Well, well, well.
The truth is out. The super pacs aren't worth much in an election, nor is big money the real weapon of campaigning. And Citizens United has not ruined the country.
Sometimes this old gal is right.
I have previously said that the super pacs and their ad money are not the whole game in election campaigns, that the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United did not throw good old-fashioned on-the-ground campaigning into the trash bin. I have even gone so far as to say you can run succesful campaigns on the cheap. Money is actually the least of it in winning an election.
That is, of course, heresy. In a society that worships money, it is inconceivable that money doesn't buy everything. That people can beat dollars in getting the most valuable of all commodities — votes.
But now comes the dawn. The New York Times is reporting that a number of super pacs have learned the truth of what I've maintained for 50 years. Note a recent NY Times story: ‘Super PACs’ Move Beyond Ads, Taking On Campaign Jobs. It tells how super pacs find that ad buying isn't working and are trying to get into campaigning door-to-door. (I'll explain in a moment why that won't work for them.) Also take a look at another story just published in the Times today about how Jeb Bush's $100 million super pac is failing: As Bush Struggles, Some Allies Blame His ‘Super PAC’.
In the first story the super pacs claim they are backing off from heavy advertising because it's more expensive than they thought. Nonsense! Are we supposed to believe that these successful business men invested their milions and the millions of others in an enterprise without knowing the cost of the biggest commodity they'd be dealing in? If you swallow that line, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.
They just blindly blundered into this pac business of theirs without knowing that ads don't get votes. Wedded as they are to the great American myth that money can buy anything, it never occurred to them that it can't buy campaign votes, that it can't compete with volunteers going door-to-door. Nor can money hire effective substitutes for those volunteers.
Why can't hired workers sub effectively for volunteers? Because their hearts aren't in it. You can't buy votes and you can't buy heartfelt devotion to a task like going door-to-door. For one thing, voters can tell the real commitment from the purchased. We voters weren't born yesterday. We don't have to be political junkies to tell when someone is genuine. Plus paid canvassers quite often ditch the hand-out materials they were given and just say they did the job. No supervisor is going to go door-to-door in their wake, checking up on them before paying them.
People are what win elections. Volunteers sipping morning coffee in a little storefront HQ, getting their precinct maps, their lists of registered voters, their packets of handouts. And being sure they have a pen to mark the precinct list with each voter's leanings so the campaign can be sure to get the supporters to the polls on election day. Ideally the precinct volunteers will go out in teams of two, one for each side of the street. (Two people at someone's door can be a bit unnerving for a resident.) They've been given precincts to work that have a high percentage of Democratic voters. In an "open primary", where registered independents can vote in the party primary, the volunteers may knock on their doors. At the end of the hours in the precincts, the workers gather back at the HQ for pizza and a couple of pitchers of beer. It's fun. It's good. It's democracy.
So why don't campaigns besides those of Obama and Bernie Sander mount these massive efforts by volunteers? It's partly because most professional campaign managers and consultants hate working with volunteers. They don't know how to deal with people they can't hire and fire. But most of all, the political campaign pros know they can make a lot more money if they convince the candidate that money for advertising is the really big gun in winning. Beyond their paid salaries they frequently get a 10% fee for all ad placement. That's a lot of gravy in campaigns where $10 million to $100 million may be spent on ads.
It isn't the cost of advertising that has led the super pacs to attempt to shift their role, as they claim in the NY Times story. It's that the ads don't do the job. People hate it. The fast forward button is the nemesis of the TV ad. Phoning is also hated. So is political junk mail.
But when someone comes to the voter's door, it's entirely different. Here's what I wrote elsewhere. Never foget it.
YOU ARE MORE POWERFUL
than the most powerful rich man or the biggest corporation. When you go to a voter's door, that's the most powerful thing that happens in politics. People fast forward through the TV ads, but a volunteer at their front door is galvanizing. Someone cared enough about this candidate to walk up and down the streets pounding on doors! No TV ad can touch that for impact on a voter. Think about it. When was the last time a volunteer came to your door in a political campaign?
Now, folks, let's hit the streets! Citizens United didn't ruin this country. America is still ours for the taking!
Or, more accurately, it's still ours for the walking!