Astonishing fundraising numbers will continue to pile up as long as money remains speech in American politics.
One way to change would be to push candidates to shift the money thrown into politics from spending it on campaigns to spending it on people and community.
In the first three months of 2015, Hartford Mayoral candidates Luke Bronin, Pedro Segarra, John Gale and Joel Cruz raised about $675,000.00.
In those same three months, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal raised $1 million for what will be an uncontested Senate seat. The Republicans will throw up some puke of a candidate, and millions will be spent on essentially nothing.
We are still months from the municipal election, and just about 18 months from Blumenthal’s coronation. Isn’t it amazing how in Britain they announce and hold elections in 90 days?
Candidates and their machines will pour billions of filthy lucre on consultants, primed voter lists, and data mining to win elections where less than 50 percent of voters will vote. Sometimes, less than 10 percent of voters.
Embracing the spirit of positive political visions, I offer my wish list of how campaigns could knead their dough in ways that would grow voter rolls and generate local economic activity and make lasting impacts on the community.
Plus, it could show us how a campaign manages projects. The way you campaign is the way you govern. Strut your stuff.
I know, I know. Candidates will read this column, think the ideas may have merit, and approach their campaign staff. The professional political operative will gently talk the candidate down from the idea and say: we cannot win an election this way.
Yet, the candidates will continue to raise money – assume the total raised by all candidates surpasses $1.5 million. If – and this is a big if – if 15,000 people vote in the Democratic Party primary, candidates will have spent $100 per vote.
There has to be a better way to spend that obscene amount of money than through junk mail, door-knocking and push-polling. So, here are a few ideas. Please, candidates, take them:
1 – Public Works Projects. Let’s clean up the streets and neighborhoods and parks and rivers and streams and build amenities in public spaces. They will naturally talk about the campaign paying them, and word of mouth is ground game. Votes.
Pay workers to recycle trash cleaned from places like Willard Street or Keney Park. Hire artists and photographers like in the WPA to document these activities. Print t-shirts that say: “Another neighborhood cleaner for X for Mayor.”
Tie the clean-up to a street festival. Hire clowns and give away hot dogs and invite social service agencies.
1.5 – At the street fairs, provide basic health care services. Hire a dental hygiene van and physicians assistants to come and provide free screenings. Invite the Red Cross to do a blood drive.
Politics should be about building community, not about simply counting votes.
2 – Pay for speakers to bring ideas to the community. DayPitney’s sponsorship of the UConn Law Visiting Scholar program is a worthy example. I wrote about Prof. Lawrence Lessig recently coming to Hartford.
What if campaigns brought in interesting speakers like Benjamin Barber, who wrote the seminal book What if Mayors Ruled the World.
Barber poses the concept of a global parliament of mayors supplanting the United Nations. One of the Hartford Mayoral campaigns should pay an adjunct professor a living wage to hold a community-wide book discussion about Barber’s concept before Barber comes here.
The bonus: a Barber book discussion would enrich the mayoral campaign through conversations about what exactly is our city’s vision for chief elected office.
Bring an Australian political scientist in to discuss mandatory voting. Bring in an English political expert to discuss the U.K.’s parliamentary system and rapid elections.
Ideas are central to a democracy. Hartford’s Tweedism turns ideas into poppycock, but I’m trying.
3 – Hire Students to Run a Newspaper/Website to cover the election. Give it editorial free reign. Hire a journalist and a teacher to start a temporary Echoes from the Streets-style news operation paying teens to write about the election and how it impacts them.
For national contests, like Senate seats or presidential races, hire foreign correspondents and send students with professional mentors to Norway or Turkey or the Maldives to report on political conditions overseas, and to learn about how other countries deal with problems.
4 – Create mini-economic engines. Buy a piece of empty property or lease an empty lot for the summer. Hire students to plant a flower and vegetable garden. Grow sunflowers, and then generate revenue by selling vegetables and cut flowers.
Hire other students to run farmers’ markets and nutrition classes for the community.
5 – Hire students to plant trees. Buy the local nurseries out of trees. Hire students to walk up and down streets with walk lists. Identify voters. Better than lawn signs: this tree planted by Me for Mayor. Campaigns can make a lasting impression on a community.
Numbers 3, 4 and 5 are particularly important today given the fact that Mayor Caviar has cut more than $100,000 from the summer youth workforce budget this year. Start your mayoral administration now by showing us where your priorities are. Students.
6 – Build houses and deed them to not-for-profit housing agencies when the campaign ends. Plenty of properties for sale have pre-done zoning approvals for two family houses. Buy standard drawings and get an architect and throw a house together in five months. You could do it for $250,000.00. How many houses could Blumenthal build instead of funneling millions to airwaves?
We know Dick likes to be on TV. He’d get news coverage for philanthropic political endeavors. This candidate doesn’t just have a platform, but a record of accomplishment in ending homelessness.
7 – Hire students to run composting programs and collect compost and waste foods from neighborhoods for the summer months. This will reduce landfill usage. It will create political action where it hits people most: their food. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
It can entice voters to think about politics in new, novel ways: every time they throw away food scraps, they will be reminded of the candidate who does something about growing landfill problems.
Composting could benefit the aforementioned gardening operation.
And finally, in the most literal sense, composting is a ground game: campaign for office by making dirt, not slinging mud.
8 – Hire single, unwed, teen mothers to raise their children. Make it an experiment. Pay adjunct Social Science professors to work with students to collect data. Publish a white paper.
What policy proposals might this candidate generate if elected after that project?
9 – Hire students to run an urban bicycle repair and safety workshop. Buy bicycles and repair bicycles for the community in the summer time.
Hire bicycle entertainers to have a bicycle festival. Give away helmets and install lights for safe riding. We know your administration will paint bike lanes.
10 – Murals. Murals. Murals. Let’s paint murals and provide people jobs. John Gale is leading the way on murals. It helps that he has a building. But let’s challenge his campaign to find another building to fund and paint.
11 – Pick some of the losing SC2 projects and figure out how to implement them in three months.
12 – Do something, anything, different than building websites, issuing candidate position papers and debating and attacking and parrying and plotting. Please. Thanks!