back to: On the Ballot  to: political odyssey


Chapter Ten: Campaign Finances and Expenditures


Most successful politicians are seen appearing at high-buck fundraisers or on the phone raising money from contributors. My only campaign contributor was a man who talked with me briefly in front of the Radisson Riverside Hotel on June 20th and gave me a dollar. The rest of the campaign I financed myself. It was no use to solicit funds from other people since few, if any, supported my campaign. Therefore, this whole area of campaigning was eliminated; I could focus on the “important stuff”.

Mine was, of necessity, a threadbare campaign. I would not do much advertising. I was hoping to be interesting and clever enough for the media to deliver my message without my having to pay for it. With no real base of support, I had a tiny budget to pay for advertising and instead was forced to try to present myself as a compelling human-interest story. Some editors and reporters probably saw me as the kid who tried to sneak into the show without buying a ticket.

Instead of communicating with voters, I communicated mostly with the media. Such communication is of various kinds. The most expensive and also the most effective means of communication is to visit a journalist in person. However, one can do only so many visits in a day. The daily cost of travel, lodging, and meals must be spread over the number of daily visits to reach a comparable per-unit cost.

The second most expensive communication method is to send written materials by mail. One has the cost of stationery, printing the literature, and, of course, postage. The postage charge is presently 37 cents for the first half ounce or 26 cents up to three ounces for third-class bulk mail (which also requires $150 annual permits). Photocopying can run 5 or 6 cents per sheet for single copies, with quantity discounts at higher volumes. A typical mail piece costs $.60 to $1.00 each at moderate volumes.

A third method of communicating is by fax. This cost is proportionate to the time spent feeding sheets into the fax machine. My long-distance carrier charges me around 8 cents per call for faxing single sheets. Communicating by telephone, another technique, involves the same cost structure as faxing but the times spent talking vary much more widely. Finally, we have communication by email. The cost of delivering such messages is essentially free; it’s built into the monthly charge paid the service provider.

Another “cost” factor is the time that candidates must spend delivering each type of message. This type of cost is roughly proportionate to financial cost. Personal visits are most time-consuming, followed by sending “snail mail”, followed by faxing information, followed by email. Let’s say it takes an hour for a typical visit, not counting travel time, compared with five to twenty minutes (depending on how much of the letter can be copied) to type a short letter and another three minutes per letter to type names and addresses on the envelope, stuff sheets into it, apply postage, and seal the envelope.

On the other hand, it takes me, on average, 1.2 minutes to send an individual sheet through a fax machine and less per sheet when several are sent at the same time. Times spent talking with people on the telephone vary so widely that it would be useless to suggest an average time. Email transmission is nearly instantaneous when you push “send”. The time spent composing these messages is a more significant factor. The speed of photocopying machines and printers attached to one’s personal computer marginally affects communication time.

Emails are clearly the cheapest and most efficient way to communicate, both from a cost and time standpoint. However, there is a drawback. Mass-communicated messages tend to be discounted. If everyone sends this type of message, then well-known journalists may receive dozens of email messages in a day and yours will tend to get lost. The very ease of communication serves as its own worst enemy. I was tempted to use bulk email to communicate with millions of people who might or (probably) might not have been interested in my message. However, this so-called “spam” has a bad reputation. In annoying so many people, its use could hurt my campaign. Political journalists, I thought, were fair game to receive unsolicited messages from me. Even so, my communications had to have a certain appeal to get through in a positive way.

My general strategy, developed in the 2002 Senate campaign, was to start with the less personal kinds of communication - letters, faxes, and emails - before moving on to the more personal telephone calls and visits. This I compared with the phase of aerial bombardment before troops enter the battlefield. Such communication can be done efficiently and without painful feedback. But, in the end, wars are won by sending in the ground troops. In the case of political campaigns, the idea is to let people know who you are first and then make individual contact. Therefore, my initial step was to mail out a standard packet of campaign materials. For special events such as the racial forum in Des Moines I sent faxes and emails to Iowa media. However, I knew that to make the sale - persuade a reporter to cover me - I would have to call on my prospect personally.

In retrospect, I did not make enough use of the old-fashioned telephone call. Such communication guarantees that you have the other person’s attention. You also gain immediate feedback in learning his or her reaction to your message and acquiring new information which might be useful. Then, too, you have the other person pinned down in a conversation, willing perhaps to go along with your suggestions out of a desire to be “nice”. Seasoned journalists, however, tend to be immune to such pressures.
In truth, I considered telephone calls to be personally stressful in the early stages of my campaign. I would become like a telemarketer. I would have to sell the journalist on the absurd idea that he or she should pay serious attention to a political novice running for President. Most would consider this proposition a waste of their time. Communication by telephone would be appropriate if I were communicating a legitimate piece of information such as my imminent arrival in their town. Until that time, however, it would be better to broadcast information about my candidacy by letter, fax, or email, and let those who were interested respond.

In communicating with media people it was essential to have lists. For $70.00, I purchased a list of 1,100 “national political media” from an outfit which had contacted me through a spammed offer. Bradley Communications, which markets to book publishers, faxed an offer to sell a list of “17,491 key contacts at newspapers, magazines, feature syndicates, and radio/TV talk shows” in its “Publicity Data Base”with unlimited use. The list, encoded on a CD, was marked down to $100 because it was a year old. Other media lists I acquired at the public library. At a library sale, I also purchased a four-volume set of the Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media published in 1999. I also photocopied pages from the current year’s Bacon Directory of newspapers, radio, and television, for more up-to-date contacts. Media lists tend to become outdated fast.

The first two data bases could be downloaded to my hard drive. I purchased Filemaker Pro software to access the Bradley lists. My friend, Mark Stanley, converted the other list into a format that could be read. These two data bases allowed me to select certain media people and print their names and addresses on mailing labels. Alternatively, I could select information to make a printed directory of telephone and fax numbers and email addresses. Since the other two lists were in print, I used their information straight. With Filemaker Pro software, I typed information from the Gale Directory to assemble my own computerized list of media outlets in key campaign states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Louisiana.

The event in Iowa provided the first test of my system. Hoping to attract participants, I faxed press releases about this event to various Iowa media. Many of the antiquated fax numbers had incorrect area codes. I corrected these as best I could and resent the messages. In the following week, I emailed messages about the race forum to several hundred media people on the national political list. This went much faster. I began to think of email as a better way to reach reporters than by fax. Additionally, email afforded easier feedback. In the weeks following the Des Moines event, I sent out many different messages to political reporters and others by email, fax, and even mail. I thought that using a combination of communication techniques would be better because the messages, coming at the recipient in different ways, would seem to reinforce each other instead of being repetitious.

In the end, it came down to ease and speed of communication. Email was the clear winner. Being technically challenged, I experienced an epiphany of sorts when my wife’s friend’s husband-to-be came over to our home to help fix her computer. He gave me some new information about emails. First, you could email a message to several addresses at a time by putting a semi-colon between them. Second, to hide the fact that the message was being sent to more than one person, you could type the string of addresses in the blind-copy box marked “Bcc” in Outlook Express. Finally, strings of email addresses - eight or ten addresses, perhaps - could first be typed on a word-processing spreadsheet and then be copied and pasted into the “Bcc” box to send messages to many people. In other words, the “copy and paste” feature on the computer saved me from having to retype the addresses each time a message was sent. This feature could also be used for the subject description and for the message itself.

Once I had created the address strings, header description, and message text in separate files, I could draw upon this stored information to send email messages quickly and easily. First, the files containing the text and descriptive headers were opened. The header and text were highlighted in their respective files. I then proceeded in the following steps:

1. Click on the spreadsheet cell containing the address information and copy it.
2. Click on “new file” in Outlook Express to open a new file.
3. Click on the “Bcc”box and then “paste”. (This loads the address information.)
4. Click on the file containing the header description. Now copy this.
5. Paste what is copied into the box marked “subject” in the Outlook Express file.
6. Click on the file containing the text message, which is already highlighted, and copy it.
7. Paste what is copied into the message space below.
8. Click “send” in Outlook Express to send the message.

By following this routine, I found that I could send a header and message to about eight or ten email recipients a minute if I concentrated. I created a spreadsheet of about 250 lines whose cells in the left-hand column contained email addresses strung together in this way. These addresses, drawn from several different sources, belonged to newspaper editorial writers, political reporters at newspapers or at radio or television stations, syndicated columnists, and other journalists concerned with national politics. I tried to remove duplicate or erroneous addresses which came back as invalid. That still left around 1,500 messages which presumably went through to the intended recipient. I found that I could do my entire list in half a day. Previously, it might have taken me a day to fax 300 messages or to send twice that many emails. During the last two months of 2003, I was sending out several such messages a week. The cost of each email broadcast was minimal.

Greater costs would come when I campaigned in the state primaries. In addition to the filing fees, I had to pay for food, lodging, and transportation, and extra minutes on my cell phone. South Carolina’s fee of $2,500, though high, was well worth the cost since this race would attract much attention. The Louisiana primary, held on March 9th, would be less important to the nominating process. All the major contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination had been campaigning in primary or caucus states for many months. I, too, might have been active on the campaign trail had it not been for an expensive project which kept me tied to Minneapolis and which hung around my neck like an albatross.

The reason that I was not more concerned with raising campaign funds was that my own financial future depended more on finishing this project to renovate a condemned duplex on Glenwood Avenue which I had purchased in May 2002. From the summer of 2002 through 2003, I ordered a new roof, a new paint job, siding for the exterior, a new heating and air-conditioning system, new plumbing, electrical work throughout the house, new sheet rocking for all the walls and ceilings, new bathroom fixtures and kitchen appliances, new carpeting and tile on the floors, new doors, new windows (including egress windows), and a concrete driveway and parking lot in the back yard. As the project went on and on, my personal finances began to look like the federal government’s. I ran up credit-card debt, sold assets, and finally took out a $100,000 mortgage on my home, followed by a $50,000 second mortgage.

By the end of 2003, the work was still not complete. Drawn to this duplex by the Taj Mahal quality of its workmanship, a tenant had vacated her previous apartment and was set to move in on January 1st. She had to stay temporarily with friends. Three inspectors had not yet signed off on the work. By the end of the year, this building was still condemned. I had not yet been paid any rent. But time was also running out on my presidential campaign. I did what I could before leaving and left the rest for my former brother-in-law who was the general contractor. Then, on the morning of January 3, 2004, I drove away from Minneapolis, expecting not to return until mid March.

To next chapter

back to: On the Ballot  to: political odyssey