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Missed Calls and Missed Opportunities

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 12/10/2015 Chris Cormier
MONEY IN POLITICS © fStop Images - Antenna via Getty Images MONEY IN POLITICS

Last month's high holiday may have caused you to reflect on your values and priorities. What matters most to you? Is your spending in line with your goals? How do you best prepare for the year ahead?
I am, of course, referencing the high holiday of September 30, the third quarter campaign-filing deadline.
No matter which presidential candidates win their party's nomination, one thing is guaranteed this election cycle: the requests for support will be bigger and more frequent than ever. The New York Times recently reported that 156 families spent $176 million in the first six months of this election cycle. (See also: Citizens United.) Even if you can't write $250,000 checks to your preferred, nefarious Super PAC, you yield power with each contribution. You can influence the election with your political contributions -- just as you do with each volunteer hour and registered voter -- even as billion-dollar fundraising goals and eight-figure checks become a warped new normal.
Whether your typical political contributions are $5 or $5,000, here are a few tips that you can use to not only survive but to make the most of the 2016 election cycle.
1. Create a budget. And stick to it. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the number of candidates, fundraisers, and organizational leaders that call you more frequently than your mother and best friend combined. Your budget will make it easier to determine if and how much you want to support a candidate or organization. It will make your giving more intentional and less reactive. Group your budget into categories of spending (federal incumbents, pro-marijuana challengers, civic engagement groups, etc.) that align with your values to help decide if you should donate $0, $10, or $100. Include a 5-10 percent line in your budget for "relationship giving" - when you are asked by a friend to support a candidate or issue that might not otherwise be a priority. This will help you focus the bulk of your donations on top-priority candidates and organizations.
2. Say "no" more than you say "yes." If you're saying "yes" to everything, you're not being strategic. Don't think of it as turning someone down, but rather being able to give more to those candidates and organizations that you really like. Saying "no" seems hard at first but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. More importantly, you will have a greater impact with your giving and those you support will have more money -- which increases their chances of winning.
3. Stop sending calls to voicemail. Your phone rings and it's a blocked or unknown number. The easiest thing of course is to send it to voicemail to avoid another ask for money by an aspiring Congresswoman. But here's what happens -- she just moves you to the bottom of the call list and calls you back a day or two later. So rather than one call, you get nine or ten. Instead, take the call, make it brief, ask about your priority issues, thank her for her time, and say you'll be in touch with her with an answer. One donor I worked with asks candidate to send him an email with their positions on his core issues. If they follow up and he agrees with them, he is more likely support them. It has proven to be an effective vetting and filtering tactic that forces candidates to formulate and share their opinions on his policy priorities.
4. Fall 2016 is too late. If you think the bulk of your spending should be in October of an election year, then I hope you like a low return on investment (ROI). Your ROI decreases as the election nears. Why? Because the more money a candidate has early on, the more staffers and mailers and ads and volunteers the campaign will have to make their case to voters. Yes, EMILY's List is right; early money is like yeast. TV and radio airtime increases in price as the election nears. So you should look to invest in a candidate or political campaign earlier in the cycle. As a rule, you could spend 80% of your budget before Labor Day and still save 20 percent for any last-minute requests or races that weren't on your radar. Some candidates can even fend off viable challengers by building up a war chest early on - thereby decreasing the cost of their election and giving you more money to spend on other candidates.
5. Determine your risk level. Some campaigns are riskier investments than others. Supporting a candidate who challenges a popular incumbent is higher risk than writing a check for a well-liked, tenth-term Congressman. Not unlike high-risk stocks, contributions to long-shot candidates can yield greater gains. If they win their election, they are more likely to remember your support. You could spend your entire budget on candidates who will always win or, conversely, you could only contribute to long-shot candidates and lose every race. Give some thought to how much risk you're willing to take and then let that guide who earns your contribution.
Whether your motivation around the 2016 elections is Donald Trump's hat or Ruth Bader Ginsberg's seat, these tips will help you stay engaged and make the most of your contributions over the next five quarters.

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