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This is what my inbox is looking like right now:
I received 46 end-of-quarter political fundraising appeals on Monday, December 30. By 1:00 p.m. today, I had surpassed it. So if you’re one of the people whose inbox is being flooded with pitches today — I’m in the “can you spare $3?” category, myself — then I feel your pain. (Republicans can substitute “there you go again” or whatever Reagan quote you consider most appropriate.)
As I’ve been drafting this, literally five more came into my inbox within the past 15 minutes.
Avoiding becoming the target of these pitches is the very reason that even when I can spare the $3, I often don’t — and when I do, I try to customize my name a bit so that I’ll later be able to do a forensic analysis of who sold my name — or, rather, the name “GregMove DiamondOn” or whatever I had used (and that’s not really one) — to whom. So, believe me — when you say that you hate being hit up for money by political organizations, I understand. In fact, I deeply regret the fact that I feel that I have to throw in a pitch down there at the end of this post — because that’s just how life is.
The fundraising pitch — for candidates, for parties, for non-profits — is one of the painful symptoms of democracy, because your votes and your donations and your other political actions are the prize needed for those who want to direct social policy. If we just had an autocracy of some sort, then political fundraising pitches would be unnecessary.
(As an aside: this is where I’m supposed to say that “the cure would be worse than the disease.” I do believe that, although living in Orange County gives me pause. The most economically successful one-party-rule countries, such as Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew, have made a formidable case that Winston Churchill was wrong about democracy being better than all of the alternatives. It may have worked well in Singapore, where the government paid the best civil servants large gobs of money so that they they were incorruptible, but the problem with autocracies is that too many of the wrong sorts of people want to be the autocrats. In Singapore, a salary of a million per year might have been enough to assure incorruptability. In Orange County, about 60% Singapore’s size, I think that there’s a good argument that no amount of money would possibly keep our self-appointed mandarins from being corrupted, because the motive seems to derive from some sort of soul-sickness, some cancer of the avarice gland — I mean, do the Kochs and Waltons and Murdochs really need more money? — that means that the Veruca Salt-like gluttony for more and more and more cannot be sated even in theory. So our country is stuck with democracy at least until we can find a cure for hypertrophic greed. That’s a pretty good cause for a non-profit, don’t you think?)
The problem is that the Veruca Salts of the world will always contribute to campaigns and candidates and causes because they believe — with good evidence — that that will give them control over outcomes. They also believe that people like you — I’m excluding those of you who are reading this post only because your boss or patron wants you to keep tabs on what I’m writing now, and happy new year to you — won’t match their contributions. They have good evidence for that as well. Large donors tend to go to fundraising events or to respond directly to phone calls from a candidate or party chair or development officer. For the rest of us, there’s e-mail — the low-probability means of making a pitch that, like cicadas, only survives because there are so damned many of them out there.
Fundraising pitches are awful — although as a left-winger I’m pleased with how the proceeds of many pitches for the right-wing (not all of them, because there are honorable exceptions, but lots) tend to go to exorbitant salaries and lavish parties rather than providing services — but the worst thing is when they aren’t happening, because then the people who will give money out of avarice will win. They will control the message, control voters’ understandings of the world, and control votes — and so long as voters are suckered for that moment when they are casting their votes it does not matter how much they regret the vote after the fact.
(There’s a joke going around CATER’s circles — CATER being the Star Wars-like Rebel Army in and around Anaheim, taking what inspiration we can from the Ewoks and trying to recruit some big Wookiees to our side — that once the full horror of the rancid Stadium Area deals becomes fully evidence, Lucille Kring and Kris Murray and Gail Eastman will simply run on their “record” of having opposed the Stadium deals — because they’ll have the money to send out mailers rewriting history anyway they please, no matter how big the misrepresentation, and their opponents won’t. Unless the media exposes them — and you know how much we love to rely on the Register to prop up our democracy — who exactly is supposed to stop them? Well, that would be you, average goodhearted citizen — and very possibly in response to an e-mail!)
So, as much as I hate them — and I do hate them — I do not write to condemn fundraising pitches. I write to condemn their being such an unnecessary and overwhelming pain in the ass. Here are my proposals:
(1) Drop the “But It’s Only $3″ Thing
I won’t say that you’re not fooling anyone — you probably are — but they’re going to resent feeling like they were fooled. People like being treated with dignity, not as marks. Either they already know that you’re harvesting them for a mailing list or they’re going to figure it out — using the same process than one might use to figure out who gave one a communicable disease — and they’re not going to like the culprit. Their contributions make them feel good — so long as they feel that their money is being put to good use. And always give people a chance to contribute other than by cash donations.
(2) Don’t Trample People as They Rush for the Exit Door
The reason that we’re seeing so much desperate today is twofold: (a) the desire to appeal towards people wanting to get in that final charitable contribution for the year and (b) the usual closing date of end-of-quarter fundraising reports (by which people get judged.) It’s absolutely true that campaigns will be judged by these fundraising numbers as large donors consider the viability of their campaign — but as with cramming for a final exam you just can’t get that much done at the very last minute, especially when others are competing with you for attention. I don’t have a solution — and I’m sure that the fundraisers reading this are saying “well, we have the numbers to show that this works” — but those numbers will not factor in good will. Lots and lots of people are alienated by these end-of-quarter pitches; how much is lost by people who are just driven away from the process? We have a problem with underfunding by those who are interested for reasons other than financial self-interest, but we also have a problem with people not being interested because they think that all sides suck. Some of the best fundraising I’ve seen has come from U.S. Senator Al Franken, who tells people that he’s not fundraising at times when he just wants to keep in touch — and he follows through with that — while letting people know that at some point in the future he does plan to hit them up. I was proud when the DPOC did something similar (at least on Facebook) earlier this year when, on a frenzied end-of-deadline day, our Executive Director posted something puckishly saying that we wouldn’t be fundraising today — and got raves far and wide. That good will (if, as Benjamin Franklin said of the Republic itself, we can keep it) is worth more than whatever that last-minute pitch likely would have collected.
I will be fundraising later this year: for the DPOC, for various candidates and causes I like, for CATER, and for my own campaign for — well let’s set that announcement aside for now. (Unless I’m joking, and don’t discount that possibility.) But I promised a pitch of my own for the end of this story, so here it is:
Don’t donate any money to a political cause tonight unless you are really moved to do so. (And if you are — great!) But that aside — if you can, put a little money aside tonight, in a container labeled “2014″ — and when someone in your circle is in need later this year (I’ll disqualify myself as a recipient, to fend off my critics!), then let them know that you were thinking of them and preparing to help, even without yet knowing their identity, on New Year’s Eve.
(And then, of course, buy a copy of Vern’s new CD.)
Happy New Year’s Day to all.
P.S. If the spirit moves you, write in how many political fundraising e-mails you’ve received today in a comment!