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

A Better DPVA in Depth – Part 1: Money

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( – promoted by lowkell)

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.