Friday, March 05, 2004

Comcast Cable and The Democratic Party

Every month, I pay around $50 for Comcast Cable to deliver 80 channels of mostly crap to my home. Isn't a Democratic majority in the Congress, or a Democratic President in the White House, at least as valuable? To me, it is. While I doubt the Democratic Party is as popular as "CSI" - or even one of the disposable network comedies - I suspect I'm not the only one who feels that way. Yet only a fraction of Democratic voters contribute to the Democratic Party, or to Democratic campaigns. Why?

To answer that, I decided to ask my mom. Mom is a partisan, middle-class Democrat - a person who is angry with the Republican Party and who has the money to do something about it. But when I asked her to consider a small monthly contribution to the Democratic National Committee, she balked. There are some Democrats she doesn't want to give to. She mentioned a recent mailing from Hillary Clinton, a problematic Democrat at best, and one who didn't need her money.

So I asked whether she would contribute, if she could specify who her contribution would support. She was noncommittal, but she liked that idea better.

Unfortunately, none of the various Democratic committees offer that option; you donate to the committee, or you don't donate at all. Clearly, that's a mistake, as it discourages contributions from all but the most partisan Democrats.

In a way, it's like Comcast Cable offering only one service option: while there are those who would be satisfied with, say, Stanard Cable, there are others who aren't. That's why Comcast provides alternatives like Digital Starter, Plus, Silver, Gold, and Platinum - to win over those others.

If the Democratic Party wants to maximize contributions from smaller donors, it needs to adopt a similar strategy: rather than requiring that a donor contribute to the committee, allow the donor to specify specific Democrats, either by name, by district, or by group.

For example, suppose a contributor wants to schedule a monthly donation to the Democratic nominees for Georgia and South Carolina Senate, to the Georgia House Democrats, to John Lewis specifically, and to ENDA cosponsors. They could go to the site, specify those options, and recieve a receipt similar to the following:

Democratic Nominee, Georgia Senate25%$5.00
Democratic Nominee, South Carolina Senate10%$2.00
Georgia Democratic House Candidates50%$10.00
Lewis, John (GA-05)5%$1.00
Cosponsors of H.R.3285, Employment Nondiscrimination Act10%$2.00
Total100%$20.00

This way, the contributor specify exactly who should recieve their contribution, and they can change the amount or the recipient at will.

Now, not only would such a system appeal to partisan Democrats like Mom, it might appeal to issue voters as well; they may not care for any particular Democrat, but they may care about a particular bill enough to contribute to its Democratic cosponsors.

Fact is, the Democrats will never reach parity without small donors, and they won't do it with only the partisans among those donors; the only way to reach every small donor is to offer them the flexibility to support only those candidates and causes that appeal to them. This system permits that flexibility. Hopefully, the Democrats will adopt something similar.