THE BLOG

Democrats Worried About Big Money Skewing Congressional Races: Organize Online, and Do It Now

05/21/2012 05:55 pm ET | Updated Jul 21, 2012

Saturday's Washington Post article about big conservative money flooding into House and Senate races is just the latest sign of this year's changing post-Citizens United political landscape. The fear among Democrats? That wealthy Republicans will pour so much money into down-ballot races that Democratic congressional candidates will be blown out of the water in the fall. They point to the role that outside spending by a handful of millionaires played in the Republican presidential primaries by helping to keep Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in the race, and wealthy donors also seem to have made a difference in Dick Lugar's recent downfall. And then there are the very recent Joe Ricketts/Rev. Wright revelations....

Of course, one reason Republican "independent" expenditures are so high this year? These wealthy activists are involved in an ideological war for the future of the Republican Party, which is playing itself out in races like Lugar's. Some of their spending will be offset by labor unions, trial lawyers, environmental organizations and other liberal-aligned groups in the general election, though one rich guy's $50,000,000 campaign requires A LOT of fundraising to match. Another alternative? Start recruiting supporters now -- online.

Big money can dominate the airwaves, and embattled campaigns will need plenty of cash to balance it out. But they can also use bodies and brains -- the ones belonging to their supporters. As we've heard again and again, people's voting decisions tend to be more influenced by friends and family than what they've seen on TV, meaning that a campaign can benefit from an energized base of evangelists speaking on its behalf. And these days, online tools provide the most efficient and cost-effective ways to recruit, organize and mobilize supporters, volunteers and donors.

As we've also heard here before, online recruiting is typically an incremental process -- it's usually trench warfare, not blitzkrieg, and if you're trying to build a supporter base when you need it, you're probably too late. Smart campaigns are spending money on Google, Facebook and other channels NOW to find the help they'll need in November. Here are just a few ways online supporters can make a difference:

  • They can give money.
  • They can canvas, phone-bank and otherwise put in time.
  • They can spread a campaign's messaging to friends and family in person, countering nasty advertising.
  • They can do the same on Facebook, Twitter and their other online channels, by posting videos and other content and their own testimonials.
  • They can recruit friends and family to get involved as well.
  • If they're following the candidate's Facebook page, campaigns can target their FRIENDS with ads intended to either recruit or persuade -- leveraging supporters' social connections without asking them to lift a finger.
  • They can give money.
  • They can give money.
  • Did I mention that they can give money?

Obviously, online recruiting is just the start -- the real trick is mobilizing people and getting them to actually get out and do something. For instance, to give you money. Also obviously, I'm not going to suggest that online organizing is a panacea that'll insulate a campaign completely against outside expenditures -- I'd suggest that Democrats start opening their wallets in large numbers if they want to fight off the likes of Joe Ricketts. But online politics is a start -- and it's also available to just about any campaign, regardless of the size of its backers' bank balances.