Monday, January 21, 2019

Campaign Principle #3- Running on a Budget

Campaign Principle #3- Run on a budget.

This may not be the most controversial principle but it is by far the least followed. Politics and fundraising has become as inseparable as college and student loans. Most feel you can't have one without the other. And while I am not opposed to all fundraising and campaign donations, the extent to which it is done is ridiculous.

In 2016 Hillary Clinton and her Super PAC raised over $1.2 billion dollars. And that is less than Barack Obama in 2012. Does anyone really think that if only she had a few more million dollars to throw out a few more adds in the swing states she would have pulled it off?

I wish I could recall the exact numbers but I recall that in 2012 with less than a week to go in the election, President Obama, and Mitt Romney both had some insane amount of money and I was getting calls and emails asking me to donate more every day. Both had so much money that they could flood almost every airway radio and TV, fill every mailbox, put a yard sign in every yard and still have enough to pay my salary for the rest of my life. (This may be an exaggeration but not by much.)

The problem is that one of the major ways we base how a candidate is doing is the "Money Race". How much do they have on hand? How much is in their "war chest"? Of course, their is legitimate reasons we do this. If someone is willing to put money into someone's campaign they are extremely likely to vote for them. Hence, why the "small dollar" donations are seen as an important metric. Yet, the majority of the money coming into campaigns is not "small dollar". This is true at all levels.

The fundraising flood that hits every major election cycle puts far more money into campaigns than is really needed for candidates to get their information out there. We encourage them to raise as much as possible and spend as much as possible. I see three significant issues with this:

1. We have them learn that the way to get things done is to spend, spend, spend and then we scratch our heads that they cannot find a way to put forth policies that maintain a reasonable budget.

2. Nobody is immune from influence. If someone pays us money we feel indebted to them, it's human nature. The more they give us the more indebted we feel. You can be the best person on earth but if someone pays you thousands of dollars to help get you elected, you are going to give them more heed when they come knocking on your door, than some else who did not.

3. Money spent on elections is money that could have been spent elsewhere. We all know there are many things that are needed in our community. Our schools are underfunded, with underpaid teachers, people throughout the world go hungry, and high school kids swim in pools that don't meet their needs. Shifting campaign funds to these issues would not solve them, but it would be a step in the right direction.

So what is to be done?

We could make laws trying to craft how much each person can contribute? (owe wait we did that). We could cap the total and dictate every aspect of fundraising?

That is not my vote. Rather I would love to see candidates run on a budget. And if I run for office that is exactly what I will do.  Pick a reasonable amount you feel it would cost to run. For example, if you are running for city council review what you feel it will costs you to to run an effective election, say, $10,000.  Then cap your fundraising at that. If I were to do it, I would say I would only take $20 donations from 500 people. After that, if you want to give more I would encourage they put the money to something more worthwhile than getting me elected. (That shouldn't be too hard to find.) If I were running this year for city council/mayor I would encourage any excess go to a fund to donate private donations to the pool, or other cause I feel is important.

This would do several things: show that I am able to plan and execute within a budget, and don't simply look to money to solve my woes. It would encourage small donations, because people would know how I plan to fund my election, and lastly it would ensure that I am not overly indebted to one person or organization. It's a very unique model, but I would love to see it catch on. If anyone tried it, they would go very far in winning my vote.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Campaign Principles #2

I have decided to draft the important principles I would follow if I were to ever run for office. If you have not read Principle #1 you can read it here. With no further ado:

Campaign Principle #2- Make sure I want and can do the job effectively, not just that I want the title, think I can win the election or am mad about one or two specific issues.

I will never forget several years ago, when I lived in Vegas, I had the opportunity to meet with someone who was planning to run for State Assembly. I asked them why they wanted to run for office. They rattled off how mad they were about a bunch of national issues and how poor our current president was doing. I asked them what they thought about several state issues and they had no idea. They wanted to get involved in "politics" but were going to do so by chasing a position they knew nothing about. The person was well connected in the community, well liked, and had many connections that would make fundraising simple. They asked me if I thought they could win. All I could think was, "that is the wrong question." I did think they could win, but I didn't think they should run.

I always worry about this with local political positions and I try to check myself whenever I have considered running. Most of the ones I've seen are not as bad as the example above, but some seem to think they would like the position, or they are hot under the collar about an issue or two, and so they throw their hat in the ring without really knowing what they are getting into. In city politics, there are those big issues that the citizens really care about. They get debated on Facebook and at the local cafe and you think to yourself. "If I was in there I would do so much better then these dingbats." And then there is the more mundane, day to day votes, committees, events, issues, and meetings that make up 95% of the job.

When the new feeling of being called councilman wears off, will I still have the commitment to really give it the time it deserves. And to do it right it takes much more than reading the packet and voting on the issues put before you. Good councilmen, councilwomen, and mayors will drive issues, and that takes research, meetings and a willingness to take risks.  That is why I look for someone and hope to be someone who has been involved prior to showing up to run. Have they been attending council meetings? Have they served on committees and given the time and commitment when there wasn't money and title involved?

Can they even answer what the role of the position is? I have spoken to many in our city who get very confused on the role that the Mayor and Council have vs. the City Manager, City Attorney and other city officials. It is hard to do a job well if you don't understand what the job is. (And as a complete side note that I will write about later, I think some of the biggest political issues and failures come from politicians doing others' jobs. Judges thinking they're in the legislative branch, legislatures thinking they should be executives, and executives trumping themselves up, thinking they should be all three.)

Also, what about my background helps me provide value in the position? A good council both challenges and provides a check on city officials. Without the right backgrounds City Council has difficulty effectively reviewing what staff gives them. It's hard to provide a good review and notice something is missed on an engineering report if you have no background in engineering. Just as an engineer will be hard pressed to provide a fair review of a legal issue. Good leaders can come from any profession, but this is part of the reason a diverse, critically thinking council is a benefit to the city.

So, in summary if I ever run for a position, I need to be able to clearly answer what the position is and does, what makes me uniquely qualified and able to provide value to the position, and can I honestly say that I can keep my commitment both in time and energy during the term of my position?

If I can't give clear, honest and affirmative answers to these questions, than I shouldn't run. I should get involved in other ways more suited to my time, abilities, and present experience and circumstances, like writing about campaign principles in hopes the right people will be inspired to run.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Campaign Principles #1

It is time of year again for people who want to run for City Council or Mayor in Boulder City to file. The filing dates are Jan. 22nd- Jan. 31st. It is no secret that I love Boulder City and City politics. As such, I do plan to run for City Council someday. Notice, I say someday, because today is definitely not that day. But I have wanted to write down my principles for campaigning for sometime and while politics is on my brain I will do so.

The reason is simple. I have been involved a little in a few people running for office and frankly I am not impressed. Not that they aren't great people who can do much for our community, but that I have seen them, get so caught up in the campaign that they do things that are not in their nature. I hope I would never do that and part of that is documenting my principles up front. Also, these are things that I look for in candidates. They are not deal breakers, but I take them into account in deciding who will get my support and vote.

Principle #1: Speak no evil of others running. My job is to tell you why I would be a good choice not why others would not be.

Imagine walking into an interview for a new position. The boss interviewing you says, "Why would you be a good fit for this job?"

You look her in the eye and say, "I saw Johnny just walk out, and I know you are interviewing him as well, so I thought you ought to know that Johnny is an idiot and would do a very lousy job."

"Thank you." She reply's, "but why would you make a good candidate?"

"Did I mention Johnny got fired from his last job because of drinking?"

"This is your interview, please tell me why you are the right person?"

"And by the way Johnny hates cats."

"Listen," She says in frustration, "I need to know why YOU would do good in this job?"

"Oh, all right...because, I'm not Johnny."

While this situation is utterly ridiculous. I have seen it played out in campaigns all across the county.  Politicians spend millions in telling you how lousy the other candidate/candidates are and essentially hope you will cast your ballot for them. Why? because at least they aren't the other guy. No wonder we so often feel forced to vote for the lesser of two evils. All we have heard about is the evil sides of both candidates.

I am a big believer in knowing what your job is and doing it. When you are running for office your campaign  is your interview. Your job is to answer peoples questions honestly and give them the information to vote for you or not.

In a regular job interview the person conducting the interview has several sources of information. The person answering the questions and of course the interviewer also has reference checks to verify information about the candidate. In politics, those reference checks do need to be done. These are done by media, endorsements, and talking to those who know the candidates best. Not by asking the other candidates.

I don't think we realize how deeply harmful the practice of mudslinging is to our politics and society. When 90% of what we hear about someone is negative, I don't care how good the person is, we will not trust them or want to work with or around them. Mudslinging downgrades the winners ability to govern once they are elected, no matter who wins. It erodes trust in our politicians and the process. It emboldens obstructionism. It encourages tribalism. And saddest of all, it works. That is why it is growing. That is why it is widely used in almost every campaign.

But work or not. It is wrong. It is harmful and at some point in the future if I run for office it is my commitment not to do it. In the meantime, I will look for candidates who avoid the temptation to fling mud across the bow. And encourage candidates to focus on the question, "Why are YOU the right person for the job?" And if their only answer is that they are not someone else, than I think we should pass.