No way to run a railroad…er, an election


While voter suppression remains at the top of the news, and rightfully so, we seem to have lost track of the fact that elections are all about money.

As the daily barrage of election donation solicitations clog my email inbox, I finally decided to attempt a completely unscientific survey; I counted how many of these solicitations I receive in a typical day. The results? 101 this past Friday; 141 yesterday (Sunday).

I get them from everywhere and from everybody. (Well actually, only from Democrats or Democratic causes). I get them from candidates I’ve never heard of. At times, I get them with the most outrageous subject lines, lines that are intended to pique so much interest that they demand to be opened. Two from the list were particularly clever.

The first tried to shame me into responding by suggesting that I’m “the only Delray Beach democrat to not respond:

Now, I know quite a few Delray Beach Democrats and I’m pretty sure that most of them have not responded to this survey. But could it really be true, am I the only “slacker” in the entire area? Why would I respond to such an outrageous untruth? And then, upon closer inspection, I realized they were trying to trick me into feeling left out. Why? Because they were suggesting that I was the only Delray Beach “democrat” not to respond. And they’re probably right, because I’m not sure what a “democrat” is. The opposite of a “monarchist?” Pretty clever, I must say.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to find out what it would cost me to join my fellow “democrats” and “Begin My H.R. 1 Survey.” In so doing, I figured out why it makes sense not to do it.

Donating, even at the $3 “entry level,” will, they announce, “KEEP OUR ADS UP.” If there was ever a reason not to complete the survey, that’s it. If I donate, I’ll keep getting solicitations. Unfortunately, since I am, apparently, the only one not to respond, my little protest will, alas, do me no good.

The second has to do with the Gavin Newsom recall in California. Obviously, I get these solicitations because I lived in California for over 40 years. But there was this one that really caught my eye. No, not the one that warned me that Gavin is “CRUMBLING.” Not the one where Gavin is “PLUMMETING.” Nor the one where Gavin is “BEGGING.” No, it’s the one where I can wish Gavin “good luck”…at a starting price of $3.

I figure it this way. If this was really a request to simply “wish Gavin good luck,” I could go to the Dollar Store, buy a one-dollar “good luck” greeting card and, with sales tax and postage, save myself, $1.38. After all, isn’t it the “thought that counts?”

OK, all kidding aside, this is what our democracy has come to: suppressing the votes of people who won’t vote for you and buying the votes of those who can vote. And, here I’m only talking about the tiny, little money asks directed at people like you and me, not the millions (and billions?) of dark money dollars that are really buying elections.

According to an L.A. Times analysis, the total contribution amount for the Newsom recall, for and against, has been $125.4 million. Newsom backers opposing the recall have assembled the largest haul, thanks to fundraising accounts that allow donors to contribute unlimited amounts of cash.* Similar committees in favor of the recall have also taken in millions, without backing a particular candidate.

(*Do you really think Gavin needed my $3 good luck card. Or, that he was “crumbling” and “plummeting” so badly, he was resigned to “begging?” )

And how about here in Florida?

News 4 in Jacksonville reported last month that “the political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, has been having a great year, raising just over $40 million since January.” DeSantis’ two leading Democratic opponents, Congressman and former governor, Charlie Crist has $2. 2 million on hand, while state Agricultural Secretary (the only statewide elected Democratic official) Nikki Fried, has raised $1.4 million in 2021. News 4 reports that DeSantis’ goal is to raise $150 million while Democrats are hoping for $100 million.

And where is some of DeSantis’ money coming from? NBC News reported that Ken Griffin, a GOP megadonor and billionaire founder of the hedge fund Citadel, donated $5 million to DeSantis’ campaign in April — the largest donation he has received this year. DeSantis also raked in $500,000 in May from WeatherTech founder David MacNeil, $250,000 in March from Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and $250,000 in February from former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who moved to Florida after he lost re-election. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, an ambassador in the Trump administration, also donated. And, we’re still over a year out from the the election!

And beyond the money is the deceitfulness that money buys. Most political ads are at best distortions of the truth, if not out and out lies. But there’s no system to monitor and police those ads. I’m an old ad guy. When we created ads for our clients, those ads were scrutinized by the TV networks for veracity and, if claims could not be substantiated, rejected. As much as we wanted to say, for example, “Clorox bleach is the best for getting your clothes white,” we couldn’t. All we could do is use equivocations to make consumers think Clorox was the best…like “Clorox bleach is unsurpassed for getting your clothes white.” (OK, a little linguistic subterfuge, but, at least, not a lie.)

So, here’s the thing. We have to end GOP voter suppression efforts, register more voters, get those voters to the polls, end Citizens United and all other forms of unlimited and dark money political contributions, and demand truth in political advertising. A pretty tall list of tasks, indeed. But if we don’t, we needn’t worry about whether its “democracy” or “Democracy,” we’ll have to learn how to spell “plutocracy!”

Published by Ted Block

Ted Block is a veteran “Mad Man,” having spent 45+ years in the advertising industry. During his career, he was media director of several advertising agencies, including Benton & Bowles in New York and Foote, Cone and Belding in San Francisco; account management director on clients as varied as Clorox, Levi’s and the California Raisin Advisory Board (yes, Ted was responsible for the California Dancing Raisins campaign); and regional director for Asia based in Tokyo for Foote, Cone where he was also the founding president of FCB’s Japanese operations. Ted holds a Bachelor’s degree in communications from Queens College and, before starting in advertising, served on active duty as an officer on USS McCloy (DE-1038) in the U.S. Navy. Besides writing Around the Block, Ted is also a guest columnist for the Palm Beach Post.

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