Summary of 2012 Program
Successfully Building Political Power for Money-in Politics Reform
“An Anti-Super PAC Super PAC Had a Good Year”
–Washington Post, 11/8/12
In 2012, seven of the eight incumbent House members targeted for defeat by Friends of Democracy lost. We delivered more than 2 million individual voter contacts in these eight districts, all on the issue of money-in-politics, complemented by 100 million online impressions through web advertising in six of them. Due to the sheer volume of our work, money-in-politics became a central factor in each of these races. This success is the tip of the iceberg of what can be accomplished through an expanded program in upcoming cycles.
The House candidates we helped to elect are Reps. Ami Bera, Pete Gallego, Joe Garcia, Ann Kuster, Dan Maffei, Sean Patrick Maloney, and Raul Ruiz.
Through an affiliated state committee in New York, Friends of Democracy also made a major investment in shaping the outcome of a state senate race few observers thought was competitive. Along with allies, we made the race a referendum on money-in-politics reform and helped a pro-reform candidate close a 12 percent gap in the last month of the election. When all the votes were counted, the reform candidate, Cecilia Tkaczyk, won by 18 votes. The outcome proved that when given a clear choice, voters will stand up for reform. Senator Tkaczyk is now a key player in advancing a comprehensive reform in New York.
- “My support for public financing is a central reason I won the job."
State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk / Times Union 12/13/12 /
2012 House Program Summary
We chose districts using three criteria: 1) competitiveness of the race, 2) clear positions of the candidates for and against campaign finance reform, and 3) likelihood that our message would cut through and be heard. In October of 2012, we instituted a voter contact program in eight House races that targeted a distinct set of late-deciding voters through direct mail and phone calls, with web advertising echoing the message. The message was consistent and clear: the targeted incumbents had all received campaign contributions from entrenched special interests and cast votes that hurt constituents.
We built this program by applying the results of an Analyst Institute experiment we conducted over the summer. The tests allowed us to fine tune the message as well as demonstrate its efficacy with allies and press. We also used early television advertising to inject the issue into several of these races before the airwaves were saturated. Finally, on the other side of a legally-constructed firewall, Friends of Democracy deployed a communications professional to work with pro-reform candidates so that the campaigns could benefit from years of expertise and integrate best practices to connect with voters on these issues and on solutions to the problem.
Our results were solid. In each of our targeted races, Friends of Democracy identified a universe of persuadable voters based on publicly available and internal polling, voter file scores, and other factors. On average, our program focused on 8.5 percent of the likely projected turnout, and in six of the seven races in which our candidate emerged victorious, the candidate’s margin of victory was smaller than our targeted universe of voters.
Friends of Democracy also commissioned end-of-election season polling in three of the targeted districts (CA-07, CA-36, and NH-02) to assess voter attitudes about our messaging and the need for reform. In every one of these districts, voters had been barraged with outside groups spending millions on advertising. The polling results showed a clear pattern across the districts, and provide a mandate to the members:
- Voters ranked addressing corruption in Washington as the most important priority facing the new Congress, ranking it above jobs and the economy, protecting Medicare and Social Security, and reducing the deficit.
- Roughly three-quarters of voters in each district urgently want Congress to address the issue of money-in-politics and believe that the high level of election spending they witnessed in this election is a “threat to fairness of our elections and our democracy.”
In “exit” interviews conducted in the weeks following Election Day, we heard very positive feedback about all aspects of the program from the candidates we supported and their campaign managers. Most importantly, the program built champions for reform. Each of the seven House members we helped to elect has pledged to cosponsor comprehensive reform legislation and educate their constituents about the issue of money-in-politics.
Looking Ahead to 2014
It’s already clear that the goal we sought in this first year – demonstrating it is possible to build political power by defeating opponents of reform and electing champions – has been achieved. We are looking to move ahead in four distinct areas in 2013 and 2014:
- Expand our work into House primaries of both parties or special elections in 2014;
- Increase our presence in competitive general elections in the House while defending our successes;
- Seek special opportunities at the state level and in U.S. Senate races that, by their nature, may provide a national platform for our work; and
- Translate political power into a win on public policy in New York State and begin to build momentum for legislative action in Congress.
For more information, email David Donnelly at [email protected].