Stop Asking Us Just For Money

Fund-raising alone won't save American democracy.

I’ve long held the conviction that mobilization is a key ingredient of success. While talking to your Representative’s constituent affairs person might not sway that legislator’s vote, hash tags have a vastly lower chance of making any difference whatsoever. (Worse, posturing gives people enough “sterile excitation” that they get distracted from actually doing something.) Other forms of political action — registering people to vote, knocking on doors to engage in actual political dialogue, and organizing mass protests such as the ones inspired by George Floyd’s death by police — also can have varying degrees of political impact. Political action can influence the actions of elected and appointed officials, add items to the public agenda, increase support for particular policies, and sway election results.

The opposite of mobilization is the fundraising request. So I give money to a particular candidate…And then what? Ad buys in a key district may have some marginal effect, but of course, we live in an age when there are fewer undecided voters. Even if you believe in the the efficacy of political contributions, they should not be the only way to engage with politics. And yet, that’s not how campaigns, PACs, and political parties act. Fund-raising is the largest, and often seemingly the exclusive, interface between political actors and their constituents.

Flash back to 20 years ago, when I used to get endless fundraising calls from the Democratic Party. Because of my concern about the lack of political mobilization, I used to tell the telemarketer (that’s what they were) that I would not contribute $1 until the party asked me to do something other than give money. Letter writing, voter registration, interpretive political dance — anything else but giving money. Over time, I grew more and more frustrated with the recurring calls, since every time I said, “Take me off your call list until you ask me to do something other than give you money.” And then I’d get the next call, and the next… I reached a level of sulfurous irritation that my family new, from the tone of my voice, that I was getting one of those calls again.

Flash forward to last night, during the debacle debate. A half an hour into watching Biden completely fail at his one critical job (making the case that he is a competent, energetic, inspirational leader who can and will fight for the things you care about), I received the following fundraising text:

Imagine my reaction, which was even more allergic than when I got one of those calls in the 2000s. The statement, We are facing an existential threat to American democracy and the American ideal, is not an exaggeration. There are lots of efforts to defeat Trump in particular, and MAGA in general, but at least in my tiny corner of the United States, I’m finding them, instead of them finding me. Your experience may be different, and I dearly hope that it is. Unfortunately, I expect that, right after the debate scared the bejeesus out of millions of Americans, the phone is not ringing off the hook. Except, of course, for more requests for money.

This blog has frequently pointed out the weakness of American political parties. The stress on fundraising is both cause and effect of that weakness. If you have less and less influence over candidates or their agendas, you at least can raise money for them. But the more you rely on fundraising, the less you do to build political organizations that can mobilize people, as needed, at the federal, state, county, or local level. You hollow out the very networks you will need to tap at critical moments like these. Sure, you can buy ads saying, Biden isn’t really going to keel over at any moment, or, Remember Kamala Harris? She actually did a lot, though you may not have seen it, or, The person who replaced Biden on the ticket is really a great person whom you should support. However, ad spots with this “messaging” will be far less effective on their own than having someone engage you in a conversation on the topic for more than 30 seconds to allay your concerns. Or seeing excited supporters turn out for a rally. Or joining that rally. Or anything else that demonstrates, yes, we are tap-dancing on the edge of the political abyss, but also yes, there’s something that you can do to keep us taking a national swan-dive into the anti-democratic void.

If the answer to the question that most, if not all, of us are asking today, What the hell do we do now? is, Just give us more money, then we may have already lost. Democracy in crisis needs inspiration, dedication, conversation, and action. People in despair need something to do. And boy howdy, there will be a lot to do in the coming months, whether Biden stays at the top of the Democratic ticket, or not.

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About Kingdaddy
Kingdaddy is returning to political blogging after a long hiatus. For several years, he wrote about national security affairs at his blog, Arms and Influence, under the same pseudonym. He currently lives in Colorado, where he is still awestruck at all the natural beauty here. He has a Ph.D in political science that is oddly useful in his day job.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    I did the door-to-door thing for Cortez-Masto before I even moved to Nevada. It was, IMHO, an absolute waste of time. Very few answered their doors. When they did it was usually a Hispanic or Black person facing me, an old White guy who pulled up in a Mercedes. And I was not supposed to do anything but hand them the door-hanger and a flyer.

    Every day I swipe away easily 25 texts from various Dems, with increasingly idiotic, even offensive appeals. 300X match, 500X match, 900X match? Fuck off and stop treating me like a moron. Then there are roughly the same number of emails, with the same offensively stupid messages. I don’t answer my phone.

    I could man a switchboard, but of course I’d be asking for money. Money has become another version of a poll: we raised X amount in Y time!

    I don’t have a circle of friends, if I did they wouldn’t be MAGA or fence-sitters. I have work-related colleagues who are either all Dems or Labour. I used to have a decent Twitter following, but I’m off social media now. So, literally all I can do, is write checks.

    At least that’s all I can think of to do. I am open to suggestions.

  2. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    (This is an imaginary sky daddy story, MR, so cover your eyes/look away/whatever.)
    Years ago, I came to church on a Saturday morning to help with a spring-cleaning event. Only a handful of people came and the man in charge decided that we could do the windows, but not much else so we worked cleaning the windows in a three-story building (basement/fellowship hall, sanctuary/occasional rooms, offices/more occasional rooms). The man in charge was chairman of the Board of Trustees and as he and I were working together, he commented that if he had asked people in the congregation to give him money to hire a custodial company to do the work, he’d probably have gotten enough to hire a crew to do the entire church.

    We were Baptists, and in those days, our church budget was heavily weighted to support for foreign missions work (about 25-30% of our total giving), so our ways and means had always tilted toward watching the pennies so that the dollars could fend for themselves economic management. But we were also becoming a two-income families congregation and shifting our collective action more toward cherishing our limited free time by not using it at church cleaning windows when we could hire that done.

    I was 14 or 15 at the time of this story (maybe even younger) and will be 72 in 16 days, so I guess my point is that the phenomenon you’re describing has been common longer than we realize. Additionally, the people doing the telemarketing/media marketing for political parties are engaged in a business that has low cohesion to the cause for which they are working at any given moment. (At this particular juncture, the Salvation Army, MSF, Boys Town, the Union Gospel Mission, St. Jude’s, Habitat for Humanity, and FINCAS, among others, regularly solicit from me by any and all of the above means, usually hiring companies to do it because that’s the way it’s done, and people need jobs.) Beyond that, it costs a lot to run a political party, social service agency, food charity, homelessness charity, third-world entrepreneurship charity, the list is endless, and big companies despite their overhead and faithless husbandmen telemarketers really do deliver a lot more “bang for the buck” than community service groups staffed by volunteers alone. Write it off as a fault of the success of market-based systems.

    First Baptist Church can provide 400-6oo meals two days a week. World Central Kitchen can provide thousands (probably hundreds of thousands if they apply themselves) daily–provided the IDF stops shooting at them. Both have their place and each cannot do what the other does. Ideally, people will do what they can at every level, but ideally doesn’t happen that often.

    And hasn’t for most of my life. Still, the also serve who only sit and write checks.

  3. DrDaveT says:

    I like to think that I’m a pretty generous giver of charitable funds, but I also insist that the recipient have demonstrated some ability to use the funds efficiently and wisely. World Central Kitchen? Absolutely. Kahn Academy? Sure. United Way or March of Dimes? Get serious.

    I see no evidence that any of these Democratic organizations asking for funds have the faintest idea what to do with them. I see no evidence of effective pro-Biden or anti-Trump marketing, or of effective get-out-the-vote efforts, or of effective anything else. As disgusted as I am by the rise of American Nazism, I haven’t yet figured out an effective way to use my discretionary resources to fight that.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Somehow, I’ve gotten on every Democratic-leaning texting database that exists. I must get 8 text from those assholes a day. No matter how much I report spam or respond STOP, they keep coming.

    Unlike Kingdaddy and @Michael Reynolds, I don’t think they think it’s helping. If anything, it pisses the recipient off. They’re just scammers who get a fairly hefty cut of the take.


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