Money and politics go together like elections and lofty promises. But how exactly do candidates and parties raise money?
RSnake spoke with veteran fundraiser Pasha Moore for an insider’s take on political fundraising.
The Ins and Outs of Political Fundraising
Fundraising is an integral part of politics. There are often strong correlations between the ability to raise money and political success.
But how do candidates actually get money? Moore emphasized the importance of networking. She said, “Fundraising, whether you are raising money for a political campaign, or you’re raising it for the United Way campaign, or the local shelter – it’s relationships.”
Although many top-level candidates work with professional fundraisers, Moore explained that candidates must also participate. For example, she may give a candidate a list of benefactor phone numbers to call. Candidates must also attend fundraising events or donor meetings and effectively convince people to open their wallets.
Moore explained this is one reason political candidates need to have a robust social network before running for office. She said candidates “have to be ready to go with an actual network of people who can give them money, because the first parts of your campaign are going to be nothing but rubber chicken dinners at local grassroots organizations.” She went on to explain that significant donors won’t contribute unless the candidate has already raised money locally.
Candidates and political parties don’t always receive cash donations. They also accept donations in kind. These may include free posters from a printing company or free event space from a venue.
Professional fundraisers must also be paid for their time and effort. Moore explained she typically charges a retainer fee for her services. Others prefer to work on commission.
The Association of Fundraising Professionals frowns on commission-only pay structures for fundraisers, but they aren’t illegal.
How Fundraisers Facilitate Donations: The Untold Story
The role fundraisers play in politics isn’t often discussed. They support candidates in many ways.
Fundraisers and their staff first research potential donors. They are often able to put together a surprising amount of information. RSnake related he once saw a dossier compiled on a friend of his. “It was terrifying,” he said.
Moore explained that much of the information is collected through social media. She also noted that political giving is public record.
Potential donors are then cultivated through relationship building. They may be sent information about a candidate or invited to an event.
Donors who continue to show interest will eventually be solicited for a donation.
Spinning the Message: The Delicate Dance of Political Fundraising
Fundraisers also work closely with candidates to set them up for success. Part of this involves framing messages in a way that will resonate with each donor. “You always want to put your best foot forward,” said Moore.
To help candidates present themselves in the best possible light, fundraisers prepare them before meetings with briefing notes. These include relevant background information and other details uncovered in the initial research process.
Moore said, “Sometimes you tell them stuff that doesn’t seem particularly relevant because they can be conversation starters.”
According to Moore, the briefing notes may also alert a candidate to information that should be avoided.
Fundraisers may also take notes after a meeting. These include topics that were covered and any necessary follow-up. This helps both the fundraiser and the candidate stay on top of the many meetings they attend.
The notes can also ensure donors feel recognized and valued. Moore said, “There are so many elected officials that have been elected multiple times. Years and years and years of it. And they meet so many people, and they never want to ever make somebody who’s been so generous with their help and support feel like it’s the first time they have ever met them.”
Federal and state politicians aren’t the only public officials who fundraise for elections. In Texas and many other states, judges must also be elected.
In the past, Moore worked with the Texas Bar Foundation, a charitable organization that supports several non-profit programs related to legal aid, ethics and more. She has also worked on judicial campaigns. She said she feels strongly about having quality judges in the system.
Like other types of political fundraising, there are rules in judicial fundraising that govern donor eligibility and contribution limits. For example, individuals may donate up to $5,000 to a judicial campaign. Law firms may also donate to a judicial campaign, within limits.
There are also political committees in judicial campaigns, similar to political action committees (PACs). However, strict rules govern their involvement.
Centrist PAC: An Exploration
With the increasingly polarized state of American politics, many people are actively seeking ways to encourage more moderate or centrist views.
In his chat with Moore, RSnake introduced the idea of a centrist PAC. The PAC would examine candidates’ policies and support those with the most moderate views.
Some have tried a similar approach in recent years. At least two PACs have been formed to protect moderate incumbents against more radical challengers.
The Moderate PAC, for example, is working to prevent more extreme Democrats from replacing centrist incumbents in the 2024 primary elections. In 2022, the group helped Rep. Jared Golden (Maine) and Don Davis (North Carolina) retain their seats.
Although centrist PACs are still relatively rare, their success may encourage other moderates to consider this route.
Confronting Controversy: Fundraising Through Scandal
Political candidates often become mired in political scandals. What role do fundraisers play when storms of controversy are brewing?
The decision is highly individual. Moore said a scandal would likely be a deal-breaker for her. “I don’t want to deal with someone that I can never trust again,” she said.
There are, however, some political fundraisers who don’t mind working with controversial figures.
In some cases, scandals can end careers, but for many politicians, they are simply storms to be weathered.
Surprisingly, some research has found that political donors often tend to give more money to politicians who have been embroiled in controversy than their blameless counterparts.
Fundraising is an integral part of the political landscape in the United States of America. Without it, political campaigns as we know them today would look very different.
Political fundraisers help candidates in many ways. They identify donors, foster relationships, and help solicit donations.
While many people question the role of fundraising, it does have an essential purpose. Without fundraising, only the wealthiest people in the country would be able to run for office. Fundraising enables people with middle and lower-class backgrounds to take a shot at political office.
However, critics of the current system say today’s regulations put too much power in the hands of wealthy individuals and corporations.
For a closer look at fundraising from an insider’s perspective, watch RSnake’s conversation with Pasha Moore today!