Thursday, January 10, 2019

Will Social Media-- Like Twitter-- Allow Candidates To Escape From The Grip Of The Uber-Corrupt Establishment Consulting Class?


Alexandria Ocasio's twitter following keeps growing by leaps and bounds. Every time TrumpTV slams her, her following takes another jump, allowing her to get her message out to an ever-wider audience. Now it's 2.23 million, the most of anyone serving in the House. By way of comparison, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, first elected when Abe Lincoln was in his first term, has two accounts-- @LeaderHoyer (108K) and @StenyHoyer (4,545). Nancy Pelosi-- with 1.9 million followers-- is the only member of Congress who comes close to Ocasio-Cortez's ability to get a message out widely. Among House Republicans who have over 100,000 followers, all of them combined don't have the reach of AOC, who is celebrating her first week in Congress today.:
@Jim_Jordan- 395K
@DavinNunes- 346K
@SteveScalise- 275K
@GOPLeader (Kevin McCarthy)- 211K
@RepMarkMeadows- 209K
@RepMattGaetz- 189K
@RepLouieGohmert- 183K
@JustinAmash- 148K
@SteveKing- 107K
Compare that with Ted Lieu's 909K followers or Adam Schiff's 1.14 million followers. And how about others from the freshmen class besides Alexandria Ocasio? The only freshmen with more than 100,000 followers are all outspoken, independent-minded progressives, each, for example, an early backer of the GreenNewDeal:

@IlhanOmar- 414K
@RashidaTlaib- 278K
@AyannaPressley- 157K
@MikeLevinCA- 104K

The much ballyhooed "heroes" of the DCCC-- their tame, conservative recruits-- the Blue Dogs, the New Dems, No Labels, Problem Solvers, etc (and the corporate media hacks who push their messaging), don't have many followers.
@SpanbergerVA07- 34.8K
@MikieSherrill- 28.7K + @RepSherrill- 3,200
@ElissaSlotkin- 19.1K
@HoulahanForPA- 17.2K
@JasonCrowCO6- 16.6K
@BenMcAdams- 14K
@MaxRose4NY- 14.1K
While we're at in, what about Mr. NRA, who has already had a long and repulsive career as New Jersey's worst Democratic state legislator?

@JeffVanDrew- 1,474 + VanDrewForNJ- 1,576

In trying to figure out what makes people follow some political leaders and not others, I turned to Wisconsin. Randy Bryce didn't win his congressional race but he's still very active on social media and he has a mammoth Twitter following:

@IronStache- 266K

The guy who beat him, now a member of Congress? Not so much:

@RepBryanSteil- 531 + BryanSteilforWI- 1,637

Wisconsin's boring "moderate" new governor, Tony Evers, has two certified Twitter accounts, neither with much of a following:

GovEvers- 11.6K + Tony4WI- 27.2K

And the congressional delegation?
@RepMarkPocan- 75.9K
@RepSeanDuffy- 35.7K
@RepGwenMoore- 34.2K
@RepRonKind- 14.1K
@RepGallagher- 12.2K
Jim Sensennbrenner (@JimPressOffice)- 7,438
@RepGrothman- 5,715
It's a new world for people trying to get elected to office now. It is the opposite of the DCCC/NRCC-driven consultant world that makes so many insiders so wealthy and, generally speaking, allows party bosses to pick candidates for the two parties. and preserves the status quo.

Tuesday evening the Washington Post published a piece by Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Anu Narayanswarmy, How a little-known Democratic firm cashed in on the wave of midterm money. Here at DWT we covered the firm, Mothership, little over three years ago: Beware The Emails From Political Scam Artists-- On Both Sides Of The Aisle. At the time, we wrote that The end-of-the-year DCCC e-mail craziness has already begun-- and not just from the rancid organization itself, but from it's rancid candidates, its rancid allies and it's rancid front groups like the toxic twins, "Progressive Turnout Project" and "End Citizens United," self-enrichment schemes for corrupt ex-DCCC staffers, particularly the crooked DCCC hacks at Mothership Strategies, Greg Berlin, Jake Lipsett, and Charles Starnes. On their website they boast of having made the notorious online scam operation for right-wing Democrats, End Citizens United "one of the most powerful voices in Democratic politics in 2016. What started as just an online presence is now poised to make a major impact in the 2016 Election. EndCitizensUnited alone has sucked over $5 million dollars out of grassroots progressives who are unaware that their money is going straight into the pockets of self-serving profiteers and-- if there's anything left over-- to anti-progressive candidates posing as real Democrats. One of the most successful and sought after Democratic political operatives, who knows Mothership well, told us this morning that the firm "is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the Beltway. A few hacks who think their cozy relationships with equally lackluster staffers at the party institutions makes them political geniues, is how one would describe most any firm in DC. The good online firms-- like Revolution, which is doing Bernie's campaign-- actually use their intelligence and creativity to inspire people to donate and become engaged. The rest just use their relationships to cut corners so they don't have to do any hard work. All the while, they diminish the returns from grassroots campaign activities for actual progressive candidates."

The Post warned how "solicitations piled into voters’ email accounts-- sometimes multiple times a day. And they carried alarming messages, often in blaring capital letters.

“We’re on the verge of BANKRUPTCY.”

  “Our bank account is ALMOST EMPTY!”

  “Trump is INCHES away from firing Robert Mueller.”

The catastrophic language yielded a fundraising bonanza for clients of Mothership Strategies, a little-known and relatively new digital consulting firm that raked in tens of millions of dollars from a tide of small donations that flowed to Democrats during the 2018 midterm elections.

The firm’s ascendancy as one of the highest-paid vendors of the election since its launch four years ago speaks to how lucrative the explosion of small-dollar donations has been for a group of savvy political consultants who saw the wave of cash coming-- and built a business model to capi­tal­ize off it.

But its lightning-quick rise also has sparked consternation in Democratic circles, where Mothership is sometimes derided as the “M-word” because of its aggressive and sometimes misleading tactics, such as claiming in fundraising appeals that President Trump is preparing to fire the special counsel. Some critics call its approach unethical, saying the company profits off stoking fear of Trump and making the sort of exaggerated claims they associate with the president.

“A donor should contribute based on their personal interests and [support for] the candidate or issue they’re being solicited by. It shouldn’t be by a sense of urgency or fear, which was used in 2016 and our current administration uses,” said Junelle Cavero Harnal, a Democratic consultant, who said she has mixed feelings about the work Mothership Strategies did last cycle for one of her clients, a congressional candidate in Arizona.

The company’s three millennial founders are unapologetic about their tactics-- so much so that one employee’s bio on the company’s website touts she has “mastered the ALL CAPS SUBJECT LINE.”

The tone of their email appeals, they said, is in keeping with the Trump era.

“This is a unique moment in American history. The urgency in our emails, the volume of our emails, reflect that,” said Jake Lipsett, 25, during an interview at the firm’s sleek offices near the District’s Columbia Heights neighborhood. Seated next to him was his 2-year-old Goldendoodle, C.J. Cregg, named after the White House press secretary in the television political drama The West Wing.

“Every day, there’s breaking news coming out-- Donald Trump has done something new that is actually outrageous,” Lipsett said. “Keeping people informed of that and capitalizing on these big moments is something that’s really important.”

The firm has grown rapidly, from fewer than 40 staffers in January 2017 to 100 by the end of 2018. The company said it helped raise nearly $150 million for its clients in the 2018 cycle. That surge of cash helped make Mothership one of the top paid firms in what was the most expensive midterm election in U.S. history, collecting $35 million for its services from political committees during the past two years, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Lipsett, Starnes and Berlin said the company retained less than half of the money it was paid, with the rest passed on to their vendors for expenses. ["Less than half" is an outrageously gigantic amount.]

They declined to discuss the company’s profits or reveal their salaries. However, they acknowledge the firm has brought them success. Public records show that in the second half of 2017, all three men purchased homes worth more than $1 million each in snazzy Washington neighborhoods not far from Mothership’s offices.

“Any successes that we’ve gained-- and we’ve obviously been fortunate enough to grow so far-- for me, it is 100 percent about... how we’re helping out different candidates and causes that we believe in,” Berlin said. “That’s the driving force behind all of this.”

They now are considering trying to land a 2020 presidential campaign as a client.

“We want to be at the center of the Democratic universe,” Lipsett said.

Some critics note that the firm charges some clients a commission of 15 percent on funds raised online-- much higher than the industry standard of 7 to 10 percent.

The company’s profits are built on exaggerating fears, some fellow Democrats say, and could erode trust among small donors needed to help 2020 presidential contenders compete with Trump’s loyal base of contributors-- and beyond.

“The people we’re talking to right now are the same people we’re going to be talking to for two years, four years. If every day is, ‘The sky is falling, and the world is about to end,’ then eventually that message stops working,” said Betsy Hoover, who served as director of digital organizing for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and helped found 270 Strategies, another Democratic consulting firm.

For Cavero, the Democratic consultant who used Mothership’s services for Arizona congressional candidate Hiral Tipirneni, that concern laced her campaign’s efforts to raise money quickly.

Mothership’s ability to fundraise was “revolutionizing,” Cavero said, helping the campaign raise $2.5 million in donations of $200 or less-- more than half the entire haul. But the campaign struggled to tone down the language in a way that was aligned with Tipirneni’s message, she said.

“‘The world is falling down, it’s caving in, donate $5’-- that’s not the right approach. We didn’t want that on Hiral’s campaign,” Cavero said. “The constant struggle was that Hiral wanted to run a campaign that wasn’t, ‘The roof is coming down on us.’ But on their side, they’re saying, ‘That’s the most high generating [one].’”

Mothership was responsive to the campaign’s requests to ratchet back its tone, she said. Tipirneni lost her congressional bid. But overall, Cavero said, she was pleased with the firm’s results.

“Would I use Mothership again? Yes,” she said.

Mothership’s specialty of producing high-octane, urgent email appeals paid dividends in 2018 midterms as candidates competed to tap into the gusher of small-dollar donations that flowed to Democrats.

The first sign of the grass roots fundraising wave came in 2017, when Democrat Jon Ossoff ran against Republican Karen Handel in a special election to fill an open seat in suburban Atlanta.

With Mothership as his campaign’s digital consulting firm, Ossoff raised $31.6 million, more than 60 percent of it in donations of less than $200. His campaign was the most expensive House race in history.

“The Ossoff race proved to us how much energy was truly out there. It was the first test case of the cycle,” Berlin said.

Around the same time, Mothership signed on the campaign of Rob Quist, a musician turned Democratic congressional candidate in Montana. The campaign raised an eye-popping $6.7 million in less than three months, 70 percent of it in donations of less than $200.

Despite their fundraising successes, both Ossoff and Quist lost. Officials with their campaigns declined to comment.

Mothership Strategies then worked on Democrat Doug Jones’s campaign for the Senate in Alabama, which raised $25 million-- nearly 55 percent of it in small donations. Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore, who was tarnished by accusations he pursued relationships with teenage girls while he was in his 30s. Moore has denied the accusations.

Another factor that has contributed to Mothership’s financial success: It drew substantial business last cycle from companies run by friends.

About a quarter of the payments that flowed to Mothership during the midterm elections came not from campaigns, but from political entities run by operatives with whom the Mothership founders have personal and professional ties, according to public records.

The three groups-- End Citizens United, Progressive Turnout Project and National Democratic Training Committee-- together paid more than $9 million to Mothership, records show. Officials with all three groups previously worked with Starnes on past campaigns for Rep. Bradley Schneider (Blue Dog-L). In addition, in 2018, Lipsett married the political director of End Citizens United, which has been a Mothership client for several years.

Some of the sharpest criticism of Mothership has come in connection with the company’s work for Progressive Turnout Project, which was the firm’s top non-campaign client in 2018, FEC records show.

The Illinois-based group, which says it helps turn out voters for Democrats in key congressional districts, raised $23 million during the 2018 election cycle, filings show. About $4 million-- 17 percent of their total expenditures-- went to Mothership for email fundraising and voter persuasion.

Recipients of Progressive Turnout Project’s emails have publicly lambasted the group on social media and in online forums, complaining they received a barrage of misleading and even threatening messages. One email, for example, suggested that the recipients’ friends and neighbors would be notified if they failed to cast a ballot, according to a copy posted online and confirmed by the group.

Some donors complained they believed they had signed up for a one-time donation, only to learn the group was drawing recurring monthly amounts from their bank accounts.

“Trump is INCHES away from firing Robert Mueller,” read an early December email, created for the group by Mothership, according to the group. “Mueller is helpless. If you’re a good person, you have to sign RIGHT NOW.”

Alex Morgan, executive director of Progressive Turnout Project, said he is aware of the criticism, but defended his group’s approach.

“We know that the headlines on these emails can be provocative or alarming. But I still would argue we are in a frightening time in our country,” Morgan said.

He said “vote history” messages-- which relay a voter’s past participation in elections based on public records-- are proven to boost turnout. And he said the group makes sure a staffer is always available to rectify errors or refund unintended donations.

The founders of Mothership declined to discuss their work for Progressive Turnout Project and other clients-- but said the results show their approach works.

“It’s important to have a strong narrative,” Starnes said, “and get people’s attention and cut through the noise.”
One of the best and most successful political professionals, someone I've worked with for years, told me that "Most firms charge a monthly fee, which means they can focus on running the best program for your candidate. They don't make more money by running scam-type programs. Mothership, unlikes most firms, takes a percentage of all money raised which incentivizes the worst practices in our industry. They walk into the DCCC, small campaigns with promises of swapping all the emails from all their clients, building up a big list, scamming the people on it, then profit off the back end. Meanwhile, the campaigns who often don't know any better are the sucker. Mothership is the #1 reason you are on every email list imaginable and the sky is falling everywhere."

Another pro told me that "Mothership is billing their Democratic clients up to 75 percent more than the industry standard of between 7 and 10 percent. Of course, the more pernicious subtext of this story is the long running debate about scaring the living bejesus out of our base without any sort of honest reckoning about the consequences. Most of us work through a retainer and an ads commission basis. People do it-- charging by percentage-- but it's generally considered unethical for a host of reasons."

It probably won't shock you to read that it was the DCCC that initiated the hysteria approach to online fundraising. At first, House Democratic leadership was critical of the tactics employed by the DCCC digital department, however, the digital department raised an enormous amount of money and quickly started nearly matching what the conventional fundraising department raised. The general attitude was that the e-mail program and the churn and burn approach were "necessary evils."

Before Mothership was a company, it was an initiative at the DCCC (literally called "mothership") run by the now principles of Mothership. That initiative brought digital fundraising services in-house for candidates. Essentially, a Dem would win a primary and if they didn't have an independent digital vendor, they'd lean on the "mothership" team to draft their emails. The program did raise quite a bit of money for candidates but the candidates generally didn't like the copy.

Basically, the politicians reflexively did not like the copy but learned to deal with it because it raised so much money-- a "necessary evil." At least one likely presidential candidate-- and several members of Congress-- literally dictate their emails verbatim-- the Alan Grayson approach-- because they so resent the "chicken little approach."

It's hard to have and express a compelling and authentic voice and most politicians don't have a magic formula to help them it. It's hard work. Look at the kinds of e-mails Bernie, Grayson, Elizabeth Warren... send out-- no formulaic embarrassments from those people.

Late last night, I spoke to a friend of mine, a very senior and very well-regarded Capitol Hill staffer. "I fucking hate fundraising emails," he told me bluntly. "I hate fundraising in general-- but the incessant emails begging for money from every candidate and political action committee and special interest group are just the absolute worst. When the end of the quarter comes around I dread checking my email. 99% of these emails are complete and utter garbage. But it is hard to argue that they work. Small dollar donations have exploded in the Trump era. And where there is a buck to be made you can bet there are vultures looking to monetize the enthusiasm we are seeing from the grassroots. We use a small firm mainly because they don't charge us very much and they are fairly responsive. But when it comes down to it even they suck. You should see the shit they try to get us to put out. It is almost always sensationalized nonsense or generic trash. They never convey any real ideas or provide any real information to our supporters. It's just filler for the ask-- an internal game to see who can craft the best subject line to maximize open rates (really 'good' emails have an open rate of like 3-4%). After several rounds of back and forth with edits I usually give up trying to salvage them into anything more than what they are-- propaganda to convince scared people to give us their money to fight Trump. I believe the cause is just and that my boss is fighting the good fight and trying to help others do the same, but man it is still hard to justify sometimes. At what point are we just as bad as Trump and the Fox News crowd terrorizing the public? Aside from publicly financed campaigns, I'm not sure what the solution is. As long as there is a market for small dollar donors out there (and it only seems to be growing), the industry that has been built up around capitalizing on that market will continue to exist and grow."

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At 5:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the existence of the "consulting class" and their constant use of fear tactics for fundraising only proves one thing (because it works):

americans are dumbfucktards.

AOC could become America's first twitter president. when she grows up (she's only 29).

wouldn't that be special.

At 6:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Democraps TEND to have larger twit followings... not sure what to make of that since the democraps tend to lose pretty regularly when someone like trump is not president.

Also, AOC is the shiny, new, pretty face. One wonders how many of those twits only follow because of that.

But what worries me most is why Pelosi has such a big twit following. why would ANYONE want to know what that pos is pretending to think?

then I remember this is America and it's lousy with americans (read: morons).

everyone say it with me... president kim kardashian. is that where this is headed?

At 6:58 AM, Anonymous ap215 said...

It's amazing how Social Media is booming now compare to non Social Media years like the 1970's & 80's i took computer class courses in 84 how times have changed.

At 7:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would say 'YES' to the titular query EXCEPT that the necessary technological infrastructure is the private property of corporations which benefit from the status quo. They will shut it all down if it looks like We the People are escaping their domination. Trump is already threatening to do this.


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