Myth #7. A successful statewide campaign will be expensive.

From the book by Sam Carpenter, a chapter from Making Oregon Great Again: Guide to the Grassroots Revitalization of the Oregon Republican Party (and the Defeat of the Ruling Class). Published January 2019.

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Myth #7. A successful statewide campaign will be expensive.

From an article published in the Portland Tribune, 10/8/2018: “An analysis of campaign finance reports shows typical spending, with the bulk of money going to advertising and marketing firms, political consultants, television and radio buys, data analytics and software. Buehler’s campaign has spent big on advertising — which can include anything from materials for campaign signs or branded gadgets to television ads. And a lot of the larger expenditures went out East. So far in 2018, Buehler has spent $4,266,909 on broadcast advertising through Strategic Media Services of Arlington, Va. FP1 Digital, a public affairs firm in Alexandria, Va., received $627,315. The campaign spent $623,371 on Red Maverick Media, a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania political consulting firm. Brown has spread money around more evenly, and as of Oct. 4 still had $3.5 million on hand, compared to Buehler’s $2 million. Her largest payments have gone to Washington, D.C., with $2,396,188 going to buy airtime through Buying Time LLC and $416,880 going to digital marketing firm Rising Tide Interactive LLC.”

Here’s a perfect example of digging down to base reality and then working back up from that reality-point: Ask, is it a causal relationship between raising lots of money, and winning? Or is it simply a correlation? These days, if the campaign is run properly, and notwithstanding those who spend nothing or next to nothing (including, as I mentioned earlier, seven of the ten 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary candidates), I’d say the connection between winning and money-expended is a loose correlation only. Yet within today’s political world there are two factions wallowing in the past who will laughingly/violently disagree with me:  too-much-in-a-hurry mainstream media people, and self-serving political consultants who reap not just a healthy monthly retainer from the candidate, but  15% of all advertising revenue (which can far, far exceed the monthly retainer…)..

Count on it: Mainstream media Op-Ed writers and political consultants will declare there is, without question, a causal relationship between raising lots of money and winning. It’s BS.

In the past, in a typical big race, the money/win connection was most-times true, but as we approach the 2020’s, incredibly effective and inexpensive social media renders that model obsolete. Yes, Knute Buehler and his consultants, and the Oregon mainstream media, will disagree as they cite Buehler’s primary victory over me in the gubernatorial primary race (ignoring the big-money, the smearing, and the vote-splitting). But in the larger picture it is the opposite. One’s ability to purchase votes can’t guarantee a win if the opposing side can inexpensively reach the same constituents with issue positions that make more sense.

There is a catch, though, an exception to the above and it was exemplified in the 2018 gubernatorial primary campaign: a big-money candidate can successfully conduct a last-minute multi-media mudslinging crusade that can bury the low-budget opposition. Here’s where a vital ORP should step in. Much more on this later.

I mentioned this earlier: When the final tallies were complete, Buehler had spent nine times more than what we spent, $4,000,000 vs. $452,000. And in the end, he spent $28 per vote (144,000 total votes) while we spent $5 per vote (90,000 total votes).

Buehler’s largest cash donor, Phil Knight, gave him $2.5 million. From the Oregonian, November 20, 2018: “Buehler’s largest individual donor was Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who gave the Bend Republican $2.5 million directly, and also sent $1 million to the Republican Governors Association.” And then, within days, the National Governors Association gave back that one million dollars to Buehler (plus an additional 2.5 million).

Buehler still lost the general election.

(And it must be asked: in his role as governor, would Buehler have been obligated to Knight?)

For the record, our largest cash donation was $8,000, and I received a half dozen contributions of $5,000 each. 98% of our donors gave less than $200.

As I also said previously, as I passed Buehler in the polls and then, with less than a month yet to go in the race, he spent over one million dollars – the remainder of his war chest – to slime me personally with lies and distortions…he essentially purchased the nomination…and call it Karma, this sell-my-soul-to-the-devil tactic was a contributing reason to why he lost to Governor Brown in the general election. (Although I kept quiet about it during the general election campaigning, voters on both sides of the aisle noticed.)

Yes, of course part of the reason Buehler won the primary election was that he outspent us ten-to-one while falsely maligning my character, but the third equally important factor that delivered Buehler’s victory was the introduction of “grassroots candidate” Greg Wooldridge. Many insiders say, and they site powerful anecdotal evidence, that Wooldridge was covertly inserted by the Buehler people to split the conservative vote. And as I mentioned, the ORP did not take an interest in commenting on the baseless slander, or in confronting this last-minute intrusion. Much more about all this, soon, too.

My primary point here is that in a clean election campaign, if the message is right, and the candidate is willing to spend time engaging voters, and there are no wild-card surprises (like a massive slime-campaign and/or the introduction of a vote-splitter), a traditional hyper-expensive mass-media effort – TV, radio, and print – is not necessary.

And here’s something else about running a parsimonious campaign: Being able to demonstrate thrift within a campaign is powerful evidence to voters that the candidate will be frugal when holding office.

Buehler had, I’m estimating, a staff of twenty, including both in-house and out-of-state consultancies and fundraisers.

In our campaign, we had two full-time and one part-time paid staff members and a number of volunteers who prepared and placed signs. We raised $112,000 even though our focus was not on fund-raising (more on this in Part Two). The other $340,000 was a combination of in-kind contributions and my own cash. The operation was in-house and in-Oregon. And unlike both Buehler and Wooldridge, we did not employ professional fund-raisers.

98% of our time was spent interacting with voters, not raising money. By the end of March, just four weeks before ballots were to be delivered, and after spending only 10% of what Buehler had spent, we took the lead in the race….

And remember to figure this important element into the spending equation: a political consulting firm will typically take, besides their high monthly fee, a 15% cut of all media ad purchases. And with this, naturally the consultant will tell his client/candidate it’s about who can raise the most money, and so they will want the candidate to spend most of his or her time, dialing-for-dollars and engaging professional fund-raisers. How best to spend all that money, according to the consultant? On expensive traditional print and postal mailings, of course…and not inexpensive social media.

To the consultant, that 15% is everything.

Knute Buehler and Kate Brown? To their in-state and out-of-state political and media consultants, they were ATM machines. Together, they raised and spent $40,000,000.

A big-time political consultant is a mercenary. An astute observer could accurately conclude, from the “follow the money” rule of thumb, that the majority of statewide and national-level campaign consultants really don’t care about the particular ideology. What they care about is whether their candidate can raise big money. Yes, election wins are important to consultants, but always remember that these in-the-moment people will not be in your world because they think you are a nice person and you deserve to hold the particular office you seek.

The one-layer-deeper truth is that, like stock brokers, consultants get paid whether the client wins or loses.

Be prepared for their insistence that you spend most of your time on the phone raising money. And with this, the collateral damage will be the minimizing of your day-to-day exposure to voters. And be prepared for your consultant to tell you what message to deliver, per their alleged polls and focus groups…but more because of their personal (and inevitable) left-leaning, Establishment Ruling Class philosophies. Best bet? In your campaign, be careful of traditional political consultants. If nothing else, stay in charge of your message, remain skeptical, and avoid the 15% ad-buy arrangement.

So if you are considering running for office, be smart and be willing to step out of the typical formulaic campaign box. It’s not about how much money you can raise. It’s about how many votes you can gather.