What the Hell is Progressive Fund-raising anyway?

Elizabeth Mazzara

So, this past Spring I posted an article on what it means to be a Progressive. I wrote: A progressive believes in a sort of populism that moves away from elitist politics and towards the people. It reflects a spirit of Open Source Democracy (not grassroots, if you say grassroots one more time I am going to smack you). It is about value-based politics based on and BASED IN local communities.

And concluded with this, referring to the May primary of 2011: And, I can tell you. If this last round of elections (Tuesday's primary) is any indicator, there is NOTHING Progressive about our current democratic campaign structure. We rely on strategies that are outdated, messaging that ignore values and a top down model of campaigning.

The reason the 50 state strategy was effective is that it provided an opportunity for local voices to be heard For local values to be expressed. If we don't move towards a true Open Source model of democratic campaigning, I do believe we should save our money and energy and concede 2012 today.

Well, here we are a few months later and I am once again struck by how we move through the development of campaigns and their early fund-raising.

One race in particular has struck me. (Full disclosure here, I am a consultant on the campaign Kellie Johnson for Multnomah County D.A. race.) As part of my job, I regularly check the Secretary of State’s reports on donor contributions for any races I am working on (and some time, just to see who is doing what out there). Most recently we see Rod Underhill, also running for the Multnomah County DA position, post his new PAC and recent contributions.

What struck me was, not the amount in the bank, but the sources of that money. Almost one-half came from out of state interests and $5,000 (more than one-quarter of all his money raised to date) of that was raised from a Washington State corporation. What interest could a Washington State corporation have in the race for Multnomah County D.A.?

I’m not one to say we should place a cap the size of donations, say $1,000 for instance. But I do think that the nature of your contributors is worth voters looking at – particularly if they come from corporations outside of Oregon. And I wonder how large dollar contributions can be used to crowd out progressive voices and debates we should be having about the future of our community.

Translate the 50 state strategy to fund-raising and what you get is a groundswell of contributors actively engaging in a campaign. That means the candidate has conversations with each of these donors – modeling the Open Source democracy I think needs to take hold. Fund-raising is about more than paying the consultants and the media bills. It is a reflection of the candidate and the kind of campaign they are running.

And, I think we Progressives owe it to ourselves to pay attention to that.

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    I don't know any of the candidates or prospective for Multnomah County DA nor anything about where they get their money but I would just suggest that people should not rule out the possibility that out-of-state money often comes from friends and family members (and their businesses) and therefore one should be careful about reading nefarious motivations into such contributions.

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    Your concerns about large $ donations "crowding out" other voices is one I share. Part of the problem with the Supreme Court's oversimple reduction of spending = speech is that spending is partly the equivalent of bringing a bullhord or an amplifier to a meeting and using it to drown other people out.

    But I don't think I buy your "open source" analogy. Among other things, you actually are talking about restricting sources, e.g. by geography. But more fundamentally you are talking about broad-based fundraising, and open-source doesn't mean broad-based, per se. Red Hat, say, may develop Linux intensively and commercially (= big donor) along particular lines, where a dabbler with no distribution network will get "crowded out" in influence on the course of development.

    I'm also having a bit of trouble seeing what the "software" in the analogy is, or the "intellectual property" context.

    Finally, on donor information, arguably it is open source, which is why we can know it, that was the point of reporting laws, which date from the 1970s -- but there are technical and practical barriers to access for most people, just as relatively few of us develop new extensions of open-source software (or buy it, if you prefer) -- while parties, maybe especially major parties, and campaigns get privileged access.

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      well - not sure i am suggesting anything - including candidates taking money from out of state. I am just asking the question about why an out of state corporation would care about a DA race...what "voice" are they representing?

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        It's the voice of big business.

        Look at the admirable way State AG John Kroger has protected Oregonians by going after Johnson & Johnson for that secret recall of poisonous Motrin.

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      Chris, a great analogy!!!

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    I know nothing about the Multnomah County DA race, but as a resident of Clark County, WA I sometimes make donations to candidates in Oregon whose message corresponds to my own interpretation of progressive values. Having "safe and sane" political leadership in Portland and in Oregon is important to me as a resident of the Portland metro area, even though I am not an Oregon voter.

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      Absolutely! We live in a region that is interdependent on one another for a lot of things. Again, I am not trying to say "out of state money" is always bad - - I am asking about whether and when it is 'too much'....

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    Going to assume that your theory also holds true for all those out of state dollars flowing into Wisconsin supporting the recal movements for state senators. After all, out-of-state is out-of-state. N'est paux?

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    There is local and there is local. I grew up in Virginia with local schools segregated and in some parts of the state closed by local preference. It took outside influences to change all that.

    And, of course, we live in a ever more interconnect global society/economy. I don't go with local values that seek to deny that.

    That said, I agree on the corruption that big money brings to politics.

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    I don't have a dog in this hunt. Never met either candidate.

    But I just looked at the out-of-state contributions for Rod Underhill.

    There are six. And they total $7500. For a race that I'm sure will be in the six figures, that's hardly an overwhelming number.

    Especially given that two of those six are employed in Oregon (one, as a Portland police sargeant.) And $6000 of the $7500 is from two checks - one Vancouver WA company, and their president.

    So, the real question is not: Why are out-of-state corporations involved here? And is rather: Why is this one particular Vancouver resident so interested?

    I have no idea. But for all we know, it's his sister. Or cousin. Or best friend from high school.

    No scandal here, as far as I can tell.

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    Hmmm... well. I don't think I was scandal-hunting Kari. I think this speaks to the concerns I raised a few months ago about running Progressive campaigns and what the really means.

    I don't have the answer. And, as a political fund-raiser I am hired to do a job ---raise a lot of cash - - - I am not hired to impose my philopsophical meanderings on a candidate or their campaign.

    I think folks are mistaking my question about WHETHER out of state is good or bad; WHETHER corporate is good or bad with a statement on these.

    Given recent Supreme Court rulings; given our current model of campaign/consultant relationships and strategies; given that we seem to throw the term "progressive" around an awful lot around here - I am just wondering where (and whether) there is a confluence of issues.

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    If I am understanding Elizabeth Mazzara right on this one, if money is going to be considered speech then, good or bad, we might want to listen to what it is saying.

    Some folks looked at the election of Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in 2003 and his use of texting, social media and small dollar donations (piggy banks) and saw that with a strong organization grass roots can go big with scalable new media tactics. Then the tactics themselves have a rhetorical function. If my mind serves me, Dean and Obama used Roh's race as a case study and put it to good use.

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