Thursday, August 2, 2007

What It's Like To Run For Office

In the next week or so, the City Council campaign will begin in earnest. On Saturday, I’ll be in the Fair Parade. On Sunday, I’m having a kickoff campaign event at Architexture (25 S. Ventura Ave.). The filing deadline is next Friday, so within a week we’ll know who’s running and who’s not.

There are three incumbents up for re-election – Carl Morehouse, Christy Weir, and me – and we’re all running. There are quite a few other folks running as well; I won’t list them here because the group isn’t set yet.

Fortunately, Ventura’s campaigns are not big-money affairs. Generally speaking, there are no campaign consultants and (with at least one exception, which I’ll mention below) no polls. There are no television ads and usually few radio and newspaper ads. We spend most of our time talking in people’s living rooms, seeking endorsements from local constituent groups, and debating each other in candidate forums. It’s pretty grass-rootsy, and I like that.

It costs somewhere around $20,000 to run a good City Council campaign. The vast majority of this money goes to design, print, and mail those four-color mailers you get right before the election.

But raising the money requires a lot of effort. Some years ago, Ventura’s voters passed a ballot measure on campaign finance. This ordinance places strict limits on how much money people can give to our campaigns, and in some cases it limits how much money we can spend. The idea is to limit the role of money in the council campaign – and, in particular, to ensure that one business or wealthy individual can’t bankroll a candidate, as often happened in the past.

The ordinance gives candidates a choice: We can either limit our contributions to $275 per person and limit our overall spending to $26,000; or we can limit our contribution to $175 per person and raise as much money as we want. (The City Clerk sets the amounts before each election according to a formula contained in the ordinance.)

Almost everybody chooses the first option, and you can see why: If you know 40 or 50 couples who are fairly affluent and strongly support you, you just get each one to give you $550 ($275 for each spouse) and you’re done with fundraising. But, in my opinion, even this isn’t really a grassroots effort. So I do it differently.

I choose the other option – a $175 limit on contributions, no limit on expenditures. I do this for a couple of reasons. For one thing, some candidate have gotten into trouble in the past because they’ve run up against the expenditure limit, and I’d just as soon have one less compliance issue to worry about. More important, though, is the fact that it forces me to run a grassroots campaign.

Last time out, the average donor gave me about $75 – that’s way lower than any other candidate. Lots of people wrote me a check for $25. Some people sent $5 or $10 bills to me as contributions. But I also raised more money than anybody else -- $30,000 – which I spent mostly on doing extra campaign mailings right before the election. (I was a challenger then so I was trying to get known, and it was right after the gubernatorial recall so it was hard to get voters interested in the race.) This also means I had more donors than anyone else, about 400.

I like this approach because it requires real grassroots campaigning – buttonholing people I know, going around to people’s living rooms to talk to neighbors, and having “addressing parties,” where my campaign volunteers and I address envelopes and lick stamps. (I sign every one of my fundraising letters myself, and I try to write a personal note if I can.) This year, almost 100 people have already donated to my campaign, and the average donation is once again well under $100.

What’s great about this level is that there’s really no difference between fundraising and campaigning. You’re looking people in the eye and asking them both for a check and for their vote.

That’s one of the many reasons that I like running for the Ventura City Council. It’s so much more satisfying than running for, say, the Assembly or Congress – or even for County Supervisor – where there’s a lot more fundraising and a lot less direct contact with voters.

Let me know if you’d like to contribute to my campaign – even if it’s only $5 or $10. Campaigning in Ventura is so grassroots that I’m not even set up to accept online donations! So I’ll send you a contribution envelope, either via email or snailmail.

And also please let me know if you would like to host a house party. This is usually a neighborhood event where you invite your friends and neighbors, provide a few refreshments, and we chat in your living room or backyard about the issues that really matter to you. It’s my favorite part of campaigning.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Want to comment on my blog? Leave me a message here!