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And over time, I came to see the anger much differently. Behind the angry mask was a feeling of hurt; of people feeling invisible to the political process and those pulling the strings. And whatever Democrats say about the Tea Party movement and its followers, they should learn a lesson from them. Most people on both ideological spectrums are yearning for their voice to be heard once again, but the Tea Party just seems more willing to do something about it.
If I could have changed anything about the campaign, I would have robbed a bank. It would have been a lot more respectable than some of the things you have to do to raise money.
A candidate's need to fund-raise abdicates his or her self-worth. Every dollar donated marginalizes a candidate's ability to lead independently. But as I was constantly reminded, if I wanted to succeed I had to become a "shameless" fund-raiser.
Call it stubbornness, or just plain ol' self respect, there's something about shamelessly begging that's difficult to accept. But the drain of campaigning on principle alone can test the willpower of the strongest person.
A candidate will usually spend four to eight hours each day making fund-raising calls. And not having any previous experience, my first day was a disaster.
I remember the excitement of filing to become a candidate (which cost a whopping $8,000) quickly giving way to a hair-tearing anger. With a goal to raise $7,000 that first day, I found even my closest friends and family to be less than receptive.
My three favorite responses were also the most common:
Bronze: "I believe in you more than anything. But I can't give you money because it's too risky."
Silver: "Leave me. The. Fuck. Alone!"
And Gold: "You're either stupid or crazy to run, and what makes you think I'd give money to either one."
As awkward as it was for me to ask for money, it was more awkward for the person being asked. No one really wants to give money to a political candidate, no matter what they say.
And except for the few who donate because they genuinely care or believe, once a candidate accepts a donation, the donor essentially owns you. And It becomes just that more difficult to act in accord with your conscience.
At times, I was offered contributions with certain conditions. For example, at a small event a natural gas executive offered me a large donation if I promised to "take care of the industry."
I didn't feel confident enough about the issues to accept. But let me tell you, turning down a thousand dollar check when you're as broke as I was, was damn hard.
Most fund-raising exchanges weren't this direct, but all had an unspoken expectation, like in any transaction.
Just think of politics like NASCAR. The candidate is the car, and the more money someone sponsors (or donates), the more training and testing you can buy to help you win. In return, your sponsor gets to ride you to the finish. The only thing missing are the big, colorful patches on our suits.
ALL politicians hate fund-raising — don't let them fool you. I remember hearing each of my primary opponents complain about the absurdity of fund-raising. The reason being that it causes you to contantly lose perspective on what's important in politics.
One night after speaking to a Little Rock neighborhood association, a young woman in hospital scrubs asked to speak with me in private.
She pressed her hands tightly around mine and excitedly said, "I'm going to give you $5, 'cause I know you need it."
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