Election 2016

Democratic Fundraising Gets Shriller And Shriller As Party Abandons Candidates

Civic-minded citizens deserve better but aren’t getting it.

No American who ever responded to a political pitch is safe these days. If you’ve replied to online petitions or fundraising e-mails, you’ve experienced the deluge-turned-flood of begging. And it has only gotten worse. You’ve probably been scolded for not stepping up, reminded when you last gave, and even urged by party leaders to poke your finger in the enemy's eye—by giving more money.

“Boehner’s gonna be FURIOUS,” said the first of Tuesday’s serial e-mail bombardments from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which focuses on U.S. House races and refers to Republican House Speaker John Boehner. “THIS MORNING: Boehner’s corporate allies launched a massive $17 million ad blitz. (That’s their biggest -- BY FAR -- of the election.) Boehner’s goal? Winning the largest Congressional majority in decades.”

The DCCC wants you to believe it has a plan. It includes “triple matches” from other donors. A stopwatch starts counting down the seconds you have left to ruin the Speaker’s day. Ninety minutes later, another e-mail arrives. “Speaker Boehner was riding high this morning, but he’s going to have an absolute meltdown if the Triple-Match lets us come all the way back.”

There is so much wrong with this picture. And it’s not just about partisan bragging rights that come after midnight Wednesday, when the last federal fundraising period before the election ends. Americans are now in the season of political money talk—the shameless pursuit of fundraising by any means. It’s also the season of political money talking, or how those funds are being spent—including ways that aren’t advertised by professional beggars like the DCCC, which, as Wednesday’s New York Times pointed out, is abandoning candidates on the party’s bench in droves.

“I haven’t even conceded the Mets aren’t in the World Series this year,” New York Democratic Representative Steve Israel, the DCCC’s cagey chair, told the paper, which noted that Democrats need to win 17 seats to regain a House majority and are only leading in polls (or “playing offense,” as the Times put it,)in seven of them.

As a result, on the same day the DCCC was sending out its juvenile fundraising blather, Democrats across the country—and not just in House races, but also U.S. Senate races—were finding the party’s politicos were pulling back advertising buys, signaling that Washington’s know-it-alls were expecting them to lose. The Colorado Speaker of the House, Andrew Romanoff, just got the DCCC knife, as did Virginia’s John Foust, who is running in a suburban Washington district with an open seat. Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Grimes, running against GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell, got the ax as well.

“I absolutely would not say we’re in triage mode,” Israel, the DCCC denier-in-chief, said. “There’s a difference between triage and making strategic decisions.”

Democrats are reenforcing their reputation as the party of cut and run—cut the check and watch them run away from their people. Apart from the mess of their fundraising messages, there are more substantive issues at play. Politics is a long game that requires building trust and loyalty. That includes standing by your party’s up-and-coming candidates, instead of ditching them while telling your base, like the DCCC, to blindly donate more.

“The mystery for many Democratic consultants is, ‘Where is all the money? Where did it go?’” David Wasserman, a House analyst for the Cook Political Report, told the Times, speaking of the DCCC. “They had more money than they had winnable races. Now the feeling is they don’t have enough money to counter Republican outside group spending. It’s a surprise.”

What’s also surprising is that the Republican Party’s fundraising messages—which can be shameless as the Democrats—seem to be a little more grown up. Or at least the GOP counterparts to the Democrats’ congressional committees seem to be treating their base better, if that can be measured by more straightforward and honest messaging.

“We’ve sent you a lot to read recently—I know,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee’s Matt Lira, in a Wednesday e-mail. “So, I’ll keep this brief. 

I just want to say: thanks… Elections aren’t won with secret strategies—they’re won when the American public shows up with support, with activism and with votes.”

There’s a final consequence of all the fundraising noise, especially for progressives. As blowhards like DCCC clog e-mail inboxes, campaigns and candidates that really need funds and stand a chance are getting lost—especially in the down-ballot races. Yet the party’s top national fundraisers don’t really seem to care about that either.

“What has surprised me is the unconventional has become conventional,” the DCCC’s Israel told the Times, explaining the decision to back some candidates and not others.

Now that’s a reassuring message about standing by a party’s principles and its people.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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