OK, so fundraising isn’t everyone’s thing. I have always found it odd that politicians who are so eager to ask for peoples’ votes can’t ask for peoples’ money.
As a unit chair, I routinely helped our local candidates with this aspect- because that way, we got the best candidates possible, not those who could raise the most (and no, the two aren’t the same. Case in point: Romney could raise plenty, but he was awful as a candidate).
But the WaPo wants us to think that all donors have abandoned RPV and are forever lost as long as conservatives control State Central.
But this betrays a lack of basic fundraising knowledge on their part. So, from a fundraising professional’s perspective…
To have an informed discussion, let’s establish some basics.
- Donors aren’t monolithic; they come in different flavors just like everyone else.
There are “ideological donors”, who will vote and give to ideological moderates or ideological conservatives or social conservatives.
There are also “access donors”, who only give to get access to power and so the politician is beholden to them. Johnnie Williams, for instance.
There are also small donors- anyone below $200, say. These tend to be your grassroots folks, more ideologically driven. Direct mail and email fundraising does great for them, as does certain kinds of events.
- There are multiple ways to reach donors
You can have the principal call the donors (in this case, Whitbeck or Snyder);
You can do direct mail to thousands of potential donors;
You can fundraise by email (which RPV already does, quite a bit);
You can do events (which there is more potential for, given the proximity to DC);
You can do awesome things that inspire people to give to you just because they hear about you.
- Donors have a TON of things they can give to these days
Candidates, nonprofits, issue initiatives, PACs, SuperPACs, etc. Parties don’t inspire people to give unless they are doing well and have influence.
- Don’t believe for a moment the general chatter
Parties exist to elect their candidates, not to stockpile cash. The oft quoted numbers on debt and cash on hand in January are noteworthy, but largely irrelevant.
Because RPV went all-out to try to elect our congressional and US Senate candidates in 2014. If you look at monthly cash on hand, RPV was flush in September before lowering the sledgehammer on Mark Warner in October and November. Yes, it ended in debt- but look how close Ed Gillespie got. Gillespie almost won, and if he did, would anyone be complaining about RPV going into debt to do it? It may have been a calculated risk, but RPV in 2014 did what a party is supposed to do- try to win the election.
I would have been worried if we lost but for some reason RPV had stockpiled huge sums of cash it still had on hand after.
- The apparent donor troubles are first and foremost a product of backlash by the consultant class
For the first time in living memory the consultant class doesn’t control RPV, so they foment dissent and the appearance of dysfunction (along with active discouragement of donors) as part of a considered strategy to retake control.
WaPo is letting themselves be used as tools in this effort. In my mind, anyone who runs crying to the WaPo about how conservativey-conservative the party is, has abdicated any real role in it going forward.
Knowing these important dynamics, what’s the strategy?
I think you play the hand you’re given.
You can cobble together a coalition of grassroots, ideological conservatives, and social conservative donors to keep RPV funded. You don’t need access donors and ideological moderates to do it- there’s frankly not that many of them anyway, they are just loud. They also tend to follow the siren call of the Ray Allens of this world, who has stated he wanted to bankrupt RPV.
Trust me, there’s more than enough if you play it right. But trying to appease the ideological moderates or the access donors (particularly when we don’t have a single statewide Republican) is a losing fight. So why bother? The party shouldn’t be for sale, anyway.
Everyone constantly underestimates the value and power of the grassroots as a fundraising source. RPV used to be able to tap this source robustly; it could do so again. Different candidates have done so to make up for not being able to tap access donors or ideologically opposed donors.
Also to consider: Direction of the party
A crucial part of why the grassroots hasn’t stepped up so far to help the party is the results coming from its elected officials in DC and Richmond.
DC Republicans folded like a cheap suit on immigration, spending, Obamacare, and a host of other “priorities”.
Why would the party’s base signal its approval of this by investing in the party?
Matt Hall did a good piece (no I don’t agree with all of it, but the tone and direction is MUCH better and worthy of praise) on donors looking for ROI.
If you’re a conservative, where’s your ROI?
Now, very little of this is accountable to RPV. But RPV is taking the hits for it nonetheless.
So where to go from here?
I think RPV needs to reshape itself into an entity that defends its brand better by holding its officeholders to account. A franchise fee has been floated as a way to keep elected officials honest (and loyal). The chairman could endorse to preserve the brand.
But make no mistake, there is a real question here: What does the Republican Party stand for? Does it stand for anything?
If you want to brand around the Creed, that’s not a bad place to start. But then you must defend that brand to have the party mean something to anyone- voters, donors, grassroots, anyone.
If anyone can do it, it’s Chairman Whitbeck and SCC. But it’s time to be brave- define and defend the brand. That is the missing ingredient that is key for donors to return.