John Tsarpalas: In our last podcast, Commonweatlhy #70, What Do You Learn When You Lose an Election, I mentioned that one of the things I learned was we needed infrastructure. Not the campaign, but the GOP. Something local. Something that we could count on that was going to be there that could support candidates and voter ID and Get Out the Vote.
So after losing my first two campaigns, I went over to my local GOP organization. Luckily, they let me build that organization up. And when Tina and I started building that local organization and using that as a foundation for campaigns that we were involved in, that’s when we started winning elections.
So today I am going to talk about that very thought. Build a Political Organization, Commonwealthy #71.
Last time on this podcast we talked about what you learned from your last election, win or lose. I hope you realized just how important infrastructure is to a campaign- having a strong database, having volunteers that will knock doors, make phone calls, get that data back in the database, and Get Out the Vote.
Over the years, one of my frustrations with local GOP organizations and other groups is that is they have meetings, they have speakers, they talk about issues, but the group doesn’t do anything to really support a campaign.
Yes, it is a great place for candidates to recruit volunteers from and set up their own infrastructure. But wouldn’t it be great if you had a permanent infrastructure that was there to support your candidates, your free market, limited government, fiscal conservative candidate.
The first campaign I was ever really heavily involved in was in 1996. We lost. And then I turned around and started another campaign with another candidate for 1998. Actually it was the same candidate; we chose a different office. We kept going.
Along that time, I discovered my local GOP group. I realized that the GOP was set up with precinct committeemen and precinct captains. In other words, someone in charge of every precinct in the country theoretically. The local group was supposed to keep those people informed, made sure they were organized, and they were supposed to have walk lists and go call on the voters so that they could voter ID and Get Out the Vote.
That’s how it used to be. And then somewhere along the way, GOP groups got lazy. And GOP leaders maybe just didn’t understand the job. I understand it is a big job. It is hard to motivate people to go out door to door. But we lost that, the GOP side.
And if you are not a Republican, what do you have for your issue or your? Libertarian Party, you get together and talk a bit, but do you have precinct captains and people knocking doors or precinct committeemen?
I use the words interchangeably. Here in Illinois they are precinct captains in Cook County and precinct committeemen in the rest of the state. That’s because they are elected in the rest of the state and in Cook County they are appointed. That’s why they have different names for it.
But the Democrats, the left, has infrastructure. Here in Chicago, the Chicago machine is about precinct captains. The way you get ahead in the Democrat Party is you knock doors. You’ve carried water to them. You’ve taken care of them. You know who is in your district that is voting for you and who isn’t and you are getting to the polls.
And beyond that, they have other groups doing that. MoveOn.org was formed back in the Clinton years. What does it do? It gets teenagers and college kids in the summer to be interns. They go out and they knock doors. They register their voters to vote. They find liberals, progressives, people who are in sympathy with them, union people, whatever it might be. And they register them. And they make sure they turn out. They have a Get Out the Vote plan.
I am not saying you need to be a national organization. I am saying pick a small area to start with and create some organization. If you are a candidate and you have a campaign, keep your campaign going every day of the year. I know that sounds like a lot of work.
Let’s think about this really. One night a week you are still phone calling. Or one Saturday a month you are still door knocking. And you are putting data into your database. And you are knocking or calling about an issue.
If you are a local group and you are going to be about supporting your school board, how about asking about local taxes that support the schools? Are they too high? Are they too low? Or about curriculum? Or how about a little survey that you are always asking and doing?
You are bringing together people on a regular basis. You are not doing it for three or four months before the election and just disappearing because that’s what the Republicans do. Democrats, their machine keeps going and the progressives that funded these organizations. Sierra Club, they are one issue. It is always environmental. But they are on it all of the time.
In Hispanic neighborhoods, they have La Raza. They had Acorn, which has morphed into other groups and different names, but it is still out there. Acorn was an organizing activist group that was finding people and it was about IDing them and knowing who their vote was for and then getting them to the polls.
So I think it is really important to think about how you can do this. If you don’t know how to do it, I am here to help. I am email@example.com. I have worked with Tea Party groups and GOP groups to help them set up a plan. It doesn’t take a lot. It is no different than the voter ID Get Out the Vote plan for a campaign.
Okay, so you don’t have a campaign, let’s say. Well, then you set yourself up as a PAC, a small state PAC. You stay away from federal candidates. If you touch federal candidates, you fall into McCain-Feingold. McCain-Feingold is a nightmare for reporting. Thank you, John McCain. Oh, he just made us so free with that law. Yeah, right.
Anyway, a PAC is probably your best format. You have to have some kind of a format that the IRS recognizes if you are going to raise any money and do anything. If you are going to do everything on a really low budget and it is just people getting together, using their own phones and door knocking and making phone calls, you probably can get away with that and get away with a really cheap database like Excel. You can just get the data from the board of elections.
But if you are going to spend any money that gets you near the election limits in your state, and here in Illinois I believe it is five hundred dollars. Once you spend five hundred dollars, you’ve got to report at some level. And then you are going to have to have a bank account. You are going to have to get a federal tax ID number.
So there is going to be a little bit of paperwork involved. It is not a lot. It is not hard. You can do it yourself. I’ve done it myself and I’m not an accounting genius. Just go to the board of elections in your state. You can find a dropdown for all of the board of elections on Commonwealthy.com/resources if you want to find your board of elections. But you can just Google it. It is simple.
You take that list of voters for the last cycle. Every time it comes out, you update it so you know who voted and who didn’t vote, who is still registered and who has moved away. And you just pick a geographic area and work it. If you’ve got two volunteers, you do one precinct at a time. If you’ve got ten volunteers, then you are doing ten precincts. Each one takes a precinct and they work it once a week.
And it is important to bring people together in a regular meeting or a session. Tuesday nights at Joe’s house. We used to meet in Tina’s basement and make calls. When I ran a GOP organization, we had a headquarters. We had an office, which was great. We went up there once a week. And it was like clockwork. We were always there, so people knew were to come. We could advertise it and just talk about it.
They would come up every Tuesday night. We were open from seven to nine. I would get there a little before to make sure there was coffee, some snacks, some soda, and sometimes beer. Once and a while we would have pizza. And we would make calls. We made calls. And we made calls.
And we practiced with our scripts and we changed our scripts. You can go back to the Commonwealthy episode on scripts. But we built the database. What did that do for our organization? Well, that database is worth something. It is power.
Information is power. It meant something when our local GOP organization endorsed a candidate. It meant that we had precinct captains who were wiling to go out and talk about that candidate. It meant that we had some donors that we would refer to that candidate. We’d sit down with our candidate and our donor and say, “We’d like you to support this person. Here’s why.” We did the introduction, etc.
But more importantly, it meant we had some people that we already knew were going to vote Republican that we could turnout. We could prove that we could get them to the polls because we got them to the polls the last time and the time before that.
My local GOP group was on the north shore of Chicago suburbs. This is a liberal area. The town I lived in had a high percentage of Northwestern University professors living in it. These were progressives. But we had IDed and been thorough and knocked on doors and made phone calls. We had found who were Republicans or who would split a ticket.
And we knew some issues. We knew people that were fiscal conservatives or we knew people that were worried about national and international relations. So we could run Republican candidates who were strong on Israel or Republican candidates that were strong on military. All of these people were liberal in their other votes, but we could talk them into voting for one or two or the whole ticket depending on what was going on.
We often had a hard time talking them into the presidential because they believed all of the garbage of the progressive liberal media, that George Bush was a war mongering crazy man. So it was difficult to get them to vote for him. But we could talk them into voting for our congressperson who was moderate.
I know there are a lot of people on this podcast that aren’t going to want to hear the moderate. But there are times half a loaf is better than no loaf. And I understand you don’t like to compromise and I with you. I am tired of the rinos and those people that call themselves Republican and they really don’t stand for anything in the platform. I get that.
But if you are Tea Party group, does your group get together for once a month meetings? Okay, that’s great. What else are you doing? There’s a couple of good Tea Party groups here in Chicago. One of those goes to gun shows every week and makes sure that gun owners are registered to vote. It isn’t every week; it is once a month they go to the gun show.
They make sure gun owners are registered to vote. They make sure people are aware of the candidates that are pro-gun. And they are IDing them, trying to find their phone numbers or addresses and staying in touch with them. They are getting them on an email list. They are sending out Get Out the Vote emails.
That’s something you can be doing. You can be driving the vote through that. These are good, viable strategies that we need to be doing and building upon constantly. If I sounded like I’ve got a lot of urgency in my voice and worry, I do. I really do. This is a most important thing that can be done. The problem is commitment. This, if you want the change the world, is how you do it. You commit to keeping a group together, growing a group, and making those calls, finding out who those voters are.
Winning elections is what it is about. I say this every week, but talk is cheap. We can get together and have meetings and talk. But did anybody get elected from the talk? Did you win any elections? Are we in any way more able to implement something? No, not unless you win elections and win elections with candidates that are willing to implement.
If you want to do that, the very best way is to start your own small group to understand voter ID, to get some volunteers, and grow that volunteer base of activist that are willing to knock on doors, make phone calls, create a solid database and then use that database to get out the vote for your campaign.
So I hope you will consider building a local organization. If you want to get involved in your local GOP, perhaps they will let you build that organization, the leadership that is there. Perhaps you’ve got to beat them in some kind of local elections to get them out of the way.
But better yet, why not start your own Tea Party group or your Concerned Citizens for the Betterment of Our Schools or something like that? Find out what your state PAC rules are. File that simple form to get a PAC started. Do that reporting, which isn’t often. Usually it is quarterly or even less if you don’t have a lot of activity. But it is really worth it.
If you want to make a difference and you want to be elected as a candidate, you should have a campaign that is perpetual. If you are an activist and you want to make a difference and have leverage over candidates, you should start an organization that has a database and is building that database and is building a ground operation.
I can help you with that. I am firstname.lastname@example.org. I coach candidates for a living and I also help organizations. As I’ve said somewhere in this podcast, I have helped Tea Party groups and GOP organizations put together their plan. I am happy to give you that first hour consultation for free.
And then I can tell you how I can help you further if you think you are going to need it. I charge for things after that, but that first hour is worth doing. I usually give people lots of good advice. And frankly more candidates go away happy at that point than I retain as clients, which is fine because I usually screen them a bit and I am sure that they are of the right mindset ideologically, which is important to me. I want us to win elections.
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So please consider building a small group or small organization. It doesn’t have to be big. If you could recruit five or six people who are committed to two hours a week, you can make a huge difference. We can talk. We can talk about politics. We like to talk about politics. We like to complain. Unless we win some elections, we are not going to get to implement at any level. Let’s quit talking. Let’s win some elections.