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Chapter Nine: Campaign Infrastructure

 

Running for President has a legal side. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) in Washington, D.C. issues regulations for national campaigns which focus on their financial aspect. A phone call to the FEC gets the process started. The Commission mails candidates a thicket packet of materials to explain the process. Presidential candidates have their own materials and Congressional candidates have theirs. Each candidate must file a one-page “Statement of Candidacy” within ten days of announcing. The candidate gives his or her name, address, party affiliation, and office sought. The form also asks candidates to designate a “principal campaign committee”, including name and address. If there are other committees authorized to receive and expend funds for the campaign, these, too, must be named. Then the candidate signs and dates this statement, and mails it to the FEC. I signed mine on June 30, 2003.

The other document is the “Statement of Organization”. The name and address of the principal campaign committee should match with that on the first form. If the campaign committee has an email address or a web site, these are disclosed. Perhaps the most important piece of information on the Statement of Organization is the identity of the campaign treasurer. That individual is responsible for filing periodic reports of financial transactions to the FEC. Money is both the enabler and chief corrupting agent of contemporary politics. In my case, it was largely irrelevant. I was not actively seeking contributions. The FEC does not require committees which have received or spent less than $5,000 to file quarterly reports. Even so, I needed a treasurer. For appearance’s sake, it would be good for that person to be someone other than myself. I thought it advisable to convert a small savings account that I had at Wells Fargo Bank into an account for my campaign committee. The treasurer was put on the list of authorized signers.

I found the campaign treasurer almost by accident. Staying in my parents’ former house in Milford, Pennsylvania, I paid a courtesy call on my next-door neighbor. Another woman answered my knock on the door. She was Linda Davis, who did bookkeeping work for my neighbor. Davis mentioned that she was looking for an apartment to rent. My parents’ house, now belonging to me, was empty when I was away. This created a dangerous condition. During a cold spell in the previous winter, the pipes had burst. I, therefore, readily volunteered the fact that my house was empty and I might consider renting to her. Davis took a quick tour of the house. She needed a bedroom and another room on the first floor as a studio for her art work. We came to terms. Since Davis was a book keeper, I asked if she would serve as my campaign treasurer, assuring her that, if real work needed to be done, I would handle it myself. She agreed. My campaign now had a candidate from Minnesota and a treasurer from Pennsylvania.

I had brought the FEC publications with me from Minnesota. While waiting for my father to have lunch in his nursing home, I studied the booklet concerned with ballot access. Each state had its own method of putting candidates on the ballot. In many states, the Secretary of State determines who the candidates are. A candidate left off the official list has the opportunity to be included by gathering a certain number of supporting signatures. Sometimes the Secretary of State picks candidates whom the national media believes to have substantial support. The process varies from state to state.

From my standpoint, I would have little chance of being put on any state ballot if the Secretary of State made the decision. The petition process offered some hope where a modest number of signatures was required. Here, again, the rules vary by state. Alabama requires 500 signatures statewide to be collected between March 1st and March 15th while California requires 500 signatures in each Congressional District. To get on the ballot in Connecticut, candidates not selected by the Secretary of State need to gather a number of signatures equal to 1% of the vote in the previous election.

For me, the best arrangement was to seek ballot access in states which let candidates run if they simply filed an application and paid a filing fee. A few states allow that. The states which seemed most promising in the FEC booklet were: Colorado ($500 filing fee), Kansas ($100 filing fee), Louisiana ($750 filing fee), Minnesota ($500 filing fee), and New Hampshire ($1,000 filing fee). South Carolina’s system of ballot access in the primary was said to be “according to (the parties’) own rules and at party expense.”

Running in Kansas, Colorado, and Minnesota seemed comparatively attractive although, being a Minnesotan, I suspected something was amiss. I called election officials in the most promising states. The Minnesota official told me what I suspected: The law authorizing a presidential primary had been repealed in 1999. Likewise, in Colorado the legislature had repealed the primary law. In Kansas, the presidential and vice-presidential candidates selected by the national convention appear as a team on the August primary ballot. I would not be on such a ticket. That left New Hampshire, Louisiana, and, possibly, South Carolina. South Carolina, I remembered, had been the scene of a grueling contest between George W. Bush and John McCain in 2000.

I knew that New Hampshire had a presidential primary. The aspect which troubled me there was that candidates had to declare party affiliation. The Louisiana Secretary of State’s office sent me a packet of materials about the primary. Ballot access in that state was relatively easy except that the filing affidavit and fee had to be received in Baton Rouge within a three-day period. In addition to the filing fee of $750, presidential candidates had to pay an additional fee of $375, bringing the total up to $1,125. I called the South Carolina Democratic Party and spoke with a man named Waukeen Barnes. The filing fee there was $2,500. If I was interested in being a candidate in the primary, he said I should send him a short email. One files with the party rather than a state official. The South Carolina Democrats welcomed participation by all candidates, even lesser-known ones like me, Barnes said.

Another possibility, of course, was Iowa. Iowa had a caucus rather than a presidential primary. My first impulse was to include Iowa in the campaign because it bordered my own state. A Democratic Party official in Iowa confirmed that it was not necessary to file. If interested in being a candidate, he said, just send a statement of who you are and the fact that you’re running to the state party chair. He advised me to check the party web site to see what the caucus system involved. I knew something about this already since Minnesota, too, had a caucus system.

Eventually, I ruled out Iowa. The caucus system meant that there would be no preprinted ballots. Caucuses are simply meetings of party members at the lowest level of organization. Anyone who thinks he or she belongs to the party can attend as a voting participant. Participation in caucuses does, however, take an hour or two on a certain evening as opposed to a few minutes in a voting booth. Caucus attendees can support whomever they want for President.

As a practical matter, party caucuses tend to attract the more committed party members, who would be less likely to favor my type of candidacy. Furthermore, even if I attracted some support at the caucuses, lesser-known candidates are seldom able to form a “viable” caucus. They tend to get eliminated in the next round of caucus voting. The final count at each such meeting would probably understate my support if I ran here. Finally, the event in Des Moines on August 16th had attracted no local participation. Evidently, Iowans were not supportive of my candidacy. Maybe the self-hating dynamic was at work here.

Because the filing deadlines for the three primary states were in the period between December and February, I did not pay much attention to this aspect of the campaign until later. My inattentiveness cost me the opportunity to run in New Hampshire. For that state, the FEC booklet said that presidential candidates had to file declarations of candidacy with the secretary of state’s office “between the first Monday in December and Friday of the following week.” I should have realized that the information might be out of date. Even so, on Friday, November 21, I was shocked to read a news report on the Internet about the two dozen or so candidates who had filed in the New Hampshire presidential primary in time to meet the filing deadline. The end of the filing period was that day. So, I would not be running in New Hampshire. I should try to be more careful not to lose my other two opportunities in Louisiana and South Carolina.

Important as it was, the mechanics of filing to become a candidate in a presidential primary did not affect my chances of winning. I had to put infrastructure in place to have a successful campaign. I rented a post-office box in Minneapolis to use as the official address. That would give my campaign a more professional appearance. I could not let on that it was basically a one-man operation. Next, I arranged for campaign stationery. Linda Davis, the treasurer, was also a creative artist. For $15.00, she drew me a sketch of two men and one woman sitting on the back seat of a bus. This created a visual symbol for what I called my “campaign from the back of the bus.”

The “back of the bus” theme was meant to put a positive spin on my chief liability as a candidate - that I was not among the nine democratic candidates for President who were receiving national attention but someone in the second tier of candidates. When I used to ride the bus to work from a suburb twenty-five years ago, I often sat in the back seat of the bus where some of the liveliest discussions took place. This was the image I wished to convey: an engaged citizenry discussing issues of the day.

Another asset I would have as a candidate was the paperback book which would be sold in book stores. If this book was reviewed in daily newspapers, it would create publicity affecting the campaign. Conversely, my campaign for President would expand interest in the book beyond a regional scope. In meriting national attention, this presidential campaign might stimulate book sales in all states. Book sales, in turn, would help the presidential campaign. Unfortunately, most presidential candidates have books, and mine did not sell especially well. Its title, “The Independence Party and the Future of Third-Party Politics”, clashed with the fact that I was now seeking the Democratic nomination. To my knowledge, the only U.S. newspaper to cover “The Independence Party” was the Daily Town Talk in Alexandria, Louisiana. A columnist for that newspaper, Andrew Griffin, picked up my book in an idle moment, started reading the book, found it interesting, and wrote a column.

Another piece of campaign infrastructure was the web site. When I ran for U.S. Senate in 2002, I was able to reserve the domain name, http://www.billforsenate.org. As a presidential candidate, I was pleasantly surprised to find that http://www.billforpresident.org was not yet taken. I quickly reserved this name and went to work creating pages for a web site. I am the proprietor of several different web sites representing various projects or interests of mine. For my world-history book, there is www.worldhistorysite.com; for the publishing company, www.thistlerose.com; for the Orange Party idea, www.orangeparty.org, etc. The web master for them all is a friend, Mark Stanley, who is a professional web designer and fellow member of a singing group which meets weekly. He has helped me put pages up on the Web, integrate photos with the text, and repair broken links.

Persons visiting billforpresident.org would first come upon the home page which identified this as the official web site of the Bill McGaughey-for-President campaign. They would then be greeted by the smiling faces of me and my wife, Lian, together with a biographical description. The “campaign from the back of the bus” logo would appear farther down in the text. The home page linked to three subsidiary pages: one concerned with issues, one with campaign activities, and one with contact information. On the issues page, the art work showed rays of yellow light converging on a point in the center of the page flanked on all sides by links to other pages which disclosed my position on various issues. Employment and race were the main topics of discussion. Other pages told, for instance, how violence in large American cities was related to that in the Iraq war or gave Henry Ford’s reasons for initiating the five-day, 40-hour workweek in 1926.

I can’t say that this web site did much to advance my candidacy. Even though I paid for banner advertising and advice on selecting key words, I have no evidence of significant traffic to the site. Because it was not promptly listed in DMOZ, Yahoo and Google did not search it until after many months. No one contacted the campaign by email from that site; at least, the messages did not get through to me. Even so, this web site, www.billforpresident.org, may have helped in unseen ways. I assume such sites are a necessary part of campaign infrastructure in today’s political world.

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