A Democrat of six decades standing, you’d think Roger Williams, a retired journalist, would welcome emails from Nancy Pelosi, Madeleine Albright, Adam Schiff, Paul Begala and Carole King. They’re all raising money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and Williams hears from them and other party luminaries multiple times a day.
Their message: “We don’t want to beg, but we have no options left. Every top Republican is jetting all over the country to line their coffers and DESTROY our Democrats… It’s unreal Roger, if we can’t fight back, we have no chance to take back the House… That’s why we’re not too proud to beg.”
And that’s all in one email. Roger has given money for years, but never more than $35 a pop, and the DCCC “scolded” him, his word, when he hadn’t yet ponied up for the midterms. “It was so curt and nasty,” he told the Daily Beast, recounting what he’d given in 2017 “and nothing since then.” The tone as he remembers it, “don’t you realize how important all this is? We expect you to do better.”
Roger says he resents the DCCC’s “scare tactics and incessant pounding for more money.”
He resumed giving small donations two months ago when the congressional map of winnable seats expanded, but seeing “BEGGING you, Roger” in the subject line of an email last week set him off, with its warnings of GOP bigwigs raking in the bucks while Democrats “have nothing left,” as another DCCC email wailed.
He fired off this response to the DCCC: “You guys must stop hectoring people like me incessantly for campaign contributions, especially to counter Republican appeals to their fat cats. Dems have fat cats, too, or they used to, and they also have pols and other Names who will travel to drag in bucks. What's happened to all those people?
“Further, you guys are supposed to be political pros. Your job is to win elections, which includes figuring out how to do so in races that are difficult. Whining about being outspent and groveling before people like me for a few bucks is not the way to accomplish that. Do your G.D. jobs!--Fed Up in DC”
A former reporter, writer and bureau chief for Time Magazine, Williams said in an email to me that he fears the aggressive fundraising “is a sign of their weakness and lack of political skills.” He mocks the scare tactic, “Pence is coming to Wherever to Raise Money!!!” as not only feeble but near-contemptible. “Aren't Dem luminaries doing the same, with just as good results? If not, why not??”
Leading up to last Tuesday, an Election Day in several states, Williams was sorting through emails calling for donations to Democrat Danny O’Connor’s campaign for Congress in a special election in Ohio’s 12th congressional district. “I don’t have a lot of money for this kind of stuff, even for Danny O’Connor whom I’ve never heard of—he does have a nice smile though,” Williams allowed.
The email said Danny was “within striking distance of a MIND-BLOWING upset… if we don’t step up for him in the next 12 hours, our shot to win is completely gone. That’s it. This is make-or-break.”
He tapped out a response to the DCCC, questioning this “total fixation on money—outside money at that,” and the strategy of “it’s all up to us, in DC and California and Massachusetts and who knows where else, to elect Danny. Somehow that doesn’t seem like representative democracy.”
Then he heard from Danny himself, or whoever writes Danny’s fundraising emails. In bold type to Roger, “Without your help in these final 9 hours, I won’t be able to fight back... I’m counting on you one final time: Will you rush $1 before the polls close at 7:30pm to win my district and win the House?”
All gifts are triple-matched, so $1 becomes $3—but nobody gives one dollar, or do they? “I do,” says Williams. Why? “Because I get these appeals from them.” Even so, he questions whether asking for $1 is cost effective. It wouldn’t have been back in the days of snail mail, but the internet makes it an easy incentive.
The DCCC’s email program raised $5.5 million online in June, with the average donation $20. The overall amount raised online this cycle is $65 million with over 387,000 first-time donors. The solicitations operate on an algorithm, and Williams’ pattern of giving makes him an ideal target as someone who is gettable and can be brought back into the fold.
He applauds Democratic efforts to go after small donations, but adds that “it’s the way they’re doing it is very aggravating. They lead with absolute panic time, panic time all the time. This election, whether it’s the most important one, I don’t know, but yes, I think it’s terribly important or I would not have given any money—but it’s NOT all about money and these people make it sound like it’s all about money.”
The DCCC must be experiencing some backlash from its aggressive tactics because you can call their main number in Washington, DC and go to a specific extension to have your name removed from their list.
Alternatively, Williams could do what many people do, they don’t open the emails. “I’m punishing myself,” he says. “I have to take a look. What are they saying now? Bottom line, it’s always money.”
With O’Connor down by only about 1,500 votes as of Friday, the DCCC sounded the alarm warning that “by Ohio law, we may be headed towards a massive AND expensive recount… We need 10,000 gifts before midnight to fund his recount and elect Democrats like Danny.”
Williams was dubious. “I would check that claim,” he said in an email. “If the recount is ‘by Ohio law,’ not demanded by one of the candidates, it stands to reason that Ohio will pay for it.”
The email ended with the familiar ask, “Will you rush $1 immediately?”
Not many people give just a buck. It’s a come-on, of course, and it works. And if Danny really has to pay for a recount, Williams says he’ll chip in, “political fundraising’s favorite verb,” he notes. “I do, after all, very much want him to win.”