Masaccio wrote an open letter to the President’s fundraisers over the weekend, and of course everyone has to decide for themselves about election support and donations, and I don’t presume to tell you how to approach that. I will say that, as a practical matter, there’s nothing more ineffectual an activist can do with their money than to donate to a Presidential campaign. That means any Presidential campaign. And that’s not just me talking. Jonathan Bernstein, a supporter of the President and his policies, made the same case last month:
If you’re planning on making political donations this year, and you really want your money to help the cause, here’s what you should do: Instead of sinking cash into either presidential campaign, put it where it will really matter — into Congressional or state and local races [...]
As critical as presidential elections are — and no doubt they are the single most important individual elections in US politics — control of both the House and the Senate in some ways can matter even more. After all, presidents only get the legislation that Congress produces; presidents can’t even staff the executive branch unless the Senate is willing to cooperate; and the Senate is very important in shaping the third branch of government, the judiciary.
This may tilt too far in the direction toward Presidential irrelevancy, but Bernstein also makes the case that, with hundreds of millions raised by the Presidential candidates, and much of it from big donors in the 1%, the marginal effectiveness of that small-dollar donation is much smaller in a Presidential race than it is in a state legislative or Congressional race. And there are plenty of cases in which the primaries, to select the Democratic standard-bearer in those races, matter far more than anything else, and those are even cheaper races to participate in. Just off the top of my head, you have Dennis Kucinich competing against Marcy Kaptur tomorrow in a primary in Ohio (thanks to redistricting), you have progressive Ilya Sheyman against a Blue Dog in Brad Schneider in a House race in Illinois, you have Mazie Hirono against conservaDem Ed Case in a US Senate primary in Hawaii. And the list goes on and on. Those races for the ideological makeup of the Democrats absolutely matter.
And this is all the more true when you recognize that the President plans to hoard DNC money for the 2012 cycle.
President Barack Obama has a bleak message for House and Senate Democrats this year when it comes to campaign cash: You’re on your own.
Democratic congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have privately sought as much as $30 million combined from Obama for America and the Democratic National Committee — a replay of the financial help they received from Obama in 2008 and 2010.
But that’s not going to happen, top Obama aides Jim Messina and David Plouffe told Reid and Pelosi in back-to-back meetings on Capitol Hill on Thursday, according to sources familiar with the high-level talks. It was a stark admission from a presidential campaign once expected to rake in as much as $1 billion of just how closely it is watching its own bottom line.
Messina and Plouffe told the two Hill leaders that there would be no cash transfers to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from OFA or the DNC, at least not before Election Day, the sources said.
I guess the President’s team has no sense of the need for a Congress willing to legislate their agenda. It’s true that the President himself raised much of that DNC money in an array of personal appearances at fundraisers. But Democratic House and Senate leaders expected at least some spillover cash. Now they’ll get none, putting them in a deep hole. And the President will limit his fundraising appearances for Congressional Dems to a single event for the DCCC and DSCC, with email and direct mail solicitations making up the rest of the commitment. Individual lawmakers will not see the President or Vice President this year. It’s every man or woman for themselves.
The Obama team thinks they’ll need every last dollar for waging battle against a coterie of SuperPACs from the right. However, most of those SuperPACs have already said they will put their money against not only Obama but Congressional Democrats as well. So the Obama campaign’s failure to spread the wealth really puts Democratic Congressional hopefuls at a disadvantage.
The Obama campaign counters that their turnout operation will help Democrats downballot, and there were some modest coattails in 2008. But it is surprising to see the DNC, chaired by a House Democrat, remain so stingy when it comes to colleagues on the Hill.
Nobody expects Jim Messina and David Plouffe to care about anyone but their client. But I hope they don’t make any campaign promises that the Congress they’re not trying to elect cannot keep.