Raise Sufficient Money

Raise Sufficient Money


Much of the campaign establishment and many journalists covering elections have come to conflate fundraising success with electoral prospects. There is certainly a correlation between fundraising and electoral success, but there are many (and some quite spectacular) counter-examples in recent elections. The campaign industry (on which candidates rely to shape their campaign strategies) is not very incentivized to de-emphasize this aspect of campaigning, because it so directly relates to the industry’s own bottom-line.

Crowd-funding platforms offer meaningful potential for securing a significant number of small-scale contributions, if a candidate can drive her own media coverage. Currently, however, most candidates, particularly for Congress or down-ballot races, get a much higher ROI (money raised for the time invested) from very targeted asks of ultra-wealthy individuals, particularly if we include money contributed to an affiliated SuperPac. (State laws vary in this area – if there is public financing or matching funds available for example – so the effectiveness of various approaches can differ significantly state to state.)

While sophisticated crowd-funding platforms are now widely accessible, there is one effective feature on Kickstarter and other non-political fundraising platforms – the ability to make commitments conditional upon reaching a certain funding threshold – that has not (to our knowledge) been incorporated into political fundraising platforms.


  • Would a conditional pledge feature (like on Kickstarter, where a funding threshold needs to be met) increase the potential funds candidates could raise from small donors? Could a SuperPac marshall enough resources and devise the right model so that it incentivizes candidates to be more reliant on a broader cross-section of their electorate? (Increase the ROI of People Powered Tactics)
  • Could the information disclosed about sources of support be featured more prominently in media coverage and/or combined with concrete actions people might take (protests, public embarrassment of the candidate, etc) such that big-donor fundraising becomes less effective or incurs more significant reputational cost? Could donors pressure campaigns to be more transparent regarding the expense side to do more with less? (Decrease the ROI of Conventional Tactics)
  • Could a targeted and well-researched outreach effort to candidates influence their emphasis on fundraising so that they put greater emphasis on other, more People Powered aspects of their campaign? (Influence Campaign Culture)

What the Domain Experts Say


Mindy Finn

President and Founder, Misschief Media / Former Director of Digital Strategy, Mitt Romney for President
Campaign finance is ripe for disruption as two forces collide: an American public accustomed to crowdfunding that also demands greater transparency into what they buy, and an elite class that increasingly sees little to no return on their massive investments in political activity.


Jay Costa

Executive Director, CounterPAC
Not only do I believe there is great potential in the domain of campaign fundraising for catalyzing a shift toward a more People Powered playbook, I think it is this domain in which investment is arguably most critical. Candidates’ constant need for sufficient money to run a winning campaign lies at the heart of the selection, attention, and influence biases that drive our democratic process to privilege the voices of an elite few. Short of a radical change in campaign culture, it seems unlikely that congressional campaigns will become less expensive any time soon — which means, on average, they will continue to cost millions of dollars to run. Similarly, (again, short of a radical change in campaign culture), it seems unlikely that the dominant approach to campaign fundraising (i.e., raise as much money as possible) will change, since historical trends show that the candidate with the most money generally wins and how much money a campaign spends is so commonly regarded as a metric of its competitiveness. We need to shift campaign incentives to reduce (relatively) the return on investment of major donor fundraising as a strategy. Thus far, efforts seeking to do this have mainly focused on positively incentivizing small dollar fundraising behavior among candidates, through classic systems of public financing as well as matching systems. More recent efforts have shifted focus to incentivize small-dollar giving behavior among constituents, through systems that employ mechanisms such as vouchers and tax rebates, and I think these show great promise. I think far too little thought has been given, however, to ways in which non-governmental forces might serve to amplify the public incentive for small-dollar giving. With an electorate as disengaged as ours is, participation needs as much of a kickstart as it can get. How can we leverage the same impulse that gets people to go out and buy a Power Ball ticket to cultivate a more active grassroots donor base? It seems like there is great potential to experiment with how monetary resources might be levied more forcefully to directly incentivize participation in our political system as a small-dollar donor. Of course, it’s also possible to imagine a less directly monetary incentive (e.g., what gets people to show up at Ben & Jerry’s free cone day) or even a non-monetary one (e.g., what gets people to dump a bucket of ice over their head). What’s common throughout this spectrum of possibilities is that it is well within the domain of non-governmental entities to pioneer. And part of what makes this an exciting arena for experimentation is that, in addition to the impact it could have on campaign fundraising behavior, it might also bolster voter engagement more generally, given the relationship that has been observed between political giving and voter turnout.


John Fallone

Executive Director, Lincoln Network
Changing the way that campaigns raise funds is a pillar of campaigning that is long overdue for disruption. I think the reality is, though, that several candidates in recent years have ridden new waves of fundraising in order to disrupt the system. Two at the top of my mind are President Obama and Ron Paul. President Obama’s fundraising and Ron Paul’s fundraising are nothing short of a loyal following connected through emotion over the internet. I think that crowdfunding will be a new element to this, but not a drastic shake up.


Carmen Rojas

CEO, The Workers Lab
Imagining a democracy buoyed by people power and away from money power should be the 21st century project we take on as a country.


Ethan Roeder

Former Director of Data, Obama Campaign / Executive Director, New Organizing Institute
The examples we all herald of efforts that have bucked the system, of individuals who have successfully snatched the brass ring despite a pitched disparity in their access to resources, are only exceptions that prove the rule. Our country is locked inextricably in the grips of a capitalist death-spiral. Any shading applied to this fact, any dressing we put on this naked reality, is nothing more than a lie that we tell ourselves. As for the notion that we can put our finger on the scale, that we might perhaps predict today which emerging “disruptive practices” will alter the landscape of money in politics ten years from now, my suggestion is to look for the most radical possible examples of successful change that has already occurred. The more unpalatable, the better. Chiapas? Anything short of this is as hopelessly impotent as a pea flung at the heavens. Like Chris Burden firing a pistol at a passing jumbo jet, it’s an amusement for George Soros and the Koch brothers as they engineer our futures for us. If you’re not willing to fund millimeter-specific initiatives, fraught with peril, staffed by dangerous radicals, and totally unacceptable by the standards of contemporary philanthropic practice in America, you will accomplish nothing.


Austin Belali

Director, Youth Engagement Fund at the Democracy Alliance
Campaigns are so dependent on donors and fundraising. Need capacities and incentives for small donor fundraising. That is the most people powered, game changing solution.


Arturo Vargas

Executive Director, NALEO – National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials
The most underperforming segment of the electorate are Latinos, from being registered to vote, voting, and making political contributions. Money is the milk of politics, and no one knows how to reach the Latino udder.


Jim Pugh

CEO, ShareProgress
Fundraising is at the core of why campaigns cater to the wealthy and special interests instead of the population at large. If we can make grassroots fundraising the norm, it’ll be a game changer for popular representation in Washington.


Kyle Layman

Executive Director, Independent Lines Advocacy / Former Chief of Staff, Congressman Raul Ruiz
Fundraising in the digital age offers massive opportunities for broader sections of the public to wield greater influence in the selection and election of candidates for office at every layer of government. But as technology drives broader sections of the public funding greater portions of campaign budgets, it is critical that we push ourselves to optimize engagement even as we accelerate monetization, driving the quality of the connection between candidates and the public as the quantity of communication skyrockets.

Expert Summary Analysis

All answers: 1 = strongly disagree / 5 = strongly agree

How much do the conventional tactics for achieving this objective influence how reliant campaigns feel on narrow subsets as opposed to broad cross-sections of the electorate?

Average: 4.350%

How much do you think the tactics for achieving this objective are likely to change in the coming decade?

Average: 3.470%

How much opportunity do you see for advancing more People Powered tactics for achieving this objective via each lever?

Increase People Powered ROI

Average: 3.760%

Decrease Conventional ROI

Average: 2.240%

Culture Change

Average: 3.180%
  1. In a recently published report commissioned by Google’s Civic Innovation portfolio, Kate Krontiris and colleagues report that nearly 50% of the American public could be considered “Interested Bystanders” – they care about the civic and political health of the nation and engage occasionally in the political process, but are put off by the lack of agency they feel to address the issues they care about, the barriers or costs to getting involved, and how confrontational or advocacy-based much of the participation feels. Krontiris and her colleagues see this demographic as a “moveable segment” that could be incentivized to participate significantly more under the right conditions. We, at the Pluribus Project, also see empowering and engaging this demographic in the political process as critical to our goals.
  2. Visit: www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/section-5-political-engagement-and-activism/