Why Do Parties Still Do Fundraising?

Though I have seen no empirical evidence that Michael Steele has actually cost the Republican Party much in terms of fundraising, there’s enough news out there to make me suspect he’s doing just that. This got me to thinking: Why is there a centralized fundraising apparatus for either party, anyway?

The advantage of parties doing their own fundraising seems to be that donors know with virtual certainty that their money will go to Democrats, and if they’re donating through systems like Act Blue, to the Democrats who need the money most. This is of value to people who intrinsically value the election of one party over the other – admittedly, this is (usually secretly) most people.

To the parties themselves, fundraising efforts are constrained by the candidates, not the issues nominally attributed to a party in general. The Republican Party, nominally the “more libertarian” party, is able to raise funds in a targeted fashion for Republicans from moderate districts that seek non-libertarian politicians. But consider an alternate model, one that the Republican Party has already strongly embraced: a network of decentralized single-issue fundraising organizations.

I think this method of fundraisng is the way of the future. Networks of organizations like MoveOn.org, Netroots or the Tea Party bear an organizational structure that is beneficial to the two parties for a few reasons. Parties can distance themselves from embarrassing incidents – consider how differently the Republican Party had to react to Michael Steele’s racist rants versus to Tea Party leaders’ racist rants. Small, decentralized organizations may have more efficient, targeted fundraising efforts, can operate on single-issue message without having to worry about a comprehensive platform, and most tend to tilt towards one party or the other.

Party-based fundraising efforts may enjoy a centralization of expertise and a network of contacts obviously germane to one party or the other. Fine. But if there really is a political revolving-door, where politicians go right from office to the non-profit world, we should not expect this advantage to hold – and as parties become larger organizations, the local knowledge and decentralization of small non-profits may become more useful.

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