When do Campaign Funds Stop Making a Difference?

It’s all about the Washington’s…or is it?

Recently NLS posted on the fundraising in certain high profile Virginia state Senate races. As might be expected, races like Chap! v. JMDD and The Cooch v. The Hoot get a lot of attention. Today’s WaPo reports that The Gov wants to be able to pour money into winnable races to try regain Demoratic control of the Senate via his political action committee, Moving Virginia Forward. Charles Kelly, the committee director, says:

“We have 49 days to go, so he is going to be working hard between now and Election Day to make sure our candidates have the resources to win in November”

49 to go…well, 48 as of today…but is that really how long The Gov has?

This leads me to a question: When do Campaign Funds Stop Making a Difference? And no, I am not referring to after the election…

The ability to raise money is a critical component of an effective campaign. It not only reflects the ability of candidates to buy necessary resources, but also may act as a barometer of the candidates support or the effectiveness of their campaign apparatus.

When I was much younger my father was a member of and later chairman of the Virginia Medical Political Action Committee (VAMPAC). The old hands on the committee noted that while late money was better than no money at all, early money was better than late money. In fact, they always said $1 in June is worth $2 in October, as it allowed the candidate to establish credibility. It also followed the obvious idea that the earlier a candidate gets the money, the better they can plan how to use it to advance the campaign.  The idea is not dated…you will remember the famous Democratic EMILY PAC, which was an acronym for “Early Money is Like Yeast”.

Example: Last year in Va-10 we saw the Wolf and Feder campaigns with large amounts of money in the bank until late in the game, and then the bulk of it went out for media buys. Clearly they had to have money on hand-or the promise of money coming in-before they could plan how much and when they could purchase ad time.  Had they raised the money later than they did it would have impacted the quantity of timeliness of their media buys.

Candidates must plan in order to effectively spend money. Yes, there is much that can be done using desktop publishing, but this is better for smaller targeted projects.  The mass purchase of campaign signs, bumper strips, flyers, etc. require lead time. The creation of mail pieces require more time, and the developement and creation of televsion and radio spots even more. Plus, many of the vendors you will be dealing with require significant or complete payment up front.

Beyond production and distribution lead times, campaigns also have to get their stuff out to allow enough time for the message to soak in with the elctorate. Occasionally there is a legitimate “October Surprise” that gets such widespread coverage that the electorate is familiar with it immediately, but typically such events are disseminated via new stories and not via the campaigns.

So, let’s do the math…and what follows are not suggested to be the gospel timing, but to illustrate that there is an expiration date for effective fundraising.

Assume Candidate Doe wants to release a radio spot attacking his opponent. Research shows that the average voter will have to hear the spot 8 times before the message sinks in. It will take ten days of the commercial running in regular rotation to reach that degree of saturation, and he wants the message firmly in place two weeks prior to election day to compliment other campaign activities. It will take a week to write it, record it, and buy time for it to run. Ultimately, half the money for the advert needs to be paid out before the process starts, and the balance when it starts to run.

For optimal placement, then, the clock starts ticking for Candidate Doe no later than 31 days (10+14+7) out from election day. On this year’s cycle, that means the clock kicks in on October 6…Candidate Doe would need to have at least half the money for this project in hand to disperse on October 6, and the balance by October 13. After that, the ability for the proposed spot to have the maximum impact diminishes each day.

The same time line holds true for other materials. Need special signs for election day? Then perhaps you need them in hand four days out to ensure distribution to volunteers, there will be two days for shipping, and fourteen days for all aspects of the production run. That order better be in and paid for three weeks out from election day, because the later you wait the higher the cost will get as it goes from a regular to a rush project.

Let’s go back to The Gov and say Candidate Doe is one of his guys. Candidate Doe needs $50K to make this part of his media plan work. That means that The Gov doesn’t have 49 days, he has 17.

The point to these examples is that it is not just a matter of raising money, it is raising money in an adequate quantity and in a timely manner so the resulting product has maximum effectiveness. There is an expiration date for effective fundraising.

All this leads us back to my original question…When do Campaign Funds Stop Making a Difference?

The floor is yours…

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3 thoughts on “When do Campaign Funds Stop Making a Difference?

  1. Bwana,

    You make an excellent point, although I think it only accounts for part of the campaign finance equation. The ultimate goal for financing a campaign, of course, is going broke by 7 pm on Election Day. That is, of course, really easy to plan for if you indeed stop raising money 31 days out; all you have to do is look at how much money you have in the bank ($X), divide by 31, and that’s the average amount of money you can spend on any given day. You can break it down in other ways, too, of course: mail pieces, lapel stickers, radio ads, but you’re going to plan your expenditures on a timeline (because yes, some things you do pay for early, but some things you can hold off on paying for until a couple days before the election, and some operating expenditures will be collected at the end of November), and the daily average will be ($X)/31.

    HOWEVER, if you’re actually doing your job right, you should have a completely separate timeline to compare against the first, which describes when and how you’re going to come up with every dollar you plan on raising before E-day. If you have a late fundraising goal (for a value of $Y) and a serious plan for achieving that goal, you can conceivably plan to spend an average of $(X+Y)/31 and not run out of funds.

    There are caveats to this. #1, X must absolutely be large enough in proportion to Y that you can afford to spend fast and loose early and then make up some of that money later. #2, you have to be able to match projected cash on hand on any given day against your expenditures timeline so you don’t accidentally overdraft and force yourself to stop spending for a few days before your next bundle of checks clears. Finally, you have to be absolutely confident in your ability to hit Y and on your timeline, or you’ll run out of money before E-day.

    It all comes down to planning. If you’re good at planning, you can squeeze every drop of finance potential out of your campaign, which can make the difference in a close race. If you suck at it, you’ll possibly bankrupt yourself early or (more likely) spend conservatively and end up with a lot of cash on hand left over on E-day. This is never a problem if you win, but if you lose, you look like an ass.

  2. You actually bring up a good point in outlining this process: a party representing the poor would be a poor party. Campaign funding needs serious reform, especially because our government lacks a good mix-up of representatives: the idea pool has become quite stagnant. I’ve actually written a bit about the relationship of the wealthy with the government on my own blog, http://lp27.wordpress.com.

  3. Pingback: King Cranium » Getting the money in time matters

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