Pre-launch series: Campaigns and Money

Every time there is an election – often well before that election – there is tons of coverage of raising money to run a campaign. I used to always wonder about that part, so I thought I’d share my observations.

This post is really about three things: why political campaigns cost money, my philosophy about contributions, and what impact the contributions have on me. Let’s get started.

Why do political campaigns cost money?

I care very deeply about the San Diego region, and I’ve spent years leading, volunteering, working with others, and learning about the issues that impact our region. But if I can’t share that information with you as a voter, how will you ever know any of what I care about, what I stand for, or what I have done? The reality of money, in local politics anyway, is that you need it to tell voters what your values are, what you have fought for and accomplished and the type of leader you will be if elected.  It costs money to print sign-in sheets and mailers (and although mailers are annoying, they do work and that’s why people use them). A better system might be if candidates received public money to campaign so that less time would be taken focused on money and more of it on issues, but even that would require someone to make a decision about who should get the money and who shouldn’t. I saw this great video on this from the local Clean Campaigns advocates.

In the end, just like we demonstrate our values when we choose to shop certain places, parting with our personal money to support a person or a campaign is really a statement that we believe in a thing enough to choose to give up something else to help make that vision of our community a reality.

For my race, there is a $800 cap and requirement for individuals only to donate (no corporate/organizational contributions). This is done to level the playing field and give candidates who don’t have insider ties or large backers a fighting chance. If you donate less than $100, it does not have to be reported.

How I arrived at my philosophy about raising money?

I thought alot about this before deciding to run for office. We have all heard people say a candidate is “in the pocket of” some group who gave them money. I always wondered about that. I went from being involved in leadership positions in my community and legal and civic organizations to being more involved as a volunteer in political campaigns several years ago. This put me in a position to talk to people who gave money to political candidates and also to the officials themselves.  I also now have friends who I knew before they were politicians so I’ve had a chance to talk about these things with some of them.  The result is that I have had some experiences with the different ways people in politics view giving and receiving campaign contributions. Having paid attention to this and also the way the media and many politicians seem to treat the subject, it has helped me decide how I intend to handle contributions both as a candidate and in elected office.

The way I have decided to handle contributions.

I have made the decision that I would communicate my values and the issues important to me and then seek contributions from almost everyone, especially the people who support those values. For example, I believe every single child and young person should have the opportunity from birth to get quality, early care and learning. This means we should have well-qualified, reasonably paid people to teach them, we should have pediatricians to help make sure parents know how to support these efforts and we should have facilities that are designed to strengthen these ideals. And these opportunities for children, youth and their families are hugely important to me. As a result, people who believe in these issues may choose to support me. It doesn’t mean I’m beholden to them or that I’m making my decisions based on their monetary contributions.

This is true for homes as well. I believe we need to sustainably build more homes – alot more homes – and responsibly fix the rules that makes homes so expensive to build. As a result, people who design or build homes or support building homes will hopefully agree and support me. This is about bringing the overall cost of housing down so that more San Diegans can afford to live here. We need to encourage those in the real estate market to build market rate entry level, workforce type housing because that is the type of housing people just starting out in their careers and dual income earning families really need to thrive. Together with more subsidized affordable housing supply these things will make the San Diego region more affordable for more people.

I have other priorities around improving the movement of goods through our region, making our biking network safer and our transit more efficient, paying the health care workers who care for the neediest San Diegans, especially the elderly and disabled, and having a regional economy that benefits every San Diegan across all incomes, for example.  These priorities will drive the type of County Supervisor I will be if elected and these things are true regardless of who supports my campaign.

What impact will the contributions have?

The most important answer is that the contributions will help me communicate what my values are but they won’t decide how I vote on a given policy.  I am doing this because I want to help make people’s lives better, but I’m not willing to compromise my ethics to get or keep a political office. I also believe strongly that helping voters participate early in my deliberations and the tough work of thinking through issues is a worthy and important cause. Campaign contributions will help create the infrastructure to make it easier to listen and to be involved.  All I can do is stick to what I believe and be candid about why I’m doing things and then go from there.

Post Script

I wrote the above piece while deciding whether to run late last year. I did not know at the time all that I do now about this system.  In line with my commitment to making our institutions work for all San Diegans and be more open, I’ll be sharing some hard truths about local elections and what we need to do to make them more clean and fair. Plenty of people who benefit from the current system won’t love what I have to say, but more people will understand how things work, which is important.