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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control: Candidates can be relentless in the race for cash

UPDATED: Mon., June 4, 2018

There’s no surer sign that campaign season is in full swing than the heavy buildup of pleas for money in the email inbox.

A fact of life in the Internet Age is that once a political party or campaign gets your email address, they never lose it. They may trade it for other email addresses with other campaigns, pass it down to a successor, copy it from the state committee to the county committee or even double up on it.

But once they get you, you’re likely to stay got, which is why people who are driven to distraction or easy marks for phony pleas of desperation should be careful about filling in an email when attending a political event or completing a form that has even the slightest hint of politics.

There was a time when a person could lie straight-faced and say, “Oh, I don’t have email.” But almost nobody with fewer than three digits in their age can claim that any more. A better dodge might be to say “Darn, it was just hacked this morning and I haven’t set up a new account. Wouldn’t make sense to give you the old address.”

Reporters have their email addresses attached to stories and linked on newspaper websites, so they are easily picked and traded freely among campaigns, which explains why I get daily updates from the Colorado gubernatorial race and a Arizona senate race, along with requests for money from national, state and local campaigns around the country, even though I’ve never given a dime to a candidate or a ballot measure.

I like to tell them it’s against newspaper policy, which it is, but the truth is, I’m cheap. I’d also throw it away trying to beat a three-card Monte huckster before I’d give it to a politician.

Still, the appeals keep coming, with pitches that would shame a televangelist asking folks at home for money to buy a private jet so he could spread the word of the Lord without having to fly coach. Would I like to wish Joe Biden a Happy Birthday? Would I like to congratulate Barack and Michelle on their wedding anniversary? Would I like to help Donald Trump defeat the deep state? Will I take a one-question survey about gun control or gun rights or late-term abortions or reproductive rights?

It’s tempting to answer all of these with a series of emphatic “noes,” but that would just get me on the radar to get twice as many emails next week.

Toward the end of each month, the campaigns ramp up their begging, sending out warnings that they are short of their “goal” and are going to miss their “deadline.” Won’t I please help? They only need a certain number of contributors – usually a few dozen to make it seem achievable by me and other folks similarly situated – to give a total amount that is always an uneven number. Just click to contribute.

An analysis of such requests will show that the “goal” was a figure set by the campaign itself. If they can’t budget, how is that anyone else’s problem? The deadline is usually tied to the day the campaign has to file a report with the Federal Elections Commission or the state Public Disclosure Commission. So it’s not really a deadline in the true sense of the word, which comes from the days when newspapers were printed using lead type punched out on Linotype machines. At a certain point, the plates had to be put on the press, the Linotypes went “dead” and nothing could be added to a story.

Campaigns have no such deadlines. If they have to report on Monday and you give them money on Tuesday, the contribution just goes on next month’s report. They still get to spend it. What they want is to be able to brag about the largest amount possible when telling the news media how much they’ve collected.

But begging for money is all about creating fear, or at least a strong apprehension, in a donor’s mind that something bad will happen if you don’t help out RIGHT NOW! As an old politician once explained, the Sierra Club doesn’t raise money by saying isn’t it nice that rivers are getting cleaner, and the NRA doesn’t tell members their gun rights are secure. They tell donors to give money to keep eagles from going extinct or to stop the government from seizing your guns.

Similarly, he said, no candidate is going to raise a cent by saying my opponent’s a pretty good guy, but I think I can do a little bit better job.

Even candidates who swear off PAC money, corporate contributions and financial help from unions or special interests unabashedly use tactics designed to create the kind of us-versus-them society that they’re going to denounce if they get elected.

Because running for office and being in office are two entirely different things. And raising campaign money is all about making things black and white. The shades of gray are for cheesy romance novels.

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