Tuesday, October 02, 2012

COLUMN: Political Fundraising

I've long known that I am a very important person of signifigant signifigance to the world. I've always been aware that I'm pretty much awesomesauce, but the rest of the world is finally catching on. I don't mean to brag, but I've recently made some pretty important friends.

Over the past couple months, I've received countless e-mails from my new pals Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and a guy whose name might just rhyme with Farack Fobama. I am clearly a member of the elite inner circle Washington powerhouse. All it took was ten bucks.

I am a Democrat. I tell you this simply for the sake of storytelling, NOT argument. I have no interest in receiving hate mail about how much better your guy is than my guy, or how Ron Paul is better than all the other guys combined. If you want to wax poetic about your passionate conservatism, I'm sure there's an open chair just waiting for you at Chick-Fil-A.

The last thing you want is political insight from the guy who usually writes about his cats. But I needed to make note of my political leanings in order to explain why my inbox has come under Democratic cybersiege. A few months back, I got an offer for a nifty Obama bumper sticker if I contributed $10 towards the campaign. One issue I never back down from is the niftiness of bumper stickers, so I went for it. I'm still waiting for that sticker. What I DID get, though, was a Pandora's Box of fundraising hell.

I now receive no fewer than four e-mails per day from the Democratic Party, SuperPACs, and super important Democrats themselves, all wanting one thing: my money, and lots of it. And despite my own political persuasions, I'll be the first to admit that even my own party employs shady methods when it comes rattling their tin cups.

In a perfect world, we should all get an e-mail -- AN e-mail, just one will suffice -- that swiftly spells out each candidate's goals and plans for progress if elected, with an optional way to contribute money to the candidate of our choice. But that's a perfect world. In OUR world, hordes of e-mails arrive daily employing one of 3 different tactics, each more despicable than the last:

(1) NEGATIVITY. If a foreigner were to visit Iowa right now and watch one solid night of primetime TV, the only thing they would take away about our upcoming election is that both candidates are horrible, evil people who need to be stopped at all costs.

(2) GUILT. "If we lose this upcoming election, it will be because we're being outspent by Republicans." So if I don't pony up the cash, the other guy's gonna win, because elections are bought, not fought? Sad.

(3) GREED. These e-mails start with a simple ploy: Make a donation and win a dinner with Obama. Am I the only one who finds this just a tad bit ethically sticky? I would really like to live in a world where merit is the only thing that affords you a private audience with the President of the United States, not money. But I guess that's an absurdly idealistic notion.

But it got worse from there. Soon after, it was an offer to win dinner with the Obamas... and George Clooney. Then a dinner with the Obamas and the Clintons. Then an offer to shoot hoops with Obama and Michael Jordan. All it takes to sign up is a donation of any size.

I don't know who this tactic works on, but it's sure not me. Could you IMAGINE what it would be like at the Obama/Clooney/Shane dinner table? "So, Mr. President, what's the latest outlook on healthcare reform?" "So, Mr. Clooney, how goes the situation in Darfur?" "So, Mr. Shane, you, uh, have cats?"

And color me a wuss, but could there be anything MORE terrifying than this night of basketball? I'm a fan for sure, but I'm also the klutziest guy to walk the earth. I won't play ball outside for fear of ANY other human seeing me. Imagine being forced to showcase my athletic prowess in front of the greatest basketball player to ever live AND the leader of the free world? There should be a separate contest just for me phrased as "Donate now in order to NOT win the contest and risk the chance of embarassment of this magnitude."

All it takes is an ounce of intelligence to realize these contests have to be slightly rigged, and one glance at the fine print proves it. They actually draw some 50 potential winners and then those folks are vetted down presumably to the best PR story available and to avoid the winner being, say, Romney. Or Charles Manson. Or a snarky humor columnist.

But the absolute WORST e-mail was the one I got the other day. I was sitting on the couch enjoying the midseason finale of "Pretty Little Liars" (CAN YOU BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED?!) when I got an e-mail from "Barack Obama" inviting me to donate and win a chance to attend the Democratic convention. I was deep into the show (THE TOBY MOMENT? OMG! WHO'S WITH ME?) so I absent-mindedly clicked the link at the bottom of the e-mail so I wouldn't forget about it. Later, I opened my web browser to get the scoop, and instead saw a message that said, to paraphrase:

"Thank you for your $20 donation. Your credit card which we have on file has been processed."

Ummm. I never recalled agreeing to said donation. But, as it turns out, the text at the bottom was a "Quick Donate" link with no opt-out. You click the link and you've donated. No warnings. No are-you-sure's. Just an immediate withdrawal of funds from a credit card I had no idea they even kept on file. I'm just thankful I clicked on the $20 link and not the $250 one next to it. Who would I have called in THAT scenario? I don't think you can ring up the White House and ask for the Accounts Receivable department.
Moral of the story? Politics can be thrilling, but campaign fundraising is tiresome. I'm beginning to wonder if Obama's plan for economic reform isn't simply to annoy everyone with an inbox until we collectively pay off the nation's debt $10 at a time. I still think he's the right guy for the job, though, even if you don't. But please don't send me hate mail. Remember - I have important friends.

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