This is an updated version of the memo posted in February. I welcome feedback.
The 2018 elections will shape our politics until 2032. There are elections for Governor and the state legislature in 36 states in 2018 (and two in 2017). These are the state and local elected officials who will be in office to oversee redistricting, the process by which we redraw congressional and state legislative districts after the 2020 census. Democrats dropped the ball in 2010 and allowed Tea Party Republicans to partisan gerrymander states from Florida to Pennsylvania to Texas. We in California are lucky to have a non-partisan, citizen-led redistricting commission; however, in 35 states, districts lines are passed like a bill and we therefore need to control one chamber of the state legislature and/or the Governor’s mansion to have any say at all. This is why re-taking the U.S. House remains a challenge – but one that is doable in a wave election year. There are 23 seats held by Republicans but won by Clinton; Democrats need to win 24 seats to retake the majority (and have the subpoena power necessary to investigate the Trump Administration). Additionally, Democrats must defend 25 U.S. Senate seats, 10 of which are in states won by Trump. Essentially, we need to run the table and win in places where we are not used to playing. It is a daunting but critical task, one made slightly easier with the House GOP “repeal and replace” vote on Obamacare last week.
Since the election of #NotMyPresident Trump, we have seen a huge wave of activism on the Left. Groups like Indivisible, SwingLeft, Flippable, and too many others to name have popped up. Citizens are calling Members of Congress in unprecedented levels, shutting down the Capitol switchboard. The ACLU raised five times its annual budget in one weekend. Everyone is asking, What Can I Do?
The problem is, what we’re doing feels insufficient. We are so desperate to take action, so desperate to right the wrongs happening every day, that we waste time sending postcards to Paul Ryan in a futile effort to be heard. When we cannot even garner more then two Republican votes against a billionaire, non-educator riddled with conflicts of interest as Secretary of Education, we know we will lose many, many more battles before we can win the war.
We have seen that activism works, from town halls to scrutiny on sub-Cabinet level appointments. The Resistance is not dwindling in enthusiasm and this is making Republicans very, very nervous. The upcoming runoff election in GA-6 and the Montana special election are also ways to demonstrate that this is not business as usual.
As part of asking, What Can I Do?, many people are also asking, Where Can I Give? We are inundated with candidates, organizations, new initiatives, politician’s pet projects and other vehicles for political investment. But there are few filters to determine the most impactful and timely investments.
I have spent nearly 20 years in electoral politics, advocacy and non-profit organizations, and donor advising; you can learn more about me here. Below is a summary of my suggestions.
A few general tips:
- Resist the urge to spread the love in order to maximize your giving impact. Pick one or two priorities (such as women in the Senate, purple state Governors, or immigrant rights) and 3-4 candidates/entities or organizations.
- Give to both national and state/local organizations as well as federal and down-ballot candidates.
- Save 10% of total giving for last minute or urgent needs.
- Consider at least a 70/30 split on 501c3/other giving (501c4, candidates, PACs, etc). Consult with your accountant or financial advisor for larger 501c3 (tax deductible) gifts.
1. ELECTORAL INVESTMENTS
I use the term electoral broadly to include federal, state, and local candidates, party committees, and candidate-affiliated PACs and SuperPACs. I recommend choosing one electoral priority or state (see section three for additional information) to focus on and maximize investment.
2017 Governors and other state elections:
New Jersey Gubernatorial and state legislature: Embattled Governor Chris Christie (R) is term-limited. Former US Ambassador to Germany & Ex-Wall Street executive Phil Murphy (D) has cleared the field thus far while the GOP has a crowded primary. The state legislature and other constitutional offices are also up for election. The Cook Political Report rates this race “Lean Democrat.”
Virginia Gubernatorial and state legislature: Incumbent Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) is term-limited. Current Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northum and former Rep. Tom Perriello are facing off in the Democratic primary. The GOP primary is led by former Bush RNC Chair Ed Gillespie but Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, was Trump’s state chairman and cannot be underestimated. Both Democratic candidates are currently polling ahead of the Republican candidates. Virginia has lax campaign finance laws for non-federal elections. Candidates and the Virginia Democratic Party can coordinate with allied organizations and there are no limits on individual or corporate giving. See below for more on allied organizations. The Cook Political Report rates this race “Toss-Up”.
Other constitutional offices including Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General are also up for election, along with the House of Delegates that is currently dominated by Republicans. Winning the Governor’s race and/or reclaiming the state legislature are our first opportunity to control the redistricting process since Reconstruction.
See below for more on state and local organizations in Virginia.
- Give now: Either Gubernatorial candidate or the state party
- Give later: Winner of Gubernatorial primary; targeted House of Delegates races; state party
2018 Governors and other state elections:
There will be Gubernatorial and state legislative elections in 36 states across the country – all are critical for redistricting, which will set the political landscape for a decade. Of these, at least 25 will be open. Many 2010 Tea Party Republicans are term-limited, giving Democrats numerous pick-up opportunities. Key open seats include Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, and Wisconsin. These races are still shaping up as candidates declare their intentions; many states have not yet set primary dates for 2018.
It is important to note that dynamics in Governor's races are very different than Senate. Democrats can compete anywhere with the right candidate. We do not yet know what the national narrative will be but Governors always run on more localized economic messages.
Most states also have other statewide offices up for election, including many that are crucial for redistricting such as Attorney General and Secretary of State. State legislative elections are excellent “bang for the buck” investments. State parties, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and in-state organizations create lists of targeted districts and candidates. Again, these races will shape up in the coming months as candidates declare and primaries are held.
- Give now: Democratic incumbents (NY, OR, PA, RI); state parties
- Give later: Gubernatorial candidates in purple states; targeted state legislative races; state parties; DGA; DLCC
2018 U.S. Senate:
The 2018 map is tough for Democrats and we are on defense, not offense. Senate Democrats must defend 25 seats, including two independents and several incumbents in deep red states, while Republicans have only eight to defend (and only one in a Clinton state, Nevada). There are 10 female incumbent Senators up for re-election in 2018, some of who are in red or purple states; you can support them through Electing Women Bay Area or WomenCount. Candidates in tough races need early support to try to scare off challengers. Endangered incumbents include (and this will change as races shape up): Tammy Baldwin (WI); Sherrod Brown (OH); Joe Donnelly (IN); Heidi Heitkamp (ND); Amy Klobuchar (MN); Joe Manchin (WV); Claire McCaskill (MO); Bill Nelson (FL); Debbie Stabenow (MI); and Jon Tester (MT).
- Give now: Democratic incumbents, especially in purple states; state parties; DSCC
- Give later: Democratic incumbents in targeted races; Democratic challengers/open seats; state parties; DSCC
2018 U.S. House:
Gerrymandered congressional districts have made re-taking control of the House more difficult – but not impossible. Democrats need 24 seats to take back the House. There are 23 House seats occupied by a Republican but won by Hillary Clinton; these are the top pick-up opportunities. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has an initial list of Red to Blue seats. Recruitment is critical for these swing districts; races will shape up in the coming months as candidates are recruited, primaries are held, and the national narrative shakes out.
- Give now: Democratic incumbents, especially in swing districts; Democratic challengers/open seats; state parties; DCCC. SwingLeft’s district funds, which is raising money now for eventual primary winners, is also a great grassroots fundraising tool.
- Give later: Democratic incumbents in targeted races; Democratic challengers/open seats in targeted races; state parties; DCCC
The national party committees include the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), Democratic Governor’s Association (DGA), and Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC). The DSCC, DCCC, and DGA work directly with candidates and fund coordinated and independent expenditure campaigns on their behalf. The DLCC works with state legislative caucuses and coordinates multi-state polling, research, and best practices as well as fundraising. The DNC serves as the umbrella organization, amplifying the party’s message and supporting state parties. There was a tremendous attention to the recent DNC Chair’s race; ultimately, this person is a figurehead and will not save the Democratic Party. Only we can do that, together, by exerting pressure and changes from the grassroots up.
While I believe some ongoing support is needed for national party committees and SuperPACs, I do not believe they are the most effective means for long-term impact. They are largely focused on paid TV ads, which have a very short shelf life and simply help enrich media consultants. These groups are often not held accountable post-election and leadership turnovers prevent a tough analysis from cycle to cycle. Money is better spent going directly to candidates and to state parties.
2. STATE AND LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS
Allied organizations play an important role in the progressive movement. We need to grow independent political power to hold elected officials accountable, move public opinion on key issues, reach out beyond super-voters and activists, work with under-represented communities, engage people who don’t see voting as vehicle for change, and organize beyond one election cycle.
Funding locally-led, field/grassroots driven organizations with leadership that is reflective of the New American Majority (people of color, young people, unmarried women) is crucial to long-term success nationally and in the states. Groups like State Voices, America Votes, the Alliance for Youth Action, Center for Popular Democracy, and others have multi-state affiliates and multi-issue strategies.
Many of these groups participate in state “tables” – coordinating entities nationally and in key states that provide financial, technical, and other resources; help reduce duplication of efforts; work on state legislation; and focus on voter registration, education, and mobilization efforts. On the 501c3 side, State Voices is the national/state entity; on the 501c4/501c6 (labor)/527 side, America Votes plays that convening role.
A group called Movement 2017 (known as Movement 2016 last year) helps direct funding to movement-building efforts and local efforts in all 50 states that are focused on voter engagement. They focus on groups (501c3, 501c4, PACs, SuperPACs, etc) that organize year-round on local and national issues with key constituencies. They curate the best groups doing the most impactful work in the most important places.
One side does not fit all. Local organizations and local organizers know which strategies, messages, and issues play best in their communities. A campaign mantra is “Trust the field” and we, as outside activists and donors, need to trust the field.
- Give now: National umbrella organizations or tables; state and local affiliates of those organizations in purple states, either 501c3 or 501c4. Consider adopting a state (see below).
- Give later: State and local organizations in purple states, either 501c3 or 501c4.
3. ADOPT A STATE
One way to maximize your impact is an “adopt a state” strategy: giving to multiple entities, candidates, and organizations in one targeted state. You can choose one in the South (FL, GA, NC, VA), one in the Midwest (MI, OH, PA, WI), and/or one in the West (AZ, CO, NV). In each, you can create a comprehensive giving strategy for each state, focusing on 501c3 and 501c4 groups as well as state and local candidates.
For instance, in Wisconsin, you could give to:
- Sen. Tammy Baldwin, running for re-election in 2018
- Eventual Gubernatorial candidate (once primary is over)
- Targeted state legislative candidates (once primaries are over)
- Wisconsin Democratic Party
- America Votes Wisconsin and their partner groups (501c4)
- Wisconsin Voices and their partner groups (501c3)
- Movement 2017 endorsed groups (focusing on turnout of African-American voters in Milwaukee, voter registration of students at UW campuses, rural voter persuasion, LGBTQ advocacy, etc)
Many purple states do not have the donor base of California or New York. Federal and statewide candidates are used to out of state fundraising but that is not the case for smaller organizations and local candidates. These investments have high return on investment.