Monday, September 24, 2012

Some Political Donation Thoughts

I probably have a couple more campaign contributions in me this year, and I'll be looking into where my money should go over the next couple days. In anticipation of the end of the fundraising reporting period, anyone who's gotten themselves on candidates' email lists is probably going to get a whole bunch of messages over the next couple days, so this might be a useful thing for us to discuss together. The Singapore dollar has gotten a bit strong lately, so this is a good time for me to donate some money.

One general principle that I've heard Jonathan Bernstein suggest, and which I wholeheartedly subscribe to, is that giving money to races that don't get as much coverage is better. This is because the best-known races, like the presidential campaign, attract so much money that they're pushed deep into the territory of diminishing returns. Obama has so much money that an extra hundred dollars is unlikely to win him that many extra votes. Donations at the Senate level can have more of an impact, and if you donate to a House candidate (I'm thinking, especially one in a non-presidential-swing-state where coattail effects are minor) you might get more bang for your buck. And if you know a really good state legislature candidate or something like that, wonderful.

Along those lines, I'd be interested to hear what people have to suggest. It's possible that I'll still be doing the Senate thing, just because it has usually been the major public policy bottleneck and Senators last for 6 years rather than 2, with 4.35 times the voting influence because of the smaller chamber. But if someone has a good House or state legislature candidate to talk up, I'm curious to hear more.

If I could give more to Jeff Merkley's Leadership PAC, which I've talked about at length here and here and here, I'd definitely do so, but I've already hit the $5000 annual maximum. That's really my number one recommendation for anyone who wants to help Democrats win more Senate races, because you get to do it while increasing the influence of a solidly left-wing and tactically smart Democrat within the party. (That's Jeff and me in the picture at right, in a wine cellar in his home state of Oregon.) Moreover, Oregon is a reasonably clean state as far as special interest issues go -- you don't have to worry about Merkley's influence being put to use in support of the coal lobby or even the corn lobby. If you're interested in helping him out, you can donate the money via my ActBlue page. If you have any questions, just ask below or send me an email.  

8 comments:

Nicholas Beaudrot said...

Other than Jeff Merkley, I think the marginal campaign dollar is best spent on the mountain west/prairie Senate seats. Tester/Rehberg, Heitkamp vs whoever, Berkeley vs Heller.

Greg Hao said...

Raul Ruiz seems mildly intriguing in Riverside: http://www.drraulruiz.com/

But I wonder how far this "more effective dollar at down ballot" really goes. That is to say, what's the marginal effect of $1 for a State legislator (say in California) vs giving my money to Diane Feinstein.

Lester Freamon said...

I recommend Rob Zerban. He's running to prevent Paul Ryan from being reelected to his House seat. He's Ryan's first serious challenger ever, and Ryan has started actually spending money to hold his seat. This is the first reporting period since the VP nomination was announced so it would help get this race taken seriously if he posted strong fundraising. Obama won Ryan's district by four points in 2008 so it's a winnable race, especially if Ryan running on the GOP ticket turns off all the people who split their tickets for him in 08.

ikl said...

I'm with Nick here. I'm more agnostic about NV (Berkeley seems like not a great candidate and it isn't that cheap), but MT and ND seem like high leverage since they are cheap states for ads. I'd like to see another ND poll though to confirm that this is still close. AZ might be worth some change if it continues to look close.

Here are some house suggestions:
NH-1 Carol Shea-Porter took lots of tough votes in the house from 2006-2010. She is always underfunded but seems to fight hard. He opponent is a hack, very right-wing and probably corrupt. Big ideological gulf between the candidates here.

MI-1 Our guy is probably socially conservative, but the fact that LCVs is spending on him suggests that he is good on the environment (a big plus since lots of rural Dems aren't). It is a relatively cheap place for ads and the R candidate is really right wing.

TX-23: Another LCV supported Dem vs. a quite conservative R in a very narrowly divided seat. Gallego might be able to hold this for a while if he gets in though.

There are a number of other worthy causes, but nothing else especially stands out at the moment. I might wait another couple of weeks and see what else seems most competitive. I generally think that the west is highest leverage, but most of our candidates there seem like they should be able to win on their own if they run competent campaigns (ex. AZ-1, AZ-9, NV-4) or seem potentially not that impressive (NV-3, CO-6, CA-21) or are in expensive areas (most of CA).

Neil Sinhababu said...

I asked some Merkley staff about the mountain west / prairie bang-for-the-buck theory. They said it made sense, but they didn't know whether additional money there had gone so far past the point of diminishing returns (because you'd quickly get high per-voter expenditures in a cheap media market) that you'd be better off spending on Wisconsin or some place like that where you hadn't totally saturated the voters with ads and stuff. So that basically leaves me unsure what to do.

State legislators (1) keep Republicans from passing insane laws there like a lot of the anti-woman stuff (2) may rise to become good candidates for higher office in the future. In some years there's also a census / redistricting thing, but that's just happened.

ikl said...

My reservation about state legislators is that unless you understand the politics of the state in some detail, it is hard to evaluate whether to spend (some states have a large numbers of hackish or corrupt Dems). I'm sure there are some states where Democratic legislators are just not a good use of scarce funds. With the House or Senate seats, anybody who will usually vote with leadership isn't a waste of money since I trust that Pelosi and Reid will do the right thing on most issues most of the time.

ikl said...

My reservation about state legislators is that unless you understand the politics of the state in some detail, it is hard to evaluate whether to spend (some states have a large numbers of hackish or corrupt Dems). I'm sure there are some states where Democratic legislators are just not a good use of scarce funds. With the House or Senate seats, anybody who will usually vote with leadership isn't a waste of money since I trust that Pelosi and Reid will do the right thing on most issues most of the time.

ikl said...

One other thought - because of the no outside spending rule, donations to Warren might be higher leverage than they would be anyway. Plus she would be a terrific Senator. And it looks like a close race.