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Hey, Democrats: 8 Steps to End Your Toxic Fundraising Habits

Al Franken got my donation, but dozens of other fundraising emails went straight into my trash bin.

Photo Credit: Leman


I’ve always respected the importance of elections, but the receipt of hundreds of fundraising emails has driven me to the brink of political despair. Seemingly all written and designed by the same consultant, they have as much sincerity as the phony pitches about millions of dollars waiting for me in a Nigerian bank account, or the diet plans from a friend’s hacked computer.

On January 18 I got this email from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

"Daniel — once again, radical Tea Partiers in the Senate have opted for obstruction over helping the American people. 

Just this past week, they blocked an extension of unemployment insurance benefits for those families hit hardest by the Great Recession. We want to raise $10,000 this month to open up the year — can you give $5 or more right now?"

The same day a Democratic congresswoman exhorted me:

"Click here to automatically add your name and stand up for protecting women’s rights."

From Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz:

"I want to have the chance to say thank you in person, which is why we're flying one supporter like you, as well as a guest, to D.C. later this month. We’ll take care of your flight and hotel and even take you on a tour of the city so chip in $10 or whatever you can to be automatically entered."

And there were literally six emails asking me to sign a petition wishing Michelle Obama a happy 50th birthday. Obviously Michelle Obama will never notice whether or not I sign such a generic birthday card. The purpose of the "petition" gimmick is to aggregate email addresses to use as targets for future fundraising pitches.

Two mornings later, on the Martin Luther King holiday, I received almost identically worded emails from four Democratic House members, each with a blue-lettered link asking me to "share your thoughts with me on my Facebook page." What are the chances that any of them are interested in my thoughts about Dr. King?

By the way, if Harry Reid and the Democrats had ended all abuse of the filibuster, the extended unemployment benefits wouldn’t have been "blocked." Of course if the Senate had passed it, there is a very good chance that John Boehner wouldn't have let it come to the House floor or that if it did, the Democrats might not have gotten enough Republicans to go along to pass it. We’ll never know.

To be clear, I don't want the Republicans to control the Senate, but Reid’s email ignores the reality of what it will take for the Senate to function in the interests of a majority of Americans. It makes me think that the consultant who wrote it for him thinks I’m stupid—never a great way to build enthusiasm among your base.

A booming cottage industry seems to have arisen in response to the right-wing and libertarian oligarchs who are intent on distorting America’s rickety electoral system to promote their own narrow self-interest and/or their fanatic, undemocratic ideology. Its members bombard progressives with emails asking us to send in campaign contributions to help stop the terrifying Republican demagogue du jour: Sarah Palin, John Boehner, Ted Cruz, buffoons who talk about "legitimate rape," and anything supported by the focus group-tested villains the Tea Party and the Koch brothers.

I want Republicans to have less power, not more, but the barrage of emails has not made me want to donate more money; rather, it makes me want to delete them as fast as I can while trying to control the dreadful feelings of resentment, cynicism and despair engendered by consultant patois.

Democrats did not lose control of the House of Representatives in 2010 because there were more Republican votes. They lost because millions of people who had been inspired by Barack Obama’s campaign had concluded that their votes didn’t actually affect the things that mattered to them and thus stayed home. The Washington beltway name for this syndrome was the "enthusiasm gap." The fundraising culture is far more a part of the problem than it is the solution.

Algorithm-intoxicated consultants can high-five each other if they come up with scare language that gets a response from 1 of 100 instead of 1 out of 1,000 (assuming the rate of positive response is even that high). Their compensation and reputation is based on how much money they raise with no regard for the consequences of the burnout they engender with 99-plus percent of recipients. Most recipients are turned off by self-referential campaign prose. Few of us who are motivated by issues such as climate change, American empire and under-regulated banks are psyched by fundraising pie-charts.