Democratize Democracy: Give to a Campaign

Every election year, we see articles on how the Internet might change the political race. Thus far, it hasn’t happened—at least not in the paradigm-shattering way people hope it will. Sure, bloggers blog about the candidates—but the largest audience is other bloggers. Unfortunately, internet literacy seems to be inversely proportional to voter turnout.

Candidates who care about issues important to people under 45 don’t get enough votes to be elected. Leave aside issues like net neutrality, copyright law, and other things the computer savvy people care about. Generational issues are getting left behind. We might think more carefully about a war when we’re going to be the ones drafted to fight it. We might worry about global warming if we expect to live long enough to seriously be affected by it. A five- or ten-year fix for Social Security won’t work for us. Neither will a huge deficit that we’ll be stuck paying off. And by “we”, I mean everybody under the age of 45 or so.

Get involved

We can change that this year by doing two things. First, remember to vote in the primaries—and tell your friends to vote as well. Neither party has settled behind a candidate. Your primary is probably on February 5—but check. As things stand, it looks like the race will keep going after February 5.

Secondly, help get the word out. If you are cynically thinking “help get the word out” means “give somebody money”, you would be partially right. You can troll the Internet and leave comments on articles supporting your candidate if you want, but that’s highly unlikely to bring your candidate any votes. For this cycle at least, getting the word out means old media, which can be expensive. Romney’s sequence of high profile failures in Iowa, New Hampshire, and now Florida has shown that the election isn’t for sale. That said, the cost of putting information out—whether through a national TV ad, stamps for mailing, or simply transportation for candidates and press—is immense. Mike Huckabee ran low on money and had to cancel a press plane, and as far as the media was concerned, he’s functionally out of the race. Other candidates are forced to take time off campaigning days to focus on fund-raising.

The number of donors is as important—or more important—than the number of dollars. If a hundred thousand people give twenty-five dollars each, it represents both two and a half million dollars and enthusiastic support from a hundred thousand people. Donating to a campaign is sort of like betting on a horse at a race. You have a stake in it and you want it to turn out well. And, if your candidate wins, it’s even better.

This brings us to the secret purpose of soliciting small campaign donations. It will help you get personally invested in the campaign. It will make the whole process that more exciting.

Don’t wait

You have access to the Internet. Your candidate accepts credit card donations. You have a credit card with you (probably in your back-right pocket). And if you’re reading this article, I know you’re not doing something better with your time. To make it even easier, here are links where you can donate to the candidates most frequently supported by readers of

(Editor’s note: Sorry that list is so short. Usually we’d have more diversity of opinion—but apparently not this cycle. If, for some reason, you want to donate to another candidate, this great website can help you find their campaign information.)

How much?

Obviously, this one is up to you. A lot of the campaigns are floating the “suggested donation” of $25 or $50—but I would think even the cost of a nice cup of coffee could be enough for you to own a bit of the political process. My recommendation? If your candidate of choice is the sort person you’d like to have a drink with, figure out where you’d get the drink and pick up the tab. If you’re looking for something more aggressive, I believe $250 is the number where your donation by law becomes part of the public records and $2300 is the maximum amount you can give per election. (The primary and general elections are separate, so you could give $4600 to a single candidate, but half the funds would be restricted.)

Ultimately, the real beneficiary of the donation is you. Your donation can be your first step down the road to more intensive political activism. Or, if you’d prefer, it can be just a donation.

Why get involved?

This year, there is a bit more at stake. The Presidency is about more than who will pick then next batch of Federal judges. We have an unpopular war, an economy teetering on the edge of recession, and a legislature so locked in partisan struggle it can’t objectively discuss what to do about either. Through the Bush presidency, the executive office has expanded its power—both through deliberate pushing on the President and Vice President’s part and through Congress’s failure to check it.

You’re paying taxes—or you probably will be within the next eight years. You want to have a say on where that money is spent—and if you’ve read a newspaper in the last twenty years, you know it’s not all spent well. But it is more than just making sure your money isn’t wasted. You want to make sure your tax money isn’t out killing and torturing more people than it has to. Paying taxes to our government without having a voice in how the money is spent is like giving cash to a drug-addicted relative without asking what it is for. There is a history of abuse—and a few precautions are warranted.

The democratization of… democracy

As you are no doubt aware, we don’t have a pure, direct democracy. Certain groups are overrepresented. Some special interests are able to donate massive amounts of money to get their candidates elected. Money has far too much of an influence on the process.

The availability and ease of small donations could change that. By the time the whole Presidential campaign is over, it looks like it will cost a record $1 billion. It’s a lot. But that comes down to about $8 per person—or $2 per person per year. Obviously some people won’t contribute anything. Others will donate a lot more. If many people give small donations, politicians would feel indebted to the broad base of people who had supported them rather than one special interest or another. Conceivably, if politicians could get enough broad support, they might even lower the maximum donation amount to something within more people’s means, which would really put a dent in the special interests. Of course, before any of that can happen, more people will have to donate to a campaign.