By Ronnie Ross
Candidate for Virginia Senate, 27th District
I’m writing this on March 29. In the campaign world that means that we are two days away from the Quarter 1 filing deadline. This is the date when candidate committees have to turn in their financials, including their fundraising numbers, for public consumption. You, a voter, might have noticed that we’re getting close to the filing deadline because all of a sudden your email inbox, your news feed, and your timeline are all of a sudden being bombarded by candidates asking for money. But, I think, something that often goes unanswered in all of these pleas is: Why do we do this? Why do we, as candidates, care so much about these end of quarter numbers?
Before I answer that question, I want to peel back the veil a bit and answer another question: Why do we need so much money? The short answer is that, given the way we currently do elections in the United States (and in Virginia), elections are expensive. The mantra for candidates is that a candidate is responsible for two things: dollars and doors. Doors get us voters and dollars get us more doors which gets us more voters. Now, it’s a little more complicated than that, but every dollar we raise should go into contacting more voters. This can come in a lot of different ways. Maybe dollars pay for staff (managers, directors, organizers, etc.). Or maybe dollars pay for overhead (office space, printers, wi-fi, etc.). Perhaps dollars are paying for communications (mail, digital, radio, and TV programs). Whatever the case, every dollar a campaign spends should be directly traceable to voter contact.
If a candidate can’t tell you how that dollar reaches more voters, then he or she is not a very good candidate. These methods of contact add up quickly. Staff can easily cost between $10,000-$20,000 a month. Print materials are really expensive, especially because we, as Democrats, use union printers. Because we believe in fair wages, we pay a little more for the product; that’s our trade-off, and it’s a fine one. Getting up on radio and TV is very expensive, especially depending on where your district is located. Even a full office could cost a few thousand a month.
Since we need all of this money, we have to ask folks for it. This is doubly true if we aren’t independently wealthy. Full disclosure: I’m a teacher. I cannot self-fund this campaign. This is especially true because I have had to go part-time in order to run. That isn’t to say that we don’t have skin in the game. Speaking for myself, I’ve nearly emptied my savings. So, because we can’t self-fund, we have to ask for help. Moreover, many Democrats (like myself!) do not take money from corporate PACs or entities like Dominion. Even though it might cost us a little, we believe it is the right position to take.
So why do these asks often cluster around filing deadlines? Well, the first answer is because asking folks for money is really, really hard. The filing deadline makes it a little easier because it gives us a “good” reason to ask for money. It’s kind of like why you might hire a personal trainer. It forces us to do the work. However, there is a much bigger reason than that. We ask for money now because the “Party” and large donors use our fundraising figures as a sign and measurement of candidate viability. In races like ours, there aren’t liable to be many polls, and so fundraising metrics become a way to estimate how the horse race between candidates is going. It’s an easy thing to fall back on and, if I’m being frank, it tends to be fairly predictive; candidates who raise more money tend to win. This isn’t just because they can spend more and reach more voters, although that is certainly part of it. Rather, it’s because fundraising is a sign of how well people are buying into and supporting a candidate. The more money I raise, the more people are saying “yes” to me. This is where the number of donors becomes an important metric. A donation, no matter how small, of someone in your district is almost like someone saying, “yes, I will vote for you.” It also means that you are out making the hard asks, talking to people, being present. Thus, money becomes a stand-in for support.
And so, why are we all of a sudden asking you for money? We’re doing it because after each quarter, people use these numbers to assess our viability. Thus, for us, every fundraising deadline is like a little election that we are trying to win. ps In this spirit, you can totally go here to chip into my campaign!