Monday, September 11, 2006

The Power of Money in District 18

The District 18 campaign shows the value of money in a political campaign. Jeff Waldstreicher and Dan Farrington have been the most successful fundraisers in our district this year. Both have raised over $110,000 in an effort to win a seat in the House of Delegates.


Jeff Waldstreicher's campaign is heavily financed by personal and family support. Jeff gave (not loaned, gave) his own campaign $79,025. As one of his opponents acerbically commented, that would be a nice down payment on a place to live for most young, engaged couples. Jeff raised an additional $25,200 from people named either Waldstreicher or Stromberg (the surname of Jeff's fiancee). One should add that Jeff's family has supported him with more than just their pocketbooks. They have joined Jeff in the hard work of politics on the campaign trail and cheered him on every step of the way.

Dan Farrington's campaign has a broader donor base. Indeed, Dan has used the large numbers of donors to advertise in emails about the breadth and depth of support for his campaign. Dan's has also attracted donations from businesses, such as Architectural Cerarmics. One can speculate that Dan's past career at a blue-chip law firm may have helped Dan meet people with money to give to campaigns. However, Dan is also a charming, likeable guy so his ability to attract support does not shock in any case. Of course, Dan's ability to lend his campaign $30,000 hasn't hurt, though that is a significantly lower share of his total campaign funds than either for Jeff Waldstreicher or Dana Beyer. Dan's family appears behind him his well; I met his mother doing her best to give away Dan's signs at MCEA on Saturday.


The high number of dollars raised by Jeff and Dan has allowed them to do more to contact voters than other campaigns. I have received a steady stream of mail from both candidates.

Jeff has been particularly relentless in bombarding us with mail. Jeff has also recently sent out mail tailored to different areas of District 18. The flyer received by voters living in Chevy Chase residents had a testimonial from a Chevy Chase resident and says that Jeff has "a plan for Chevy Chase." I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Jeff has a plan for Kensington and other parts of the district as well. Jeff has also just sent out an impressive batch of emails reminding people to vote and telling them where their polling place is located.

Dan has similarly sent out many pieces of direct mail, though fewer than Jeff. However, the large number of flyers has allowed Dan to develop separately several different campaign themes in individual flyers rather than combine them into a single piece of literature. Dan's final mailer cleverly integrated the photos and themes of previous pieces of mail in a manner that should remind voters of the earlier flyers.

Perhaps this careful development reflects the influence of the consultants which Dan's fundraising allowed him to hire. Unlike most other candidates, Dan has also been able to hire canvassers to knock on doors for him around the district. On my first day back to classes at American University, I saw an advertisement on a bulletin board urging people to join "Team Farrington" as interns for $9/hour. I don't know if Jeff has paid canvassers though he has knocked on doors around the district and did a last minute lit drop throughout much of the district over the last few days.


The impact of this spending on the election is not yet clear as the election is tomorrow. However, it has surely helped push both of these relatively young candidates (Jeff is 26, Dan is 33 though both are older than Noah Grosfeld-Katz) into the top tier of candidates. Dollars raised early help attract endorsements from organizations which like not only to back people who agree with them but candidates who will win.

Most crucially, the spending allows candidates to raise their name recognition. Every political science study concludes that voters hate casting votes for candidates whose name they do not recognize. Literature and canvassers help candidates without prior political office build the name recognition held by candidates like Al Carr, who serves on the Kensington Town Council, and Jane Lawton, a former chair of the Chevy Chase Town Council.

Still, dollars cannot make a candidate likeable. The highest spending candidates for the House did not win in 2002. Even Mr. Burns could not spend his way into becoming governor on The Simpsons. If Dan or Jeff win tomorrow, it will be because they spent the money well to build on pre-existing strengths. On the other hand, as James Browning has argued, it also shows why the ability to raise money has become an important political skill, even in races for the House of Delegates, and led many to worry about its influence on the General Assembly.

Standard Warning: I have been volunteering on the campaign of the District 18 Slate.