifford (the former Arizona Congresswoman nearly assassinated by Jared Loughner).  Debbie actually has the right to drop Giffords' name, and I knew that:  she just had better not overuse the privilege.
- The contribution I made to Claire McCaskill's campaign for re-election as Missouri Senator, the day after Todd Akin got the nomination.  I still feel pretty good about that one.
- $25 for Emily's List; I can't remember why anymore.  I'm not crazy about E.L., as they only provide support to (pro-choice) women, but I could do worse, I guess.
- $5 to Ilya Sheyman, Congressional candidate around here.  Loser.
- $10 for the Gov. Walker recall campaign.  Loser.
- $25 for Ann McLane Kuster, Congressional candidate in New Hampshire.  We'll see;  I think she's favored to win now, but hopefully not so easily that my contribution was meaningless.  I believe one of my fairly-distant relatives (father's cousin) is one of her key political backers.
 - $50 to the DSCC.  That was last year, probably a reasonable move in that I knew there would be tough sledding for the Democrats to keep control of the Senate, but WAY TOO EARLY--what was I thinking?
- $20 to the DCCC (Congressional Campaign Committee).  This is a good idea, if you trust them to make good strategic decisions about which campaigns to support.  I would argue that it's much too complicated to try and assess all the Congressional races and which deserve a contribution, so picking one's spots wisely would mean just contributing to races that have a particular personal interest.  Sort of like the difference between buying an Exchange-traded fund and a specific stock.
 - My Act Blue records also reveal the following, most of which I have no memory of whatsoever:
  • Eric Griego (New Mexico congressional primary candidate).  Loser.  It's really bad strategy to give to primary candidates, I've decided, unless it's to prevent the Devil himself from getting a nomination.
  • Colleen Hanabusa (Hawaii Congresswoman).  She should win easily--bad investment.
  • Martin Heinrich (New Mexico Senate candidate).  He's pulling away from his opponent--not such a great one.
  • $20 to Joe Donnelly (Indiana Senate candidate)--Donnelly has been sending out emails lately pointing out that Nate Silver (of has said that a contribution to Donnelly has eight times better chance of affecting the future control of the Senate than one to Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts Senate candidate)--this, although both are in extremely tight races.  It must have to do with the amount of money being spent in the two races, not the price per vote bought, or the amount of Senate votes each would get if elected (=1).  It's pretty snarky of Donnelly, but I'll grant that he's measurably better than his opponent (an extremist Tea-bagger, Richard Mourdock) and in a close race that he can win.
So far, Elizabeth Warren has gotten nothing from me.  I admit some conflict in my thinkings/feelings about this one.  Scott Brown isn't great, but there are far worse.  Both have sworn off PAC money, and held to the promise--I think he deserves some credit for that.  Then, of course, there's the huge money involved, on both sides:  giving just encourages them, right?  Also, I think that Warren has opened some daylight from her opponent recently, as a result of some of the more outrageous Romney gaffes, like the "47%" one that Brown disowned, but from which he can't fully hide--not in Massachusetts.

Unless things change dramatically, I'm not giving any more to the President's campaign.  I have changed my mind a bit about it, in a positive way--they are promising to use the money to build grassroots support and turnout, instead of throwing it down the TV hole, and I do believe them, but that is one campaign that will have enough support (even if outspent) to win.  That strategy also means that I should not give money to Tim Kaine in Virginia (even though he's in a close race), Sherrod Brown in Ohio (though he's one of the best out there, and in a competitive race), or Bill Nelson in Florida:  Let's just assume that Obama's campaign is going to be spending like crazy in those three states for turnout, and that these Democratic Senate candidates' boats will be fully floated by it.

The one specific race I'm thinking I may blow a few bucks yet is the Congressional challenger for Paul Ryan's seat in Wisconsin (name to be added later--I heard him speak once, and I thought he was pretty good, a viable opponent in a swing district).   I declared Ryan my enemy a year ago when he targeted people my age to lose their Medicare benefits (though there was some ambiguity about exactly which birthdate and younger would get the raw end of the deal); although I am a year older now, and his proposal still promises full benefits to people "55 and over" (so I would, hypothetically, be safe), I am not ready to forgive and forget.

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