Reince Priebus, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, sent me a dollar bill in the mail. I promptly gave it to Obama. Sorry to “let our candidates down,” Reince.
In total, the envelope that found its way to me contained a long letter (4 pages!), a $1 bill, and an “Emergency Election Reply”. The reply piece asked for the seemingly odd sums of “$80 Plus $1.00 for a total of: $81″ or the same for $161. It also gave me two other options: I could let Reince know that he, “can count on me!” because his, “dollar bill got my attention,” or simply “know every dollar counts,” and return the dollar he sent me.
This poorly targeted political mailer may seem like a big waste of money (and in my case, it certainly was) but after a little research, it turns out this sort of fundraising – using nickels, quarters, checks, and even dollar bills – are not new. However, this seems to be the first case of such tactics being used for political mailers rather than non-profit fundraising. While it is debatable whether or not they are effective, politicos and fundraisers seem to have some faith in these types of mailers. Substantiated or not, at least it gets most people to open the letter.
It is a very interesting fundraising tactic and one that I find risky for both public sentiment reasons as well as legal issues. Imagine if a candidate sent a letter that contained not merely a dollar, but $500 and nominally asked for a return, but also asked to “not let our candidates down” as one of their “strongest supporters,” as did this letter. $500 makes the corruption more obvious and likely, but it represents the exact same tactic. There was a huge debate over whether Elizabeth Warren’s campaign should pay to help welfare recipients get registered to vote in Massachusetts, but sending voters money, even though a vote is not directly requested, is apparently permitted.
While I am sure the RNC legal team vetted the tactic, I think this walks an ethical line when votes are involved. Perhaps the RNC is able to do this because they aren’t directly requesting votes for a specific candidate, but rather a team of them, or alternatively there may not yet be a legal ruling from the FEC on the matter at large.
While I have no problem with NGOs and non-political organizations using this fundraising tactic (ethically, many people still find it annoying), for political organizations requesting not merely money, but also votes, these mailers appear quite corrupt. This is not directly quid pro quo corruption because votes are secret and can’t be verified (though primary votes usually can), but this method of fundraising ought to be limited to spheres where votes are not involved.
Corruption or the appearance therof are the legal precedents sent down from hundreds of years of campaign finance law in the US Supreme Court. I find it surprising and corrupting that these types of mailers are legally allowed to exist in the political sphere.