There are two kind of political candidates.
1. Those who have lots of money or who raise it from their family and friends and,
2. Those who lose.
I “borrowed” that line from a former state legislator (who lost his re-elect, btw) and have used it unabashedly for decades.
Another state legislator recently told Stateside Principal Mike Behm that he tells his local audiences the following: “I have to think about reelection every morning when I wake up and every evening before I go to bed, because I cannot help you with anything unless I get re-elected.”
They are both right, of course. Money is necessary for campaigns. And, as government relations professionals, we are expected to either provide some of it ourselves or to help candidates find it from clients, members and other professional acquaintances.
This year, thousands of state and local offices will be on the primary and general election ballots. If we wanted to, we could spend the remaining 7+ months hosting fundraisers for our favorite candidates across the 50 states. Naturally, we cannot do that much, but we appreciate how events give us the opportunity to get to know candidates better. And, that translates into service down the road for our clients. Yes, there is a connection between politics and policy.
Unfortunately, culture, infrastructure and other reasons leave some organizations out in the cold when it comes to direct political giving.
For example, many associations do not have PACs or political giving budgets.
Some of our corporate clients simply eschew political giving as part of their cultural mores.
Still others cannot engage comfortably in political giving due to “pay to play” or other restrictions.
This blog is for those who want to take advantage of the political season to get to know candidates and develop relationships, but who cannot make political contributions.
At Stateside, we make direct political contributions, but we also like to help candidates and our clients by bringing them together in non-fundraising events or “Meet and Greets.” Ultimately, the candidate hopes to make acquaintances that will become donors, but—unlike fundraisers—the Meet and Greet itself has no ticket price and no “host committee.”
So far this year, we have hosted two state Attorney General candidates, one gubernatorial candidate and two House Speakers interested in maintaining their respective legislative majorities. We will host another dozen or so events before the end of the election season.
To be clear, candidates would much prefer real fundraisers to “Meet and Greets.” We get that. But, sometimes it is the best or only option. For example, some states do not allow actual fundraising during legislative sessions, but “Meet and Greets” are OK. Primaries are often avoided by corporate and association givers, but a “Meet and Greet” can help increase a candidate’s visibility in a competitive field. And, in some states, the partisan demographic is so skewed that the primary IS the election.
If you cannot make direct contributions, consider the “Meet and Greet” as a way to maximize the value of the 2014 election season for your company or association.
Here are some tips:
- Always check with your legal counsel first to make sure that no planning or promotion for the event is considered fundraising or reportable as an in-kind contribution that could trigger “Pay to Play” rules.
- If you are a corporation, consider a “Meet and Greet” for senior corporate executives.
- If you are an association, bring your members together with candidates to help build awareness of your industry and key issues.
- Be sensitive to the candidate’s time and need to raise money. Consider scheduling “Meet and Greet” events adjacent to fundraisers so the candidate can do multiple events without additional travel.
- Host “Meet and Greet” events at Groups meetings. The candidates and the guests are already there. You bring them together.
- Keep “Meet and Greet” events smaller than fundraisers to maximize opportunity for guests and the candidates to talk.
- Be bipartisan. Even if you usually prefer candidates of one party, take this opportunity to get to know other contenders–especially in competitive races.
- If a “Meet and Greet” is not an option, consider other alternative such as inviting electeds and/or candidates to your corporate facility for a tour or to address employees.
In nearly all cases, “Meet and Greets” produce connections that ultimately result in the candidate receiving financial support. Even though you did not write a check, you earn status as someone who was helpful.
Win – Win