In Defense of Political Email | Commentary
All right already. We get it. Politicians and campaign committees send lots of emails with interesting subject lines and rather frantic requests for contributions.
It is certainly not a new phenomenon, and yet with each campaign fundraising deadline we are treated to another round of seemingly aghast reports with tongue-in-cheek headlines designed to mimic the subject lines of fundraising emails.
As a partner at one of the left’s leading digital strategy and advertising firms — Rising Tide Interactive — and a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee email scribe, I’ll admit these stories grab my attention and flood my inbox (go figure) as friends and colleagues forward me the latest, occasionally clever takedown of my field.
But where Beltway prognosticators see another catchy headline, I see democracy in action. Emails that solicit millions in small dollar donations annually have done more in the past 10 years to democratize the funding of campaigns than anything since the first stamp was licked and placed on a fundraising envelope decades ago. For the first time in the era of the modern political campaigns, ordinary Americans have the opportunity to own a real piece of the organizations that elect their representatives — and that’s not something I take lightly.
Can the urgency of these appeals get a little over the top? I guess it depends on who you ask. In my experience, people don’t give $25 to a fundraising email because they really believe that some campaign’s digital director is about to drown in a pool of his own tears. They do it because they feel like it’s important — and it’s up to us to make that case to them.
Maybe it is the progressive in me, but as far as I’m concerned, diluting the power of corporations and special interest groups in the political process is something to be celebrated. And with a Congress that is hopelessly broken and incapable of getting anything accomplished —let alone something like meaningful campaign finance reform — convincing everyday Americans to put their hard-earned money into political campaigns is more difficult and important than ever.
To be sure, when it comes to political email, you catch more flies with vinegar than you do with honey. In that regard, these appeals can be similar to the negative television ads that blanket our airwaves in the weeks leading up to an election – except you can’t unsubscribe from attack ads. Contrary to what folks in Washington like to believe, horse-race politics is a pretty dry business. So injecting some relevance, urgency, and even humor can go a long way to making the way we choose our leaders more accessible to people who don’t consume the latest tracking polls for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It comes down to this: Politics is expensive. Few know this better than the media that covers campaigns and make billions selling the ad space candidates need to reach voters. Like it or not, running a competitive political campaign costs real money — and that money has to come from somewhere. Grass-roots online fundraising, melodramatic as it may sometimes seem, makes that kind of money accessible to candidates who don’t necessarily have huge corporate or special interest support.
So, the next time the subject line of a political email makes you roll your eyes, go ahead and have a quick laugh, but pause before letting the cynicism set in too deep. That message was sent by someone who cares deeply about this country, for millions of people who feel passionately about that important issue, to elect people who will impact all of our lives.
It seems odd ending this message without an appeal for contributions. Is it too much to ask that we all do a better job of contributing to our political discourse instead of parroting the skepticism du jour far too common among many political and media elites?
Stephanie Grasmick is a partner at Rising Tide Interactive, a leading digital strategy and advertising firm for Democrats and progressives including Ready for Hillary.