Own it! (Unless it’s your health or retirement)

The Obama campaign launched a neat fundraising program this week to get going on their way to America’s first $1 billion marketing campaign for a political candidate.  The program matches first time donors with previous donors who agreed to participate it a matching program.

Cool stuff, but the rationale behind the need for such aggressive fundraising was just as eye-catching:

Taking ownership of the campaign is an essential part of the experience, right alongside making phone calls, knocking on doors, and taking responsibility for getting your network of friends, colleagues, and neighbors to join us.

Relying on each other to own this campaign isn’t just the most viable way we can grow a truly grassroots organization — it’s also the right way to do politics. Taking money from Washington lobbyists or special-interest PACs is the easy path — and every single one of our prospective opponents is racing down it.

Taking giant pools of money from political interests?  Not a chance.  The right way to do things is for individuals – not institutions – to each do their part and take responsibility to do things on their own.  Anything else would be a shortcut, doomed to create unintended consequences and fail.

At least, that’s how it works for political campaigns.  If it’s something like health care, retirement, or taking care of the less fortunate then, by all means, surrender control to centralized political entities.

Even better if they are run by special interests.

Wow, 13 million emails!

The President’s re-election campaign sent out an email to supporters last week, linking to a video of campaign manager Jim Messina giving them a sneak peek at the plan for 2012.  With such ground-breaking strategy points as “get more votes than the other guy” and “keep track of our progress,” the video was clearly more about motivation than actual information, but it earned the campaign a round of earned media.

Politico got into the act early, chatting up the revived online effort – but like much of the coverage of the 2008 campaign, the real story isn’t what’s happening online but what’s happening offline:

The leadership of the field organization — with hundreds of employees, tens of thousands of volunteers and massive online assets (primarily, a giant email list) — is shifting from the Democratic National Committee to the new campaign in Chicago. And in mass emails and in a quiet series of one-on-one meetings with volunteer leaders, the group is resetting its relationship with its supporters.

Hundreds of employees?  Sooner rather than later, that number will grow even larger, and the field offices will multiply in critical states.  The real key is not the list of email addresses, but in the resources: with spending on the re-election campaign expected to top $1 billion, there will be plenty of people available to mobilize grassroots supporters.  And while there will likely be some folks turning away from the President, a well-funded field operation can help drag out the votes to put them over the top in the right states to get to 270 electoral votes.

At a time when much of the country is figuring out how to do more with less, the Obama campaign will have the opportunity to do less with more.

Obama’s play action

The big story at the infrequently traveled intersection of sports and politics this week is the President’s congratulatory phone call to Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie about installing renewable energy equipment at Lincoln Financial Field.  During their discussion, they also mentioned quarterback Michael Vick, which seems to be drawing more attention.

There’s no word yet on whether the President will be calling the other team just north of DC on I-95, the Baltimore Ravens.  While the gave Vick a second chance, the Ravens have taken in wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth, who served a month for DUI manslaughter.  They have also stuck by linebacker Ray Lewis, who beat the rap on murder charges by rolling on his accomplices and went on to have an excellent career and win a Superbowl.  (By the way, did you know that a group of ravens is actually called a murder?)  On the other hand, Obama might be slow getting there – after all, the Eagles really gave Vick his second chance about a year and a half ago.

So why make this call now?

A possible explanation is to give his enemies something to talk about, and allow them to use a slow news cycle to work themselves into a lather about something that is, essentially, a non-issue.  Coming after a productive lame duck session, this could permit the administration to take a high road while its opponents chatter about Vick and dogfighting.  It would be the messaging equivalent of a draw or a play action pass – tricking the opposition into being out of position.

Of course, this isn’t a football game, but electoral politics – and voters don’t largely pay attention.  Riding a winning streak as the President is, why expose your administration to negative messages by wading into issues that people actually care about?

Joanne Bamberger of AOL’s Politics Daily points out that Pennsylvania’s electoral votes will be in serious play in 2012, and suggests Obama is building good will now.  That certainly makes sense, but 2012 is still a long way away, and making nice with fickle Eagles fans now won’t necessarily pay dividends in 22 months.  Heck, if Vick throws four interceptions in a playoff game, or isn’t playing with the Eagles next year, those comments may do nothing in 22 months. Much more important to Obama, as Bamberger alludes, is Lurie’s checkbook – which, when not being used to pay rehabilitating NFL players, makes large donations to Democrat presidential candidates.  And keep in mind that Lurie, and not the administration, made the details of the conversation public.

It is most likely that the President did not intend for the conversation to be public – not that it was secret, but just that it wasn’t intended as a public statement.  And, in that private conversation – which was, remember, also about renewable energy – the President took some time to blow even more smoke up the rear end of a potential donor.

It must have worked – otherwise, Lurie wouldn’t be so proud about spilling the beans.

There might be money in mobile (literally)

The FEC is thinking about allowing contributions via text message in a ruling expected this fall, allowing campaigns to capitalize on the same small-dollar, high-volume donation campaigns that worked so well for American Red Cross efforts in Haiti.

The potential for campaigns is fairly obvious – campaign rallies, events, and even media appearances could become fundraising opportunities.   But consider the fact that few campaigns spent lots of time collecting mobile numbers in 2010.  How many members of this year’s House freshman class will regret a lack of investment in mobile for the 2010 election when they begin their 2012 reelection efforts?

Anuzis challenges Steele

The Weekly Standard caught a tweet from Saul Anuzis, the former Michigan Republican Party chairman, saying he will again run for RNC Chair.  He will probably not be the only challenger to incumbent Michael Steele.

Steele seemed like a good fit for the job when he bested five rivals – including Anuzis – in January 2009 in a grueling, multi-ballot race.  He provided much-needed racial diversity to the ranks of the Republican talking heads and brought blue-state credibility.  On the heels of the 2008 shellacking, the Republicans badly needed to demonstrate they were more than a party of white southerners.

From the beginning, there were whispers about Steele’s lack of conservative street cred.  Where Steele has drawn criticism, though, has been in the “blocking and tackling” – the basic elements of a party chair’s job, like fundraising and building a GOTV infrastructure.  (In fact, Anuzis uses just that term.)  After a six-way race for the chairmanship, criticism was inevitable for whoever won, but Steel made it easier.  The whispers in Republican circles (which “unnamed sources” give voice to in the Weekly Standard piece) is that the 2010 gains should have been bigger.

In his announcement, Anuzis channels the 2008 McCain campaign (which poked at then-candidate Obama’s quasi-celebrity status):

My agenda is very straightforward. I have no interest in running for office. I won’t be writing a book.  It is not my goal to be famous. However, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who will work harder, more diligently and be more committed to electing Republicans from the top to every township and city across this great country of ours.

It isn’t worth including at this point in the campaign, but Anuzis has another bullet left in his chamber: his background in digital politics.  As the race for RNC chair heats up, look for Anuzis to use this – accompanied by criticism of the failed initial launch of GOP.com – to separate himself from the pack.

iContribute’s shot to ActBlue

Online campaign consultancy Engage – who, helmed by Patrick Ruffini and Mindy Finn, helped out on Scott Brown’s upset in January – released a new wrinkle to their iContribute platform today:

Through iContribute Slates, political action committees can now raise money for directly for a slate of endorsed candidates. PACs can easily set up their pages, pick the candidates they want to highlight, and offer supporters a chance to support selected candidates with a contribution of whatever amount they wish.

Last month I discussed why the right doesn’t really need an ActBlue-esque clearinghouse for online fundraising – and Slate is a good example of why (despite Ruffini’s contention otherwise within the post).  Slate isn’t as much a fundraising tool as it is a chance for a PAC to become transparent and helpful to other campaigns – it’s more about communication than money.

Tim Pawlenty’s FreedomFirst PAC, which Ruffini cites in his post, is a good example.  A donor could cut the PAC a check of up to $5000, which would then be distributed among various candidates.  Or, through Slate, that donor could give $2,400 each to eight different candidates.  Not only does that add up to a lot more, but it lets the PAC share contacts with the campaign – and someone who donates $50 today may be able to donate another $50 in two weeks, or may be interested in helping out in other ways, like making remote GOTV calls.

When ActBlue launched, it transformed passion into money.  Slate transforms donors passionate about one candidate or committee into potential activists for others.

Stupak your bags

Rep. Bart Stupak has been the object of derision and scorn since he famously flipped his health care vote.  Because of that, his seat has been a big part of the electoral calculus for this fall’s Congressional elections – and despite his retirement, it still is.

Nationally, Democrats were able to win the debate on health care, thanks in large part to Stupak.  His last-second flip gave cover to other pro-life Democrats to support the bill – and he pulled enough votes with him that other Democrats in conservative districts, like Heath Shuler, could continue to oppose the bill.  (Shuler was promptly replaced by Donovan McNabb.)

As such a key figure, Stupak might as well have drawn a giant bullseye on his back.  But it was a national bullseye, as a friend of Stupak told Politico:

The friend said he believes Stupak would have won, adding: “More than 95 percent of the opposition from left and right has come from outside of his district.”

And Republicans have rallied around surgeon Dan Benishek, a tea party favorite, who received very little attention until Stupak voted for the health care legislation even without the anti-abortion language in the bill . Benishek is expected to raise more than $100,000 this quarter, according to GOP sources, a large amount for a first-time candidate who had virtually no campaign infrastructure before Stupak received national attention over his health care positioning.

While he was running, Stupak was a lightning rod; even if he lost his race he would at least soak up resources.  Like he did a few weeks ago, he would have run interference for his fellow Democrats.  Other Democrats in tough races may find themselves touched by the ripples of his retirement.

Bringing the politics to you

Minnesota Governor/2012 Presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty is holding a  town hall meeting tomorrow.  Last night, California Senate candidate Chuck DeVore held a fundraiser with Andrew Breitbart.

You can go to either of these events without being in Minnesota or California – both will be online.  (Though, if you want to attend the DeVore event, you’re going to have to also find a way to channel 1.21 gigawatts into the flux capacitor, which may cost more than the $50 minimum donation.)

In Pawlenty’s case, the two-term governor is attempting to build a national base in advance of his 2012 run for the White House.  For people nosing around and still feeling out the contenders, it’s a low barrier of entry.   With the first primaries still more than 20 months away, Pawlenty wisely doesn’t want to burn out his activists; at the same time he wants to start building a list of engaged supporters.  Some of his likely primary opponents (like Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and maybe Sarah Palin) already have exposure and campaign infrastructure from 2008.  The town hall could help Pawlenty catch up and – maybe even more important – allows him to build the perception of his candidacy being more firmly rooted in ideas than personality.

DeVore is trying to broaden his base, too – and continue extending his brand as one of the leaders among Republicans in the use of online tactics.  Thus far in the primary, DeVore has been the Martin Short of the Three Amigos running for the Republican nomination.  (If you’re wondering, Steve Martin was the best Amigo, followed closely by Chevy Chase.  Barbara Boxer is already El Guapo.)  The virtual pizza party may not put him on the Republican ticket to face Boxer in 2010, but it’s a good idea – one that could help other Republicans in 2010 or even DeVore himself in a future race.  After all, winning campaigns aren’t the only ones with good ideas.

Why no ActRed?

While catching up on my reading, I ran across a TechPresident post on how left-wing groups may be funded in the future through small donations just as ActBlue has helped fund left-wing politicians.  One quote stood out:

It would, in theory, also work on the right side of the spectrum, though there’s no ActBlue equivalent in conservative circles.

True dat.  But the question is, “Why?”

ActBlue came along in 2004, when the model for online fundraising was John McCain’s 1999-2000 primary run against George W. Bush.  Outside of PayPal, there wasn’t much in the way of online infrastructure payments.  ActBlue was like a railroad, building tracks between excited online activists with cash and the candidates who needed it.

Six years later, there isn’t an ActRed, and with good reason.  Campaigns have become sufficiently sophisticated that there’s no mystery to internet fundraising.  (There are also lots of good consultants ready to help.) While internet fundraising in 2004 was like the railroad system, internet fundraising in 2010 is more like the interstate system, with individuals controlling their own destination more directly.

The politics of fear

Washington is still buzzing about the RNC’s leaked fundraising presentation, especially the use of the word “fear” as a means to win support.

Why couldn’t the Republicans be more like our President, who speaks in rational terms about ideas, just like he did in Pennsylvania today:

Every year, the problem gets worse.  Every year, insurance companies deny more people coverage because they’ve got preexisting conditions.  Every year, they drop more people’s coverage when they get sick right when they need it most.  Every year, they raise premiums higher and higher and higher.

See the difference?