Tuesday, May 8, 2018

State Senate Campaign: Follow the money

Do voters really care where the money comes from? Candidates may think so. 

Maybe voters don't care.

State Senate candidate Jeff Golden sent a mailer that will appear in mailboxes of Democrats who have not yet voted. His campaign spent money to send it, so they must think it is important to voters.

From Candidate Kevin Stine's Facebook
Jeff Golden's mailer compares his source of campaign funding with that of opponent Athena Goldberg's. 

The bar graphs are from Golden's campaign. His campaign funds come from local contributors and hers come from "Special Interest PACs", which in her case are unions and PACs generally related to her occupation as a health care provider. He is proud of his source of money, and he thinks it is a selling point for his campaign. Maybe he is right.

Jeff Golden is not anti-union, nor is he against health care organizations, so the issue here is not that these organizations are bad per se. Golden's argument is that their donations as a PAC are inherently different from contributions from union member, or individuals who work for health care organizations, whose company might be one of those who gave to Athena Goldberg.  Jeff Golden says the source of money does matter. One-off contributions are OK, but if people organize then the contributions become tainted.  The idea is that in actual practice donations by these organizations are come with expectations and very real strings of political debt. Golden says the special interest people make contributions with the thought in mind of making investments, not rewarding like-minded friends. That is the qualitative difference between individual donations and PAC donations. 
That is one argument.

The other argument would be that contributions are offered to candidates whose politics are presumed to be congruent with the donor. AFLCIO, AFSCME and the various medical groups whose PACs donated to Goldberg all presumably think Goldberg will represent their interests, and presumably it is because she told them what she believes and they like what they heard. Presumably, they are funding like-minded candidates. 

That argument would be that they are just like the local small donor with a $10 contribution who likes what the candidate has to say about a favorite issue, for example their opposition to the LNG pipeline. That would be the argument for PAC donations. They are doing what every group does in order to exercise power: they organize. There is nothing wrong with organization, is there? Organization of money or organization of campaign volunteers to do canvasing of a neighborhood--one can argue that both are essentially the same thing. 

Surely every reader of this blog has voted in favor of some candidate who has taken money from PACs, because nearly every candidate who has been elected has done so. Senator Alan Bates got money from local individuals and PACs, both.

Does the source of money matter to voters? Maybe, maybe not.

Kevin Stine, another candidate in the Senate race, raised a question in his Twitter and Facebook account, saying that both the Golden and Goldberg campaigns represent "big money" and the real issue isn't the source of the money, it is the amount of it. Stine has a low budget campaign, by necessity, since he lacked longstanding network of progressive donors that Jeff Golden had and the connections with healthcare industry donors that Goldberg had.  

16,000 views    Click for Video
Has too much money been spent in this race?  In my opinion, no. I think voters needed information to sort through the four Democratic candidates and money bought visibility of the personalities and issues.  

Goldberg apparently used some of her money for some large format mailers to introduce herself, plus money to boost viewership of her 30 second video. The 16,000 views of her video did not "just happen;" people were led to the site by boosting.  Viewers heard Goldberg's voice and energy and got a chance to see if they found that politically appealing. I consider this a good thing for democracy. Jeff Golden's money apparently went to lawn signs, mailers, video production, and on-the-ground campaign management and outreach, another good thing.

Candidates Julian Bell had fewer resources but was able to use social media to define his brand, and did the best he could with little money. Bell presents himself as the doctor who looks at facts and evidence. "As your State Senator, I will use knowledge and compassion to create policies that work for the public good and a secure future." If he had more resources he might have been able to present his thoughts about a state bank to a larger audience and in more detail. Complex proposals need resources to be explained in enough detail to get traction.

Kevin Stine is the millennial veteran progressive candidate and had the fewest resources, but is the candidate with the sharpest observations about his fellow candidates and the political race. He questioned whether we needed $70,000 campaigns to get out a message, but I think the struggle of his campaign answers the question.  He needed more money. In my estimation, if he had raised $100,000 to get out his message then he, rather than Goldberg, might have been the candidate most likely to upset the reputation advantage held by Jeff Golden as the long-time political figure. 

The upcoming primary will be a political test for the question of whether voters care about PACs.  Golden has made an issue of it.  If Golden is right, then voters will reward him for his refusal of PAC money. But they may not care.


Cathy Shaw said...

Big week for Athena:
SEIU contributed $10,164.21 (for a mailer)
Coalition for a Healthy Oregon gave another $8,000 bringing their total to: $24,000
Robert Wagner—State Senator gave $205.00 (either a weird amount or a typo)
AFL-CIO is still paying people to canvass for her, add another $1,183.12 to their ledger; they’re up to: $6,829.96

Oh, and she also got $50 from the average man.
SO her one week total—since 4/30:
$19,602.33 of which $19,552.33 came from PACs or 99.7%

Rick Millward said...

We are a long way from public funding of campaigns, level playing fields and sadly, an electorate that is demanding it.

Greg Frederick said...

We have to be careful in this comparison. The funding in the race between Jeff and Athena. While I am supporting Jeff in this race it's not because that Athena is not a viable candidate or because of the candidate's choices in funding... This is not apples to apples. If Golden wasn't in this race Goldberg would be a slam dunk mostly because she has the funding to get her message to the people. Jeff has an advantage in that his name recognition through nearly 30 years in PBS broadcasting to the exact voting demographics of this race are priceless... None of the other candidates in this race would be able to compete with Goldberg in this race without funding. As Democrats, we need to be very careful in how we approach this. We are experiencing a midterm with record numbers of candidates stepping up to run nationwide. Until we control enough votes in the House and Senate to effectively change funding in elections we need to be able to get our candidates elected. We want to encourage people to run in every race not hold them to a standard that handicaps them.

trishka said...

I'm neutral on PACs - it depends on who they are and what policies they promote. PACs can be funded by good people who want to do good things and understand that even if they don't like the rules, to not play by them isn't good strategy.

That said - I'm VERY leery of any candidate in southern Oregon who receives PAC money from unions, as that suggests to me they are selling support for Jordan Cove.