Trying to Win the GOP's Game

Jake Tonkel

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Let me preface by saying I vastly prefer Jones to Moore. The GOP is arguably the most dangerous organization on the planet. Their failure to even recognize climate change has devastated, and will continue to devastate, the lives of more people than all the terror attacks from 911 on combined.

That said, the resistance and its newfound energy (and money) need to have a healthy discussion about the importance of democracy, and the role money plays in politics.

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2017 was the year of special elections, and people from around the country were paying attention to district races in Georgia, Kansas, Montana, S. Carolina and Alabama. Each race posturing as the “litmus test” for Donald’s popularity, and the likelihood of taking back Congress in 2018. I never thought my office would stop at 5 o'clock to watch votes be counted for an Alabama Senate race. This attentiveness is positive. When people are paying attention, being involved in local policy, and scrutinizing their elected officials on a daily basis, like they have since Nov. 2016, democracy moves closer to the people.

These elections, besides being watched from all over the country, were “special” for another reason, money. Opensecrects.org tracks campaign finance, according to their data, Democratic candidates received a total of $50.6 Million across the 6 special election races, up 1355% since 2016, roughly a $47 Million increase. In contrast, Republican campaign donations only totaled $20 Million, an increase of only 149% from the previous cycle. So was this increase in spending successful? Well, despite Democrats outspending Republicans 2:1, they were victorious in only 1 of the 6 races. To be fair, these were races that the Democratic leadership had considered unwinnable, and it’s positive that people are running for office on progressive platforms in historically red districts, and doing well! We want people getting involved, volunteering and donating to local campaigns, but there are unintended consequences to frivolous spending, and perhaps there are better options. Elections are important but they come and go. The real work being done is on the ground organizing, day in and day out, regardless of who is in office.

Where is the $29.5 Million that John Ossoff from Georgia spent? Flyers and yard signs are in a landfill, campaign commercials floating around YouTube, and those part-time campaigners have moved on. As someone who successfully got through Economics 101 in college, there is a better way to use that money in these districts. Spending should help improve our country’s democracy by addressing systemic forms of disenfranchisement and inequality. Getting to the root cause of voter suppression, gerrymandering, or political apathy will ultimately improve the success of candidates that share progressive, working class, liberal values. When we give money to John today, we will have to give again in 4 years. If instead, we pay to hire 632 new Non-profit Executive directors or 1445 program managers with that same money, people could be working all year to solve these issues, giving voice to the voiceless with the added benefit of reducing the need to donate to progressive candidates in the future.

With the Koch Network planning to spend 400 Million alone in the 2018 midterms, the left should not be out to win that money ball game. We cannot ignore the reality that money plays in elections, we are still in a pay to play world. However, instead of solely trying to outspend the GOP, some strategy must come into play. Take on issues that undermine our democratic process, replace the Electoral College with a national popular vote, implement ranked choice voting to give more options on the ballot, and push legislation that makes it easier to vote, not more difficult. We cannot continue to ignore the role gerrymandering and voter suppression, particularly on the part of Republicans, has played in thwarting Democratic victories. I live in the Bay Area, and I challenge my community to ask ourselves how we would feel if millions of dollars from Texas, or Alabama, started pouring into our local elections. When districts are flooded with "Blue" money, are we doing more harm than good for our democracy? Advocating for representative democracy should never be on the condition that only our candidates are elected. How we choose to proceed during 2018 will say more about our integrity and commitment to democracy than it will about our political appeal.

(Published February 1, 2018 - View Full Newsletter Here)