Why You Can Raise Money When You're Running
The other day, a candidate for a Justice of the Peace (JP) position in Texas asked me for advice about raising funds for her forthcoming campaign. She was hoping for some suggestions on how to stage a fundraiser, but I'm afraid that, because of the pragmatic rules of political fund-raising, I had to disappoint her.
People and organizations donate election-campaign funds to candidates for a variety of reasons, but generally, only one or two really apply to candidates who are running for positions that have no influence to peddle - and by that I mean, positions that, by their very nature, offer nothing to materially benefit the donor in any way.
I explained this to the JP candidate, and - if you scroll or read down to the end of this essay - I'll share with you what I told her.
Universal reasons to donate:
* Family-Friends - people you know, and who know you, and like you well-enough to contribute to your personal success
* Party support - while some jurisdictions have non-partisan campaigns for judge-ships and other, similar roles, if the position is "political," it is reasonable to expect that some party or party-loyalist donations are possible.
Focused reasons to donate:
* Lawyers - lawyers donate to judges who are running for office, especially defense attorneys and litigators - it seems wrong to me, but obviously some judges are venal enough to make such donations a make-or-break proposition ... most lawyers just consider this part of the cost of doing business, like paying the rent
* Party loyalty - some partisans support candidates to demonstrate their party loyalty, or to fulfill their very real party loyalty
* To defeat the opponent or defend the candidate - this is a real and emotional reason for people to donate - this is the motivation behind most of those "out of state" fund-raising campaigns you see. "Contribute to defeat Harry Reid." "Contribute to re-elect Scott Brown." Those become causes (donations to causes is outside this blog's topic, but it will be covered in a future blog). This also applies close to home, and is a major and "up-front-and-honest" reason for people to donate. They want nothing more than to block one candidate, or elect the other - beyond that, there's no "payback" involved.
The last two reasons for donating are very real and very human, but not so very noble or upstanding. Still, reality triumphs, and these tend to be the two most important (in terms of dollars and cents) reasons why people or organizations make donations.
* Access - business execs and owners, lobbyists, heads of advocacy groups and others donate not because they believe that the donation will influence a successful candidate's votes, but that a sufficiently-large donation will open doors and provide access. This kind of motivated donation applies to city and county council and the local mayor, state legislature and state executives (think Governor), and of course Congressmen, Senators and the President.
* Influence - in principle, no elected official should ever trade influence for donations. If we were dealing with "sin," providing access for donations would be a venal sin, but providing influence for donation would be considered a mortal sin. In the business world, exchanging influence for money is called felony bribery, and carries with it a stiff prison sentence. But in the world of politics, it's called "business as usual."
Now what does that mean to the aspiring JP candidate? She has three options.
Friends-and-Family - this is the most reliable option for her. It doesn't cost a great deal to run such a campaign - which is mostly about name-recognition, meaning yard signs and an Internet presence - but it does have a price tag. Those most likely to help a candidate with no influence to peddle are the ones who already know and like her.
Party loyalty - this only applies if the position is a Democrat-vs.-Republican race, but if it is, raising funds from among Republican individuals and organizations is viable.
Defeat an opponent - that is a viable reason, and, at a local level, it can be the most powerful way of raising money - but only if the opponent has done something to create a broad group of opponents. This is more likely in Congress than at the Justice of the Peace level, but it could be viable.
Successful fund-raising for any candidate requires balancing the reasons people give, with the reasons those people should give to you. For candidates running for positions that can have a direct impact on citizens, businesses, organizations or causes, all of the reasons noted here apply. For other candidates, such as JPs, the reasons to give are generally more persona.