Saturday, April 5, 2014

How do you Spell Scandal?

S-E-X?  M-O-N-E-Y?  P-O-W-E-R? Money for power?

How about guns, favors, murder for hire? All these and more are involved in the multi-count indictment of San Francisco State Senator Leland Yee and cronies.  And a  guy named Shrimp Boy. Don't believe it? Click here.

Or here. or just google guns. Shrimp Boy. Leland Yee. Rocket launchers. gangland slaying.

And as one of the stories put it, "Until 5 minutes ago, this guy was a front runner for Secretary of State." Is this how you want your campaign to be remembered.

No, you can't make this stuff up. Politicians caught with their pants down, literally, or hiking the Appalachian Trail in Argentina with your mistress. Nothing has come close to thiese allegations.

But even the appearance of scandal, the taking of large amounts of money from corporate interests and then ducking out on key votes those interests might just an an interest in.

So if you run as the underdog on platform of cleaning up corruption in politics, beware, if you are the one taking the big bucks, enjoying jaunts on private jets and "paling around" with friends of the Koch Brothers. Voters may be somewhat apathetic or cynical, but they will remember when you run for re-election.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

What we talk about when we talk about viability

Here's a dirty little secret of the campaign world. Specifically of those who endorse candidates for elective office.

They will send you questionnaires by the boatload. They will grill you on your positions on all the issues they care about. They will ask about your background and experience and judge how well you present yourself. They may tell you they are mightily impressed with your credentials.

Then they will ask about your viability. That's Viability, spelled M-O-N-E-Y. Yes, money is what they want to know about. How much of it do you have? How much can you raise? And how much do you need to win your election.

If the equation comes out lopsided, that is you don't have enough, or as much as the other guy, they are likely to decide your candidacy is not viable. Say bye bye to that endorsement you know you were most suited to receive.

And you thought it was all about qualifications to do the job, integrity and a willingness to work hard.

Sorry, Charlie, it's all about the money. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the key organizations don't endorse you because you don't have the money, you can't get the money from those who are waiting to see what the endorsers do. 

Nobody wants to back a loser, and they're not willing to take a chance on you by helping your campaign get off the ground with their endorsement and the contribution that usually goes with it.

And so it goes. This is how we get second rate candidates in office, who are beholden to special interests. They take the money from all and sundry, thereby looking "viable" to the endorsers.

They get the endorsement. They win the race, and then people are surprised when those they elected get caught in messy "pay to play" schemes, and are forced to leave their positions prematurely to "spend more time with their families."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When the Candidate asks

If you are running for election, you are the best person to ask people for money for your campaign. In fact, people expect it. They want to hear from you directly, at least at first. Someone else can do follow up and close the deal, if you'd laid a firm foundation. But you will be amazed at the difference an "ask" from the candidate can make to the bottom line.

Just the other day I got a personal call from our insurance Commissioner, Dave Jones, asking if I'd sponsor an even he was having for his re-election campaign. I am a seasoned campaigner and immune to being barraged by candidates and their surrogates. But this time, because he is someone I admire, and because he asked personally, I said "yes," sent him a check, and then never went to the event.

If one of his staff or a volunteer had called, I'd probably have said no, I can't afford it, I have too many other causes to support. It is just harder to say no to the candidate. And guess what, it's flattering too, to know they care enough to make a personal call, and know something about the person they are calling.Try it; you'll like it! 


Monday, March 17, 2014

There's No Whining in Campaigning!

If you are a candidate you are going to want to whine, kvetch, complain, moan and just plain bitch about how hard it is to do all the things expected of you and be all the places you are supposed to be. That's natural. Just don't do it in public. Don't get that sour look on your face when you're sitting at the table with your fellow candidates waiting for your turn to speak. Smile! At least look busy with your notes.

Candidates don't frown, scowl, pout or whine in public. Ever. You might feel like shit. Your feet hurt. Your head hurts, and you really don't like the person your campaign manager just told you have to say hello to. Just don't show it.

As the candidate, you are always on. Someone is always watching. Don't be the one in the picture on a support of the other guy's Facebook page with the aggrieved look on your face!

Smile, you're on candid camera!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fighting Fire with Fire - Money with Money

In politics, you often end up using tools you have denounced when others use them. But you use them when you have no other choice. If you are being relentlessly attacked by an opponent who's got gazillions in the bank from corporate donors, polluters and hedge fund managers, you need to have a healthy war chest yourself.

This doesn't mean you take money from the bad guys. You seek out the good guys who share your values, and also coincidentally (lucky you!) have the means to back it up and infuse your campaign with much needed cash.

Until such time as we enact real campaign finance reform, that prevents corporate donations and independent expenditures, stops considering corporations as people, therefore imbued with the same First Amendment rights as a "natural" person, money is still very much needed in the political game.

And sometimes, money is the only weapon you have to check the alarming advancement of bigotry, climate change and ironically, income inequality.

See Tom Steyer as an example of someone with money who is using that money for good (we will suspend taking a deeper look at how he came about that money as a hedge fund manager for now) to fund campaigns against climate change deniers all over the Country. He is also seriously considering funding an oil extraction tax initiative in California, if the Legislature proves to be too beholden to major oil and gas companies for their campaign contributions, and the strings that those companies hold even on the floor of the legislature.

Politics is a game, and it can be a deadly one, but if you can't play in the big leagues you'll never be in a position to make serious change to the rules. Just be sure you adhere to some of your own. I advise my clients to look carefully at the sources of their donations. I advise against taking money from insurance companies, tobacco, pharmaceutical firms. And watch out for lofty sounding groups whose goals may not reflect the names they call themselves. (Example: Civil Justice Association of California, claiming to stop frivolous lawsuits, but actually seeks to limit the ability of consumers to sue businesses for unfair practices or damages, and supports maintaining a 1975 cap on damages awarded for pain and suffering to patients inured by doctors committing malpractice.)

In politics, as anything in a capitalist society, it's buyer beware. And if you don't, your opponents will. They are watching.

Friday, February 14, 2014

When Candidates Drop Out

There are a myriad of reasons candidates choose to leave their races. Over on the Republican side of the aisle, well known scandals of the sexual variety often poke their ugly little heads up, forcing early retirement so that the candidate (or officeholder) can "spend more time with their family." In divorce court perhaps.

Not that Democrats are immune to these peccadilloes. Notably Elliot Spitzer (otherwise known as Client Number 9 - I always wondered why someone didn't name a fragrance that, but hmmm, maybe better not to go there) and the appropriately named Anthony Weiner and his you know what flashing across the Twittersphere.

But there are other reasons candidates leave their races, and it often has to do with lack of finances, lack of momentum in the polls or with the voters, major defeats in partisan endorsement processes.

These candidates usually get out early before they spend down the family coffers. They are not driven or embarrassed out of the race. They are being clear headed and honest about their chances. They are reluctant to leave, but they do not wish to put themselves and their family through a grueling experience, the outcome of which is almost a sure thing. These are the honorable ones,the ones who are in it for the community, for values and principles they hold dear, and which they hoped to be able to further in public office.

They will often be the ones to go on and distinguish themselves in other ways, giving back as volunteers. campaign or legislative staffers to others who share their values. They may even reappear on the campaign scene running for another office or the same office once they have retooled and rethought their strategy.

These are the ones who leave their races for all the right reasons, and they need to be recognized.  Even though they will leave disappointed supporters and donors, they do so with a clear conscience.

And they win respect not approbation for their decision. It's hard to give up a dream, to go back to your ordinary life when you have got used to the excitement and the stress of a political campaign.

And even though it means a loss of income to consultants, the wise consultant must take a step back and look objectively at the decision her client has made, then offer the best advice she can, encouragement to stay and tough it out, if that seems right, but grace to let the client make the right decision for her and wish her well a she goes forward with new endeavors.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Back on the Trail

You'd think we hadn't been doing much (because I haven't been writing much) but we have been busy on some campaigns. This season is a hot one, with campaigns all over the North Bay map. Sonoma, Marin, Solano, Napa, Yolo, Lake Counties.

So now it's juggling candidates and their various nees.

Most candidates need a few basics:

  • A remit envelope to get checks, endorsements and offer to volunteer
  • A website to list their isues, bios and endorsers
  • A walk piece or handout to leave with the people they meet on the campaign trail
  • Some social media
  • A letter to potential supporters to solicit funds and ask for help
  • A data base to keep track of endorsers, donors and volunteers
  • A telephone - to call potential donors for campaign contributions
  • A good campaign message
  • A good campaign message delivery system - mailers, tv and radio, speeches and more
And a few good people:

  • A campaign consultant to make sure these things are in the works and on schedule
  • A campaign manager to make sure the candidate is on time, knows where to be, handles the press and other issues and act as chief cheerleader and nag
  • A treasurer to handle the finances and file reports on time
  • A field coodinator to handle the volunteers and oversee precinct walking and phone banking to voters
  • Volunteers to do all of the above and more
You could always use a fundraiser, a data base manager and some gofers to help it all run smoothly, but know this - You, the candidate, must be the one to sell yourself, make the phone calls for contributions, meet the voters, go to debates and answer the questionnaires. Your staff, volunteers and friends and family can all help, but ultimately, You are the salesforce.

Oh, yeah, take a few moments to breathe each day and maybe once a week or so, kiss your family.  It will all be over soon and you'll be in office or back at your day job. either way, you'll have had a real adventure with lots of stories to tell.