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Why Campaign Donors Give Years Before Elections

TRANSCRIPT BISAHA 1: I’m meeting with Craig Kaplan on the 17th floor of an office building in downtown Manhattan.  He’s an attorney and one of nearly 400 people who have donated to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s re-election campaign. But despite his donations, Kaplan would prefer a different kind of system. BISAHA 2: You wish you didn’t have to do this kind of stuff as far as giving money? KAPLAN 1: Oh sure.  It’s human nature.  I mean if we weren’t writing checks to political campaigns we’d be going on more vacations. BISAHA 3: Yet Kaplan and his wife have given several vacations worth of donations to de Blasio, even though actual voting is about twenty months away. And while he may not like having to give, when he does, he wants it to make sure his money has the most impact.

KAPLAN 2: Why not just get it out of the way, write the check, give him the best bang for the buck if you will by having in his till early?

BISAHA 4: And candidates vying for early money? That’s what’s most commonly called the wealth primary, but I prefer the acronym EMILY. Early Money is like Yeast.

SKINNER 1: It makes the dough rise.

BISAHA 5: That’s Richard Skinner, a policy analyst with the Sunlight Foundation. He says what makes early money so valuable is how it’s spent.

SKINNER 2: This is money that you can use to build campaign staff.  Build donor lists.  And so it makes the dough rise because if you raise the money early on you’ll be able to earn even more later on.

BISAHA 6: But is this still true even during a presidential campaign season? I imagined a local election would be the last thing on a donor’s mind, especially one well over a year away. Well according to Eric Bender, waiting until after a major election is the worst thing you could do.

BENDER 1: You want to engage people when they’re paying attention.  And the 2016 elections are one of those times.

BISAHA 7: Bender’s the executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

BENDER 2: There is serious voter fatigue after elections.  They have been bombarded for 6 months by negative ads.  And so yeah they check out.

BISAHA 8: And for donors, getting in early can mean building a special kind of relationship. It can even change the course of history.

ROOSEVELT 1: I have many things on which I want to make my position clear. 

BISAHA 9: In 1932, then presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt had a list called the WRBC – with Roosevelt Before Chicago.  That year the democratic convention was held in the Windy City.

SKINNER 3: The idea was that these were the people who were with him early. One of those people was a rising young businessman named Joseph B Kennedy. That of course led to the Kennedy dynasty in the national level.

BISAHA 10: Back in his office, Kaplan isn’t dreaming about a cabinet position in some far future De Blasio White House. And he’s not expecting his dollars to swing the mayor on any policy, either.

KAPLAN 3: We are not writing when you’re talking about a serious politicians on a blank slate.  These people have positions. They have points of view.  They have perspectives.  They have ideology.  They’re not going to flip that just because someone is going to give them a couple of bucks.

BISAHA 11: And that’s why Kaplan gives. Not to make de Blasio agree with him, but because he agrees with De Blasio.

KAPLAN 4: What the mayor articulates about income distribution and race is really really important to me.

BISAHA 12: Instead, Kaplan says he donated because of his own politics, his own beliefs.

KAPLAN 5: And I’m signaling to my friends and whoever asks that I think Bill’s done a good job and we’re going to continue to support him.

BISAHA 13: Of course it’s impossible to say how many of De Blasio’s early donors share this idealism. But when it comes to winning the wealth primary, and scaring off potential primary challengers… why people give may not be as important as how much.

Stephan Bisaha, Columbia Radio News.

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