An associate offering condolences for this past Tuesday’s election results offered the reminder that we need a Constitutional Amendment to fix campaign finance. Amending the Constitution is the only certain means of leveling the playing field between self funders trying to buy seats, those willing to sell their values for special interest money and establishment support and those tried and true progressive warriors honestly trying to make the world a better place.
The decline in the quality of media coverage of elections has been a perverse accelerator of the downward spiral, favoring big money, the establishment and creating the illusion of similar qualifications/values where vast differences exist. Why? To make money, profit over truth, profit over quality of governance, profit over everything.
Until we have major campaign finance reform and media reform, we as progressives (and Democrats in general) need to stop making the same mistakes campaign after campaign. We need to invest drastically more in infrastructure that supports candidate campaigns. The key phrase being, “that supports candidate campaigns.” We have a number of great organizations out there that are improving some of the message and starting to push back on some of the right wing attacks on our Democracy in favor of the 1%, but they aren’t doing nearly enough to help us actually win elections and shift the balance of power.
We need a return to the 50 State Strategy. It isn’t even debatable which strategy is more effective. When we run more quality campaigns, we do vastly better at controlling the message and we win more seats. We raise more money. We inspire future candidates and activists. Incumbency protection is best served by expanding the playing field, not contracting it to a defensive posture.
We must do more to provide candidates with the resources to compete – not just money, but training, quality staff and research. Candidates need to start by recognizing that being a candidate is not easy, and they should do more to learn to how to be better as a candidate. Progressive organizations need to begin their actions six months or more before primaries/elections, they need to get in early to make a big impact. They need to to do more to promote the positive narratives for progressive candidates.
We need to stop hiring/promoting staffers based on arbitrary measures, winning or losing a prior race isn’t necessarily indicative of any one individual’s talent and capacity. Being on a winning team in one capacity is not at all indicative of a capacity to succeed in a completely different capacity on the next campaign. Carrying staff not getting the job done is extremely detrimental to campaigns, where resources are highly limited and the impact of team morale is far greater than many recognize. A person not living up to the responsibilities of their job will drag everyone else down, any temporary drop off felt from firing that person among the rest of the team will be overcome by the greater impact of bringing in someone capable of doing the job. Rip off the band aid, don’t let it fester.
We should be willing to pay quality wages for quality staff. When you buy at a bargain rate, too often you get less than a bargain of quality and capacity. Which leads to this – donors need to get involved earlier, need to get involved in primaries, and need to recognize that their money can and should be spent on things other than TV. When progressive donors opt to sit out primaries, they are giving a huge advantage to the big money/establishment candidates and crippling our progressive heroes. Money has a decreasing value over the course of a campaign – the earlier you have it, the better you can plan and execute a campaign for victory. Late campaign TV is rapidly declining as an effective means of communicating with voters, the value of field, online and targeted mail campaigns are all increasing rapidly. All of these require having money earlier. More staff, less consultants.
We MUST MUST MUST do more to keep quality staffers in the campaign system between cycles. We must pay them living wages in and out election season. We must provide health care and career advancement training. We must strive to keep the best of our warriors on campaigns for 5 cycles. 10 years. That should be the goal. We need to make it a viable option by increasing the quantity and quality of mentorship, by providing employment options designed to fit between campaigns that continue the work for advancing progressive values, and by doing more to make sure the right people are hired by the right candidates at the right time to be successful.
We have a handful of strong progressive candidates running across the nation and Democracy Corps tells us 54 House Republicans are in danger right now. We can make gains this November, and we need to work our butts off to make that happen. We can make bigger gains in 2014 and beyond if we start learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over.
For my part, I’m currently looking for the best opportunity to make a difference between now and November 6th. If you have ideas about what I should be doing, use the contact form.