Thursday, June 30, 2016

Casting a Web of Lies for Campaign Dollars-- A Guest Post By Lee Rogers


The 2 most dishonest grifters trying to separate you from your cash today

Today is the day. I’m sure your inbox has already blown up. It’s June 30-- the most important day in political donations. But if you read these campaign solicitations, every day is the most important day in fundraising. If you’re involved in politics, or have ever donated to candidate, or to any interest group, your email inbox has come to realize there really isn’t any “season” for campaign fundraising. Requests for money are incessant. People often wonder, “How did I even get on this distribution list?” Well, surprisingly, you don’t have to sign up for emails from a candidate or organization to be spammed. Your email address is shared numerous times by campaigns, interest groups, and the party. Even software vendors to campaigns bury language in their agreements that if the candidate loses, they have permission to acquire their email list and give it to the party where it gets prostituted out to anyone they wish. You could spend weeks in a never-ending battle of clicking “unsubscribe” in an effort to clean up your inbox, only to be added to more lists.

Let’s face it. Campaigning is tough. Not because it’s difficult to walk neighborhoods, knock on doors, talk to voters, speak at rallies, go to house parties, interview with the press, attend party events, or meet other elected officials. That’s what candidates love to do. But what may surprise most Americans, but few insiders, is that candidates, especially challengers, really spend about 90% of their time fundraising. Incumbents spend a large amount of time fundraising too, but they can raise more money in considerably less time. It takes a tremendous amount of money to run for federal office, while the size of the district and the cost of the media markets to run TV ads are two of the major drivers. Campaigns hire finance teams and fundraising consultants to help them strategize on how to raise money. Candidates often spend hours at a time on the phone using computer-generated call sheets to ask for money, which campaign finance people jokingly call “dialing for dollars.” There is often a finance staffer with the candidate on the phone to enter notes of the conversation so that the candidate can easily reconnect with the donor on a personal level during future resolicitations.

But the easiest target of all is online fundraising. It’s one of the few types of fundraising which can be completed without candidates using their own time. Even if an email only generates a few hundred or a couple thousand dollars, it’s worth it.

There is frequently a battle on campaigns between the finance staff and the GOTV staff or the candidate on how many and how often to send out fundraising emails. The finance staff cares about one thing only, money in the bank, and they don’t mind “burning the list” (a phrase that means you send out so many emails the list becomes ineffective) in order to do that.

The dishonesty in campaign fundraising feeds into what people hate most about politicians-- they’ll say or do anything to get elected. And yet, email fundraising is its own breed of deception.

Here is a list of the common lies and misleading practices used in campaign fundraising emails:

Using a false “From:” address

Campaigns will frequently send out an email from someone famous, another elected official, or even just someone else on the campaign to trick a recipient into opening it. They’re never really from someone famous. The actual address is a campaign address like or

Fabricating a forward

Campaigns write an email that appears to be forwarded from the candidate. It usually includes “Fwd:” in the subject line and often the campaign staffer writes, “Did you see this?” in the body.

Creating false deadlines

Federal Election Commission deadlines are at the end of quarters, March 31, June 30, September 30, and December 31. Campaigns will use a deadline-oriented appeal around dates that aren’t actually deadlines, using language like, “Hurry, you only have until midnight tonight to make a difference in this race.”

Using fake goals

Campaigns write emails like, “Hey, we’re only $5,771 short of our fundraising goal, can I count on you to help?” These numbers are completely made up.

Matching programs

“Double your donation! We’re receiving matching funds for all donations that come in this quarter.” Of course, they never say who’s matching the donations, because no one actually is.

Sign Petitions

Campaigns will send out emails asking for signatures on an online petition, which also requests the signer’s email address. Campaigns don’t care about the petition, but in reality they are just building their email list so they can spam you later for money.

However, a couple lies I saw in recent fundraising communications should win an award for the biggest frauds.

Runner Up

A fundraising letter I received from Republican Senator Ted Cruz proved that snail mail can still be just as deceptive as email fundraising. The envelope read “Check enclosed” and appeared to be a check through the address window. Opening the envelope revealed a $45.00 forged check, complete with “security features” and fake account numbers at the bottom. The reverse of the check had an area for endorsement. Small text stated “THIS CHECK IS A FACSIMILE NOT REDEEMABLE OR NEGOTIABLE AND HAS NO CASH VALUE.” As it turns out, the check is a scam for a donor matching program with deceptive messaging to trick the recipient into opening the letter.

Biggest Lie

Also recently, I received the latest in a barrage of email blasts from Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy, running for US Senate in Florida, even though I never subscribed to his list and I have actually donated to his primary opponent, Rep. Alan Grayson.

The email came from Murphy finance director Josh Wolf, which faked a string of emails between Murphy and Wolf using the prospective donor’s (or you might say “victim’s”) name claiming that Murphy was personally asking for the donor by name to see if they’ve contributed yet to meet their arbitrary goal.

In the string complete with fake email headers, Murphy writes, “Can you ping [donor first name] to see if they can help?”

No doubt that raising money is the most difficult, and sadly the most important, part of campaigns. It is also the least favorite activity for candidates who often have to be corralled by their finance staff. Candidates look for easy ways out and let the finance staff craft the messaging and strategy for online fundraising. Which regrettably, leads to blatant deception and for some reason this is accepted industry practice. Maybe I’m alone, but I believe that a candidate without scruples in fundraising in their campaign for office, likely won’t have any scruples when performing the duties of their office.

Dr. Lee Rogers was a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in California’s 25th District in 2012 and 2014. Blue America, which endorsed Lee when he ran, raises money the old fashioned way and without any of the dishonest gimmicks encouraged by the DCCC, DSCC, or DNC and other groups you might expect more honesty and transparency from from. Below is a thermometer that leads to an ActBlue page which contains the candidates we have endorsed this cycle. They are all worthwhile progressives worthy of contributions today, tomorrow any any time between now and election day.
Goal Thermometer

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