How the Supreme Court is Killing Online Politics


Provocative title, eh? Here’s what I’m getting at: in a Citizens United world, one in which individual wealthy people can poor billions of dollars into our political process at will, digital campaigners (particularly on the Left) feel immense pressure to raise money from small donors. As a result, not only do they risk burning out their donors, but the emphasis on fundraising leaves online staff able to do little else with their time BUT beg for money.

My friend Melissa Ryan brought this idea up in an excellent Rootscamp panel she shared in December with Lauren Miller, Nickie Titus and others — in my notes, I have her saying that because of Citizens United, the need for fundraising is killing our digital programs and our small donors. Melissa’s an experienced online campaigner with plenty of time on the ground with candidates, and I think she’s hit on something important here.

Digital campaigns can do a lot: persuade uncertain voters, spread campaign messaging to reporters and the public, recruit volunteers and donors, arm supporters with content for social media and water-cooler discussions, turn people out for events, help get the right voters to the polls…and raise money. But with millions — billions — of big-money dollars flowing into races up and down the ballot, that last imperative is in danger of eclipsing everything else a campaign’s online team could be doing.

In the short run, campaigns’ desperate need for cash creates a risk that online campaigners will miss opportunities to persuade and mobilize voters through digital channels because the staff is too busy writing fundraising emails. In the long run, we risk burning out our donor base and potentially turning our activists off to politics in general. Who stays passionate very long, when you’re being treated like a cash machine? But as long as our campaign finance system stays the way it is today, online fundraising seems certain to overshadow every other online activity a campaign can do. Which, frankly, sucks.

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Supreme Court photo by D Ramey Logan, courtesy of Wikipedia

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