Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fundraising Events Are Weird

Via Ezra, Al Kamen in the WaPo reports on a non-event fundraiser for Kent Conrad: don't show up, just send a check.  I have to say that while I know virtually nothing about how to squeeze money out of rich people for anything, but I've always thought that there's something extremely strange about fundraising events.  As far as I can tell, very few people actually enjoys going to them -- certainly not the pols, but as far as I know not the donors, either.  One would imagine that donors to Washington fundraisers would be particularly utilitarian about it, so what's in it for them? Face time with the pol, so that in some future meeting the Member of Congress will be more likely to be accommodating?  Do they not trust that the pol will know that they coughed up without that personal connection?  Even outside of Washington, is it really true that lots of people would be glad to give to Barack Obama and the Dems if they can get to be in a room with him for an hour, but not otherwise?   I'm not saying it's not true; it's just that we don't usually associate money in politics with the sorts of emotional behavior that goes with a tennybop concert. 

Perhaps the whole thing is basically just ingrained habit, perhaps from a time when for some reason it made more sense, and Kent Conrad is on to something.  I have no idea.  For all I know, everyone is behaving perfectly rationally, and I just don't understand it.  Maybe PAC managers really actually love hanging out at these events.  Anyone have any ideas?


  1. I imagine the face time habit is less about attracting new donors than it is about increasing the amount of the donation. A marginal donor---a young professional with no influence and no history of campaign donations, for instance---may like a candidate and be willing to donate $500. But tell that donor that he can meet the candidate---be in the same room as the President!!---for only $1000, then he is probably willing to dig deeper than he would otherwise. As such a donor, I was invited to a lot of these events during the 2008 cycle. They were always hosted by high roller donors, but the invitees were young people and less influential people who were starry-eyed at being in the same room.

    Now, if it's Kent Conrad who I could meet . . . .

  2. First, have to separate rank and file MCs from celebrity pols. Yes, few inside the Beltway would shell out for dinner and just being near a rank and file pol, but Presidents, Speakers, and luminaries are a horse of a different color. Plenty of people, even in DC, will shell out big bucks not just to see the President speak, but to be seen seeing the President speak. Think of the Salahis....they aren't just doing this for their own pics; they seem to truly care about being seen with someone important.

    Second, don't misunderestimate the value of face time with any pol. Yes, at Obama's (or Bush's, or Clinton's, etc) events you're not going to get to tell the big man about your great idea or that we need to build a second engine for our warplanes just cuz. But, at the fundraisers I went to at DCCC, the lobbyists get in there and get a real chance to make good face time. They get it with the MC, who knows that they contributed to them by their mere presence. But, and this might fade as staffers get more experienced and jaded, staffers are often there (as private citizens just volunteering their time, of course!) and often in a "pleasing people" mode. And their boss might casually say to a lobbyist "send that staffer X and we'll take a look at it." 5 minutes later, that lobbyist asks that staffer for their card, saying "Your boss wanted me to send you guys our plan/proposal/idea." Now, when that thing comes in the door, it's not just another glossy insert (my time on the Hill predated irradiation), but it's personally addressed AND it has the vague smell of being solicited by the boss.

    Now, I interned for an urban member, so I can't say this is for certain, but I would think that the rural MC's events in the district might be actual draws, both because people have deeper personal connections in those districts and because there would be fewer "things to do."

  3. Sure, actually going to fundraisers sounds like a good way to waste an evening -- and to pay for it, to boot. But it just falls into a broader category of irrational economic activity.

    Did you know that you can actually get much nicer canvas tote bags than NPR sells for less than 50 dollars? And that walking actually has no necessary connection to fundraising for cancer research? You can just write the American Cancer Society a check, without having to sponsor some walkathoner.

    It's a quirk of human psychology that people really like these feeble quid-pro-quos. Giving a thousand dollars to hear the president give a stump speech and eat steam-tray mashed potatoes might not seem like a good idea -- but at least you're getting something for your money.

    I'll believe that Kent Conrad's idea will catch on when Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne tell me that for my donation of $150 or more I will get -- absolutely nothing.

  4. Have you seen (the excellent) "Friends with Money?" It kind of uses fundraising events of dubious fun value as a window into people's other views about social interaction and relationships.

  5. It's networking, but not with the politicians. There's always a good chunk of software people at them that I don't run into at your typical event for hardcore geeks. (Plus, back in the day when I wasn't getting married, political events were a decent place to meet interesting women.)


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