Ever since my blog about Senator Feinstein's campaign asking for money for a non-race, I have been inundated with e-mails and calls asking how best to give money to candidates and causes that can really shape elections. Here are a few thoughts. I hope others will weigh in. This is vital to all of us as we work toward winning a majority in one or both houses in D.C. as well as influencing how those majorities act.
1. Support candidates (and political causes) that build for the long term and that stand for something. Be pragmatic, too. If it's a choice between evil and light, go for the light.
Example: I support Bob Casey in his race against Rick Santorum for Senate in Pennsylvania. I don't agree with him on some major issues, but he's thoughtful, speaks from conviction and is more than reasonable. He's way ahead of Santorum in the polls and he needs more cash to keep the margin. Santorum has to go and Casey can win. He's worth the investment.
2. Stay out of primaries unless there's a clear message to be sent or a right wing Democrat who needs to be sent packing. We have lost for more than a decade by compromising before we even get to the table (think votes for Bush tax cuts and Bush's war). In California, most local races are decided in the primary and most local candidates have very similar stances. Stay out.
Example: Joe Lieberman, the George Bush of the Democratic Party, needs to go. Whenever Bush is in trouble, which is nearly every day now, Bush says, "sensible Democrats like Joe Lieberman" support me on the war, the energy bill and other fundamentally retrograde policies. Ned Lamont is running against Lieberman and can win. Have a look. Ned's victory adds another Democrat to the Senate.
3. Look for leverage. Where does your money go the farthest?
Example: Here in California, many of us gave to Francine Busby who is running to replace Duke Cunningham in a Republican district. In the special election earlier this month, Francine got 44% of the vote in a district that has 30% Democratic registration. She faces a general election in June and can win. What a message THAT sends! $100 or $4,000 to Francine is the equivalent of ten times that to someone like Hillary Clinton who does not have a competitive race.
4. Focus. If you have limited dollars to give, which most of us do, pick only a few causes or races and put your money there. Learn what you can and get your friends to match you. Fifty dollars times ten is a lot of money in a local race. And the number of contributors can really matter. Be willing to say no. If a celebrity, political or otherwise, asks for your money and you don't know how it will be spent or for whom, say no.
Example: Brave New Films is in the process of raising funds for our next film, Iraq for Sale: War Profiteers. Since last Tuesday, over 2,200 people have contributed nearly $150,000, mostly in $50 donations. This film can help shape the election debate this autumn. A small contribution provides enormous leverage that cuts across candidate races.
5. Act locally. Taking on an issue, backing a great school board or city council candidate where a small amount of money matters can change the dynamic for years to come.
Example: Here in California, the Courage Campaign fights to restore the California dream, aspiring to goals such as once again having the best public education system in the world and ending gridlock. Also, Progressive Majority has mastered the identification and training of down ballot progressive candidates.
Until private money is out of politics, we have to play smart. And every dollar matters. Remember, the politicians are public servants. They work for us. We have the duty to fire the bad ones and to hire the good ones. It's your vote and your money. Invest for the future.