How Those Crazy Democratic Fundraising Emails Work

A top Democrat says his campaign committee’s crazy, over-the-top fundraising emails are raking in tons of cash.

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call, via Getty


Emails from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that read like part fundraising pitch, part hostage note (“Donate Three Dollars Right Now Or I Will Stab Myself In The Eye” they may as well say) have become one of the running gags of this campaign season as they clog the inboxes of reporters and supporters alike. “It’s too late,” read one subject line from earlier this year. “Doomed,” read another.

And the reason for the tone, and the volume of missives, according to DCCC head Rep. Steve Israel, is that they work, providing a real boon to the party’s fundraising in what is expected to be a very difficult campaign environment in November.

The emails will continue, in other words, until morale improves.

“Our online fundraising has dramatically changed the very nature of fundraising for congressional candidates,” Israel told reporters at campaign season briefing in Manhattan this morning. “We have revolutionized online fundraising.”

Israel said that the DCCC, which is tasked with retaking the House of Representatives for Democrats—or at least minimizing losses—had raised $5.5 million in August alone, when its email explosion began in earnest. And those millions were raised with, according to Israel, 270,000 individuals caving to the DCCC’s increasingly desperate inquiries.

“You are probably getting emails from me right now,” Israel told reporters as he scrolled though various Democrats’ prospects this November. “I apologize all over the country for the volume of email people get, but it works. Five million dollars in August. Five million dollars!”

And the fundraising success, Israel added, was proof not that cyber-hectoring is a legitimate fundraising tool, but that the Democratic base was energized.

“The pundits say that the Democratic base is deflated or demoralized. No. That is an indicator of how fired up our grassroots are. And it translates to voter turnout. 270,000 donations in August. That gives you a sense of how fired up people are. We are revolutionizing it because of the frequency but we are also revolutionizing it because of the message and the messenger.”

And the seeming throw everything at the wall and see what sticks strategy, Israel said, is in fact proof of a campaign team that is using the tools of the Internet to find out what works.

“We have this R & D lab that is constantly and relentlessly tweaking the strategies in terms of message, messenger and frequency,” he said. “It is an effective combination of intuition and market research.”

Israel also said that the increasingly frantic tone of the emails was because they were an honest assessment of the state of play.

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“I am not in the business of handing out rose-colored glasses to our donors, and predicting success when we have tough terrain. I believe they respect me because they know I am honest in my assessment of the landscape. But they also expect us to fight. For them it is not necessarily about are you going to win Iowa 3 or are you going to win Nebraska 2. It’s that they want us to fight for their beliefs. They know that we will stand up for them and the Republicans are standing up for the Koch brothers, and they are giving us the resources we need in order to fight the good fight.”

Israel gave reporters a relatively sober account of the Democrats prospects in the midterms. Although a GOP wave seems unlikely, the Dems are likely to lose seats. The DCCC’s charge is keep those losses to a minimum, hoping to retake the chamber in what would they believe be a more favorable environment in 2016.

“We couldn’t fight this cycle by meeting yesterday’s standards,” Israel said of the emails. “We knew we could only fight this cycle by overperforming on yesterday’s standards.”