Home Virginia Politics A Better DPVA in Depth – Part 1: Money

A Better DPVA in Depth – Part 1: Money

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Part 1 of my series (leading up to the next DPVA meeting) examining how DPVA can be the best state party possible.

Dave Leichtman is the DPVA Vice-chair for Technology and Communications

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how DPVA could seize on the opportunity created by our current leadership transition to become a better, stronger Party (Read: “A Better DPVA”). I think we’re off to a decent start. The current Chair has mostly recused herself of day-to-day duties, and the selection of the next ED appears likely up to her successor – both good things. But the most worrying development during this transition has been the lack of communication and dialogue. For some reason, people seem to think it’s heretical to discuss how Virginia Dems can do better. To that I say, we cannot afford to be silent. The election of a new Chair is just 3 weeks away, and with exactly 0 publicly declared candidates, I fear we’re headed toward another coronation orchestrated by the Powers That Be – one accompanied (like last time) with no conversation and no discussion. The least we can do is talk about it here!

This week a Politico editorial bemoaned the waning importance and increased irrelevance of state parties around the country (Read: “Last call for state parties?”). I agree that if we do nothing, if we remain silent and nobody listens, then yes we’ll be headed that way. But state parties can play a vital role in how we train and build local committees. And they can provide crucial ground game and long-term cost savings if only higher-ups can see the benefits and invest wisely.

The first step in any successful venture is dialogue. So let’s talk! I’d like to examine various aspects of DPVA in depth over the next t3 weeks leading to the Chair’s election. Today, let’s start with Money.

Two troubling things have occurred with DPVA’s monetary situation over the last few years, and I’ve covered them before:

1) The statewide Coordinated Campaign has branched off into its own shadow party. This is unaccountable and dangerous. There are staffers hired by non-DPVA personnel who are managing giant budgets, to which the current DPVA leadership are completely blind. There is no oversight or accountability, and at some point this will lead to trouble – jail time or fines. Alarmist, you say? It already happened about 10 years ago when the Coordinated didn’t file proper FEC paperwork. This led to massive fines levied against DPVA, in whose name the money was being spent. The current situation makes this, and worse, even more likely to happen.

2) The statewide campaigns have sucked the fundraising air out of the room. By actively giving the current Chair and the Party no fundraising goals, Terry McAuliffe essentially became DPVA’s “sugar daddy.” Sounds cushy – somebody else does all the fundraising for you? What’s not to love? But that means they get to decide how much you spend. One would like to think the statewide campaigns are high-minded. But the second they feel threatened – say a former RNC Chair decides to run for Senate – well, then they’re almost obligated to keep all the money for themselves and make no investments in the Party.

Now this situation isn’t irreversible. It simply takes the will to fix it, and a few people in power to realize the potential inherent in the Party. Here’s a few ways we could solve this dilemma.

1) Give the DPVA Steering Committee at least some amount of insight into the Coordinated Campaign budget. Honestly, the DPVA by all rights should have to approve the entire budget of both entities. Assuming that’s a non-starter, the Coordinated could at least give the Steering Committee quarterly updates on fundraising and spending.

2) And while we’re at it, DPVA’s Central Committee should require the same for its own budget. Currently, it approves a yearly budget with no interim updates. So the approved budget is essentially worthless as it goes right out the window the second anything material changes.

3) Let DPVA fundraise! Give the next Chair, ED, and Finance Director robust fundraising goals. Believe it or not, fundraising isn’t a zero-sum game. People who give are more likely to give again – nonprofits often see up to 1/3 of their yearly fundraising come from repeat donors. A donor who gives to DPVA or to a statewide campaign does not do so exclusively. In fact giving to one primes them for giving to the other (counter-intuitive, but true). So let DPVA do its thing; let it raise money toward funding the kind of committee-building efforts it can successfully execute.

4) Solidify a sustained giving program. The gold standard in philanthropy is the locked-in recurring donor. The Arlington County Democratic Committee funds the largest part of its operation through the $10+/month Roosevelt Society (of which I’m a proud member). The previous DPVA ED floated a program called “20/20” – $20/mo sustained gift toward the goal of goal of taking back the House of Delegates in 2020. This is the best thing we could possibly be pushing right now, but it was given almost no promotion in 2013 (see Item 3 above). At $20/month, it would only take 5,000 sustainers to fund the entire current yearly budget of DPVA. Did that just blow your mind? It should. The Central Committee alone is almost 300 people, and I bet each of them could sign up 15-20 others. Even if we got halfway there, we could make a huge dent and make it possible to increase the yearly budget.

5) Stop spending to $0. We’ve been promised this every year: “this is the year we stop spending to $0.” And every year, we do it anyway “because this election is too important.” We’ll probably have the same excuse next year. We have to break that vicious cycle. Every year in January, DPVA has to cut staff and scrimp every penny and is often saddled with Coordinated debt that was unplanned for (see Item 1 above). A sustainer program would go a long way toward easing this “necessity” and making the excuse harder. Regardless, we have to plan a cash reserve and resist the urge to spend it.

Those are my thoughts on DPVA’s money situation. I’d love to hear your opinions. Let’s keep the conversation going over the next three weeks. Together we can work toward a better DPVA. But first we have to at least discuss what that means.

  • Tom

    I am definitely planning to attend the DPVA quarterly meetings in Richmond, due largely to what you have already and what I expect you will have to say tomorrow and until you’ve completed this series before we all arrive in Richmond on the 14th of March.

    I am hoping what you are saying will encourage my county committee chair to also attend the meetings in Richmond. I’ll make sure that the agenda for our 27 Feb. monthly county committee meeting includes the announcement of the March quarterly meetings as a reminder of the historic importance of the decisions that will be discussed, debated and finally decided that weekend. And your thoughts and words I know will have very considerable positive influence on those decisions. Thanks for all you have done for all of us and I know all you will continue to do and say on our behalf.

                           T.C.

  • Tom

    “Front and Center” is where this belongs so it’s the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning and access BV with Dave’s “A Better DPVA in Depth” staring me in the face.

    Better than a strong cup of coffee to get me awake and thinking clearly again.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    Recurring donations are probably the only way that the rank and file can have a voice in DPVA even close to that of the “big donors.” It’s such a simple idea. It’s easy to implement. It works.

    Thank you for this series, Dave. I certainly hope others on the Central Committee and the Steering Committee pay attention to what you have to say.

  • Tom

    Early in the 2013 election cycle shortly after Terry opened his campaign office near the PWC-City of Manassas boundary, many of us were excited to realize that this office was billed as a “coordinated campaign” office almost totally funded by Terry’s campaign. And the grand opening of the office had representatives of HoD campaigns and their candidates present with lit and volunteer sign-up sheets.

    But by the time we began rounding up volunteers to help work the absentee-in-person voting locations to hand out democratic sample ballots to make sure our 13th HoD candidate, who by then entirely on his own had closed his opponent’s led from 15-20% points to just 2-3% points, would get some down ballot benefit we discovered that the “coordinated” campaign paid leadership had been instructing their volunteers to work exclusively on the gubernatorial campaign. The most ironic evidence that this was true was that the registrar’s office was the one voting location where we had the most difficulty in getting volunteers to cover any shifts, but we could get no help from the “coordinated campaign” office even though their office was only a few blocks from the registrar’s office. I even dropped off 50 sample ballots there and found later none had been used. Granted, that was when the polls were indicating that Terry’s race was much closer than earlier polls had indicted, but handing out sample ballots would have benefitted all campaigns including Terry’s, and would not have distracted his canvassers working the immediate areas in and around Manassas at all.

    Your points are all correct – there was no accountability and the DPVA had no mechanism in place to control or even monitor the Coordinated campaign, not even a reporting mechanism. These failures are easy to fix, but only if the new DPVA leadership to be put in place in three weeks listens to what you have to say and acts on your recommendations. It all depends on who the Central Committee chooses as the new Chair and who the new Chair recommends for the Executive Director position.

    See you in Richmond on the 14th of March.

                            T.C.

  • FreeDem

    Here’s one question I have, which I think needs to be addressed from the start.

    Why the Democratic Party of Virginia?

    Suppose we have a group of big liberal donors who are willing to give heavily to set up the infrastructure necessary to assist Democratic candidates. Run mail campaigns, target voters, etc.

    Why would that be a less desirable outcome than a stronger Democratic Party of Virginia?

    In your response, address assumptions that the DPVA would be more democratic than a cabal of liberal donors. Would it really be open and accessible?

  • a) “The statewide Coordinated Campaign has branched off into its own shadow party.”

    b) “The statewide campaigns have sucked the fundraising air out of the room.”

    c) “By actively giving the current Chair and the Party no fundraising goals, Terry McAuliffe essentially became DPVA’s ‘sugar daddy.'”

    I can imagine several, ranging from highly justifiable to completely unjustifiable, but first I’d be curious what you think caused this situation to develop the way it did. I do feel like we need to understand the root causes – e.g., strong structural factors pushing in this direction – before we can figure out how to deal with them.

  • totallynext

    State Party

    So that means that the State Party needs to establish the criteria of the coordinated campaign.

    Or why then even have the title “coordinated campaign” when in practice it is just an arm of the top ticket campaign?

  • kindler

    So here are a few thoughts:

    – People tend to react to the immediate need/threat — hence the attractiveness of giving to the current candidate or combined campaign rather than the longer term state party.  This is a mindset that we need to change in order to build effective long-term institutions that will turn the state reliably blue.

    –  The other side of that coin is that parties are often seen as more focused on incumbent protection than funding the new guy — and in a state like Virginia, that means putting my money towards some old relics who I’d really like to see retire, while I’d prefer to put my money on the up-and-coming young progressives.  So DPVA has an issue there, of presenting a more welcoming face and open arms to what I call the Obama Generation.

    – Final point: parties and NGOs too often fall into a fundraising mode that resembles nothing more than stalking: ring people’s phones off the hook at the worst hours, try to wheedle money out of them, and then that’s the end of the relationship until the next time they need $.  Very important to change that relationship — to have regular, substantive, consequential dialogue with the voters and party members — exactly as Dave is doing here, commendably.

    My two cents.