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Thursday, December 23, 2004

My ATM Pin Number or On-Line Fundraising

Posted by Tim Tagaris

Much has been made in recent days about the Kerry campaign's attempts to withdraw, over and over again, from the ATM machine known as the netroots.  Whether it is discussions about the endless fundraising emails to folks in non "swing states," or Kos's contention that, "we aren't going to put out for campaigns without getting something in return;" the topic has been in the blogs as of late.

Kos also said something that I overlooked the first time I read his post, but might be the most important quote in the entire piece.

Did the Dean campaign win? No. But there's a reason people are still loyal to Dean even after Kerry has been abandoned by legions of Democrats. Unlike Kerry's effort, what Dean and Trippi built was the stuff of political movements, and it was built on a foundation of communication.

Maybe John Kerry didn't need a political movement; he needed us for seven months.  But only one race every four years is for the presidency, for the rest of 468 seats up for grabs on the Federal level, if you are going to fundraise effectively on-line, you are best served, "building the stuff of political movements."

I chose to write about this because I keep talking to congressional candidates for '06 races that say some form of, "We will just tell them that we are running a progressive campaign and we need grassroots support to raise 'x' amount of dollars in so many days."

Wrong answer...

If you want to withdraw cash using my ATM card (and millions like me), if you want to build that "political movement" on-line, you better know the pin number.  John Kerry didn't know the pin number, and 99% of candidates running for office that have now decided to reach out to the netroots don't know it either.

So what are the digits?

Most ATM pins have four digits.  For the sake of simplicity, we'll keep it at that number as well; although there is much more a candidate can do if they want to reach out effectively to the netroots.

First Number: Be willing to communicate with us

Campaigns set aside time every week for fundraising calls, block-walking, attending state and county-wide events, but if you want that first digit you need to be willing to communicate with us, directly.

Campaigns should set aside time every week, if not day, to communicate with us directly.  That time should be just as important as call-time and block-walking time.  Just like a good fundraising director will freak out if the candidate doesn't make 30 calls an hour, the Internet Outreach Coordinator should do the same.  Yes, all campaigns should have one of them.  And they should have a seat at the table right next to the campaign manager, communications director, finance director, and field director.

The Internet is the only medium available that allows for mass two-way communication.  Constituents want to hear from you, and if they can get an answer back immediately, that's all the better.  They want to know what is going on in the campaign they are supporting.  And you know what?  They deserve it.

That means you have a blog affiliated with your campaign, and the candidate posts on it, the campaign manager posts on it, etc...  If it is just some unpaid intern that comes in 3 days a week and posts from home, you got a problem there.

Your blog also needs some variety, and should be in a "human voice."  I am sure Bob has much more to say about the use of blogs by a campaign.  It is a subject that I can go on about for hours.

And that doesn't mean you are just blogging on your own website.  "Think outside the webpage."  There are already communities that have hundreds, thousands, and hundreds of thousands of members.  If you are an unknown candidate and believe that people are going to come to your webpage just because you put one up, your thinking is fatally flawed.

And dammit, every communication should not include a link to your contribution page.

Second Number: We want to be involved in the effort

And more involved than just, "hey we need 4,000 literature pieces for the county fair coming up."  Sure, it is nice to know what our money is going towards, but in the grand scheme of things, we want some form of "ownership" of the effort.

That means soliciting our ideas and implementing the best of them.  The ideas of 50,000 will almost always be better than the ideas of five people who live their entire lives inside of a campaign HQ.

This means giving your supporters in the netroots the tools available to make a difference for your effort.  Give them the tools to throw a house party, create a .pdf file for the campaign, listen to them about your message and refine it when necessary.

Take one of the biggest successes of the Jeff Seemann for Congress campaign, "campaign manager for a day."  It was a media bonanza for us, fundraising success, it built our email list, drove people to our website in unheard of numbers for a congressional race, and most importantly, got people very excited about our effort in the 16th district of Ohio.

You know how that idea was born? 

A bunch of us were sitting around at like 1 AM, having a nightcap (or 5), and talking about how we can simultaneously thank to the netroots for all of their support and give them ownership of the campaign.

The results of the effort speak for itself.

I answered 90% of the press calls for the events, and believe me there were alot.  One of the things that got me the most frustrated was when media would ask, "Are you worried they will pick things bad for the campaign?  What if they select for Jeff to sleep in until 10 AM?"  We even had members of our staff (who shall remain nameless -- while being instrumental in the idea) who said, "we will guide them toward the selections we want them to make."

Wrong answer.

These people in the netroots support you and want what is best for the campaign.  They have now become invested in the effort; either financially or with their own time and ideas.  I cannot stress enough that to a certain extent, if you want the rewards, you have to let go.  It has been my experience that this legion of die-hard activists will not steer you wrong.  They NEVER did for us.

Third Number: Opinion Leaders

On-line is no different than off-line in this respect.  There are certain opinion leaders that carry alot of sway within a community, the net is no different.  For the Seemann campaign, we caught a break.  When the whole mercenary flap happened on Kos, Jeff stepped in and placed an ad.  Had this not happened, we might have never even gotten our foot in the door -- although I can assure you we would have tried.

And the thing about these opinion leaders is, they are often a fickle bunch.  The best of them (in my mind): Jerome, Kos, Matt Stoller, Atrios, Jesse & Ezra from Pandagon understand quite well when someone is just trying to cash in on the netroots and who really "gets it."

They understand it because, for a few of them, they helped invent it.  If you think you are going to pull a fast one on them and use them for the supporters, think again. 

They all have their own reasons for supporting the candidates they do -- it might be issues, it might be the opponent they are running against, it might be that they are just a great all-around candidate, and it might be something else.

Reach out to them.  With the netroots ATM card, their word is just as good as when MoveOn sends out a fundraising email, or DFA does the same. 

The opinion leader concept and two-step flow of communication theory holds true just as well on-line as it does off.

Fourth Number: Your positions on the issues/your opponent

I'll combine these two into one because I believe they are both important, and I talked earlier about the Pin Number only having four digits.

If you are a progressive candidate, you are at an advantage on-line.  These are communities filled with activists who often believe in positions that candidates might find tough to back.

Let me give two examples:  First, you have someone like Jeff Seemann whose liberal (I'm not ashamed of the word) stances on the issues made it alot easier for us to gather a following within the netroots.  When people would ask Jeff questions on places like Kos or via email, we had no problem giving them the answer they wanted to hear, while being honest with them at the same time.  This helped.

The other example is Brad Carson.  Brad had a decidedly centrist stance on most of the issues; even going as far as to align himself with President Bush multiple times on a much watched and discussed debate with his opponent on Meet The Press.  People were pissed.  Some flat out stopped giving to Carson when they watched the debate, saying he was more Conservative than his Republican opponent.

But Brad Carson was running against a nutcase; Tom Coburn, the doctor who likes to sterilize patients without their consent and then bill Medicaid.  Which provides a great segue into my final point -- the opponent...

Yes, it helps if you have a dirt-bag for an opponent.'

I am not sure how many people donated to the Kerry campaign on-line because of the campaign that was run vs. his opponent.  Anybody but Bush, right?  If it was Final Jeopardy, I would be willing to wager all of my cash that Kerry's fundraising success was in large part due to disgust for the president, and the fact that he was running for the highest office in the land.

But this carries over down the ladder as well.

Take Tom DeLay's opponent, Richard Morisson.  Or Katherine Harris's opponent, Jan Schneider.  Both of them did relatively well raising money on-line, in large part because of the dislike of their opponents by the progressive community at-large.

So, good news for whoever gets out of the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania.  If you are running against Rick Santorum, there are plenty of people out there that want to help -- and they are ready to help yesterday.

Take it for what its worth.  Just wanted to spit some of my thoughts out on "paper" after spending some time thinking about the Kos vs. Exley debate. 

Maybe this information will help candidates in 2005/2006 recognize that support from the netroots is like riding a bike downhill -- if you learn how to do it, can keep your balance, it is the gift that keeps on giving.

Bottom line:  It isn't fundraising requests that breed successful netroots fundraising.  I would even venture to say that the fundraising application isn't the most important of the potential uses of the Internet. 

Unfortunately, right now it's the language that most everybody outside of the netroots speaks in.

Posted at 12:48 AM in Netroots | Technorati


I am sure there is much that I forgot. Like I said, I can talk about this forever.

Please add anything you feel.


Posted by: Tim T. at December 23, 2004 12:49 AM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

This is must reading.

Posted by: Bob Brigham at December 23, 2004 02:04 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

I Hope the candidates are listening!!!!!
You are right.
And I wish they would start now.
I keep E-mailing the Dems, and they say they are so backlogged, someday I will get an answer.

I'm not handing over a dime, unless I have a compelling reason.

Besides, if the Republicans can forge the vote, what's the point, anyway?
That's why I URGE STRONGLY that we get this "voting procedure" handled - ASAP.

Posted by: Pamela at December 24, 2004 01:45 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

Tim, et al,

Great article and comments!

I hear what you're saying, and certainly feel what you're saying, but as a candidate for local NYC office, am having a bit of difficulty implementing what you're saying - particularly because I am constrained by time, resources and money. As is, just keeping my website updated is time consuming.

I am open to any and all suggestions of how best to proceed. Feel free to use me as an experimentation lab.

I have only 10 months left before my race.

All the best,
Gur Tsabar

Posted by: Gur Tsabar at December 24, 2004 02:38 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment

Nice to meet you Gur Tsabar.
I think it's a great idea that you offered as a "test" candidate. I live in NM, but I will offer to be used as a "test" constituent (voter).

My first suggestion is you need a real "person", that people can contact about you and get info, give messages etc. Maybe if you're short on money, you could get a volunteer(s). Have this person a least somewhat "informed", at least to dates, times, what your job is etc.- not just "I don't know, I'll give him the message etc".
Like she should know the answers to "does he have a blog?". Who's running against him? Is he a democrat? Is he a progressive democrat?
To save money, have a "subscription list" to send people info on your running stand etc. Have the phone person ask if they want to recieve information via E-mail. But be careful. People get a LOT of E-mail. Only send important things or upon request etc. This is just a start.
If you want me to participate more as a "test" candidate, I will.

Posted by: Pamela at December 24, 2004 05:20 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment


I want you to participate as a test constituent until my Election Day passes :-).

Thanks for the comments!


Posted by: Gur Tsabar at December 24, 2004 07:55 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment


I wrote a diary on Kos one day about why I would benefit from reading Kos. Long story short, I put a half a dozen or so beliefs down and talked about how the debate on the site benefited my understanding. I was amazed at the fact that my unresearched (and not very well thought out) diary recieved a couple dozen replies. In some cases, the replies were quite lengthy indicating they spent quite a bit of time on them.

If you can build a following through communities like Kos or Democratic Underground (which has local pages as well), you may find that some of the limited resources are better spent online than other places. I would suggest getting logons that your campaign can use to post things to a number of sites including your own. Others may disagree, but I would think a post of one every other day or so should be a rough minimum at least in busy election times. Some could be policy based, others may be to promote public appearances or thanking others who attended appearances. As long as there is some meat to each post, like headlining the topics discussed at an appearance, they should be pretty well received. You don't have to summarize your wordly views every time.

I know that users on Kos can "subscribe" to a diarist so that every time a new diary is posted they can go straight to it on their main screen on Kos. (I subscribe to Tim's and DavidNYC's diaries, so I can keep track of the local blog projects.) You can encourage voters in NYC to subscribe to your Kos diary.

A note to others-
Someone should take the time to compile a list of ideas for people like Gur Tsabar to use in their campaigns. I plan on writing a diary on this subject sometime over the next few weeks, but I am by no means an expert on the subject. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Posted by: Dan Hogan at December 28, 2004 02:57 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment


Thanks for the insights. I think they make a lot of sense. In fact, this is a strategy I am now going to discuss with my campaign manager - so that we can figure out how to implement.

Thank you again!


Posted by: Gur Tsabar at December 30, 2004 09:02 PM | Permalink | Edit Comment | Delete Comment