Political Giving Power

Want to impact the midterms? Here’s how to think about political giving in 2022.

By Gabrielle Quintana Greenfield, Vice President

September 18, 2022 – With 50 days left in the 2022 election cycle, your inbox is filled with entreaties to “GIVE NOW.” It can be tempting to give emotionally during election season, to use your donations to show your support (or disapproval) of a particular candidate or cause. However, as a firm that lives and breathes campaigns across the country, we believe in giving where every dollar will have the most impact, which is why it is critical for our clients and friends to understand the strength their dollar can have.

That’s the question we get from clients, friends, and family: How can I give to have the most impact?

Timing is critical

As you consider your political contributions, know that your dollar has different buying power at different times and in different places. From the perspective of a campaign, the earlier you contribute, the better. Knowing how much money is in the door allows a campaign to plan and budget aggressively to win. 

One example: Many campaigns ask you to become a recurring donor, and planning for the future is a big part of why. Maybe you want to donate $200 in total, but can’t give all at once, so you set up a monthly gift. If you donate $20 in March, but mark it as recurring, a campaign can plan for the rest of that $200. They know they can count on you. 

Another example: In 2013, I worked for Ralph Northam’s primary campaign for Lieutenant Governor in Virginia. I was crunching the numbers late one night when I suddenly received a call from a major donor we had been chasing for weeks. He had decided to contribute $200,000! After a victory dance, we quickly reshaped our media plan to go on broadcast TV in the expensive D.C. media market. Our opponent had no idea we had that funding power, and we were able to own a communication stream to voters that put our team over the top. The commanding, come-from-behind win shook loose even more money for the general election.

Success begets success, and whether it’s $20 or $200,000, your contribution can set off a chain of events that builds momentum for a campaign.

Candidate vs. Cause vs. Super PAC

Some people give through organizations in order to support candidates that will further a cause, such as abortion rights or climate change. It is important to support these organizations, especially early in the cycle, but at this point in the election cycle, consider how far that dollar will go.

When political organizations, be it a campaign or a PAC, buy commercials on television, two different rates are sold. The first is the candidate rate, which is legally guaranteed at the “Lowest Unit Rate” the TV station offers. On the other hand, a Super PAC must buy at the “Issue Rate,” which is often twice as much, if not more, depending on how busy the airways are in a given TV market. This makes the candidate dollar king — candidate campaigns are able to purchase more commercial time at a cheaper rate, thereby communicating louder with fewer dollars.

Here’s a real-life example you might remember seeing last election: Take a look at the table below, showing a TV competitive report in Washington, D.C. from Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s re-election campaign in 2020. You can see Spanberger and allies in blue, with the Republicans in red. The House Majority PAC (HMP) spent 600 gross ratings points (or GRPs, a measurement of viewership) for $562,625 in the last week of the election. Meanwhile, Rep. Spanberger’s campaign was able to secure a similar amount of GRPs for less than half that amount, at $272,195.

The table below is an example of a TV competitive report in Washington, DC for the Virginia 7th Congressional race in 2020. Amplify tracks media spending in races across the country. Reach out to learn more!

So why consider giving to a Super PAC? The most obvious reason is that you can give an unlimited amount. But also, they are able to coordinate millions of dollars across the entire political battlefield. Our clients look at polling in dozens of races in order to make smart political calculations and spend strategically in different races to help Democrats win across the board. We are proud to advise their strategy and, via Amplify Media, our media buying and television tracking firm, build TV competitive reports to assist them in making smart, strategic decisions, faster, and then buying media accordingly.

Now, the above all relate to traditional, linear television, but there are so many more ways to communicate. Digital buying costs the same no matter who buys it — think platforms like YouTube, Google Search, and Hulu. Mail is cheaper for candidates that send it under the party’s banner (e.g., Paid for by the Democratic Party of Kansas) as opposed to Super PAC mail. And field work is the cost of labor, but that all depends on whether it is volunteers knocking doors or canvassers paid by the hour. So many things go into the costs of these races — that is why the overall price tag has continued to grow.

Know why you give

Most people give because they support the policies a political candidate represents. Super PACs are run by political leaders and issue leaders focused on winning politically so like-minded candidates become officeholders that can advance their shared policy agenda. If that aligns with your values or is important in your field of business, donating allows you to participate in the process and support the organization’s success. Policies don’t advance without politicians willing to advance them, and politicians don’t get to office without a coalition of support. Plus, don’t forget that candidates who win office — even those who don’t win the first time — often end up serving in some capacity that could be important down the line. All the more reason to use your dollars wisely, beyond the outcome of just one race.

Do due diligence

Finally, a note of caution, as with any investment, always make sure to do due diligence. 

The first, and most basic, is to make sure the organization is credible, and your donation is going to accomplish the mission or goal you want. Unfortunately, many “scam PACs” exist, and they can take advantage of donors and use donations for personal gain. The simplest first step is to look up the PAC on the FEC’s website (if it’s federally registered) and see how exactly the group is spending its money. 

Second, especially if you are donating because of an email solicitation, make sure the candidate or organization can achieve the goal you desire. For example, an email solicitation might say, “End the Senate filibuster now! Give $3.” But if the candidate raising money off of this solicitation is a state-level candidate, then they have no impact or control of the filibuster. Now, if you still want to give because you think it is important to support candidates who hold that position, great! But just make sure you realize what the candidate or organization can or cannot affect with regards to their solicitation.

Keep all these factors in mind, think about your goals and issues, and the impact you want your dollar to have. And if you decide to give, just GIVE NOW.

The Messina Group
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