Everyone's favorite election guru, Nate Silver, crunched the numbers and provided a fascinating look at how insurgent Tea Party candidates were able to take on the Republican establishment with relatively little funding. The key analysis is the following: "the first $100,000 of spending goes a lot further in establishing a candidate's viability than the marginal $100,000 after she has already spent $5 million."
In this way, Tea Party candidates operate much like a venture capital backed startup company -- highly focused (nearly single issue) candidates who use very small amounts of funding to make a huge impact. In one case, the Tea Party primary winner was outspent 20:1 by the establishment candidate.
Based on my own experience running for Senate, and Mr. Silver's math, my hypothesis is: With highly focused social media, candidates will soon be able to win primaries for well under $100k. After all, winning is about getting votes, not spending the most on advertising, which has become much easier to shut out of our lives. Candidates with good ideas need a social media platform which lets voters know their ideas must be won in the primaries or they will never be brought to the general election. This was the genius of the Tea Party.
Many ideas that desperately need to be discussed have strong support by both conservatives and progressives. From digital rights, to addressing failed policies like the war on drugs, to developing plans to keep America competitive while addressing budgetary issues, these pressing issues are inadequately addressed by our current Congress. What is needed are politicians with ideas that are supported by third party analysis as a plausible alternative to the status quo.
In order to make these candidates competitive, third party non-partisan websites and Super PACs are needed. They would function like a political Kickstarter, which would allow people to fund ideas, not parties. For example, an individual could contribute to a fund or Super PAC that will support candidates with realistic ideas to end the war on drugs, or balance the budget. These donations will go to multiple startup candidates running on that idea. Most importantly, these groups should support candidates running in both the Republican and Democratic primaries.
$10k well spent by a candidate can get them on the primary ballot and invited to the party debates and will give them credibility for media coverage. By spreading candidates across the country and parties, the money will achieve greater results than simply buying ads to support an idea.
As a side note, focusing on a single candidate in a single race is pointless. Instead, the lesson of the Tea Party is to fund many races on the cheap, that way you are able to get media attention from more outlets. It's like franchising. Additionally, you must support an actual candidate, not an issue independent of a candidate. Reddit's Test PAC tried this with Lamar Alexander, and failed.
To read more about Venture Politics and lessons from Reddit, read the essay on Google Docs (free)
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