Welcome to Louisiana Lefty, a podcast about politics and community in Louisiana, where we make the case that the health of the state requires a strong progressive movement fueled by the critical work of organizing on the ground. Our goal is to democratize information, demystify party politics, and empower you to join the mission, because victory for Louisiana requires you.
I'm your host, Lynda Woolard. On this episode, I speak with Drew Prestridge, president of Prestridge Political, who has spent years raising money for campaigns and organizations. Drew has advice on creating fundraising plans for candidates, beginning a career as a finance director, and developing a range of skill sets to increase your value on political campaigns.
Drew Prestridge! Thank you so much for joining me on Louisiana Lefty.
Lynda! It's so good to be here. Thanks for having me.
Well, we go way back. When did we first start working together?
We certainly do. Gosh, I believe 2015 at the state Democratic Party.
Was it 2015? Was that the year there that you started?
Yes. Yeah. The year that we you know, eventually after much hard work, elected a Democratic governor, right? I believe I started right around the beginning of the year. And you had been there and been working, you know, there for a while.
I was there a couple of years at that point. That was that was my last year officially there. So it was a good year. I thought that going out on the high note of electing John Bel Edwards was not a bad exit strategy.
No, no, definitely not.
And we still actually work together, because you are the creator of our Organizer of the Month graphics that we put out every month when we award a new Organizer of the Month.
I am. Graphic design has always been something that I've just loved doing. I'm not professionally trained whatsoever. I mean, I think I've taken a few Adobe classes here and there. But yeah, I mean, I've always loved and enjoyed it. And, you know, thank you for the opportunity to be able to visualize all the great organizers you are highlighting every single month that, you know, not enough people know about all the good work that they're doing. So it's really cool to play a small role in that.
Well, I've loved the the images we've been able to come up with, because they just they're very cool. So I like that.
Yeah, yeah, it's fun. So we worked together in 2015 in the state Democratic Party. I was the finance director for the party at the time. I've had the pleasure of being able to keep up with you, in New Orleans, here in between.
Tell me what your political origin story is. What first got you interested in politics?
Well, we'd probably have to go all the way back to like fifth grade student council, but I'm kind of kidding. I've always just been politically inclined. I've always been interested in elections and campaigns and sort of, like, how our government works and runs and how we, you know, as a democracy, put our trust and belief in those people to represent us and get things done for us. So I was always involved in political stuff all through school, all through college. Got through college and was like: maybe I can do this for real and actually influence where it matters.
Did you tell me you did Boys State?
I did. I did. My high school, my senior year sent five boys to Boys State. And then I went back the year after, and I was counselor.
Tell me a little bit about Boys State.
It was a lot of fun. This was Gosh, 2004, 2005, seems forever ago now. But it was great. I'm from Lafayette. These days, it was at LSU. And so it was my first big time, sort of, like out of Lafayette by myself without the parents, you know, with hundreds of 17 year old boys, who like me were extremely interested in politics and government and how our state was run and being able to see the Capitol and meeting current elected officials and others who were like, "I'm here to make friends and just mess around.: So, it was a lot of fun. It was a really good time. This may have been foreshadowing, I ran for political party chair for my parish. They had two parties, the Federalists and the Nationalists, and I was a Nationalist. I ran for political party chair and won. And so my job was to pump everybody up, you know, get people excited and energized for the party meetings and rallies that we would have. And then also make sure that we were flipping and counting the votes that we needed for our candidates that were running for big positions at Boys State.
That's cool. Well, between Boys State and now, tell me what you've been doing in politics. Give me sort of your mini bio, highlights.
So, mini bio: I've been professionally doing this for over a decade, and I have been working on Democratic campaigns all over the country. So not just Louisiana, but I've also lived and worked in California and New Mexico, New York, Georgia, Virginia, D.C., all over the place. I realized there's always good people running for office, they just need good staff, and they need people helping them out. And if you're willing to move around and go anywhere, where the opportunities are, if you have the ability to be able to do that pick up and go around, then there's always going to be good campaign work out there for you.
I love Louisiana, but I graduated in 2010, got my start interning in politics here at that time. As we all know, that was not a great year for Democrats. The campaign I was interning for, I mean, this Democrat didn't even support Barack Obama 100%. That didn't matter in Louisiana, at the time, because people just saw Democrat. And that was it. Right. So, you know, I realized, if I wanted to get some good Democratic campaign experience, I might have to go elsewhere for a little while, and then come back and be able to do some damage in Louisiana. So that's why I kind of like, bounced around. And I've worked on all levels of campaigns, everything from city council to presidential campaigns. And I've managed, I've done some field, but the majority of that work has been in fundraising. I realized early on that with the campaign finance laws that we have, with the way that money affects campaigns and elections these days, that, you know, the very first person hired on a campaign is usually a finance staffer, and the very last person left on the campaign is usually a finance staffer, so it's good to be able to have, you know, good staff that are skilled, and that help you get up off the ground, help you establish a good campaign, and then help you wrap everything up in the end, or, you know, continue going right after if you win. So that seems to be where a lot of the opportunity lies in gaining experience in that area, and being able to really help good candidates get into good positions, and then, you know, go off and do good things.
And was that really your main reason for wanting to do fundraising was the opportunity, or was there something else that drew you to it?
I kind of got into it right after - you know, we were talking about the Supreme Court earlier- right after Citizens United, and the whole conversation was just starting to happen about how corporations and super PACs and large pockets of money really can influence elections. Clearly on the Democratic side, you know, we want big money out of politics, right? We want there to be a more equal playing field more level playing field, we want, you know, the average person who is not wealthy or rich or part of a corporation or have the ability to self fund a Super PAC to be able to have their voice heard and have an equal voice across the board. So that part really attracted me to fundraising as well, you know, and figuring out, okay, you know, if we are going up against some of these corporations, some of these super PACs, how are we able to raise the money and run the campaigns in order to compete with that, and making sure that we're representing people according to our values as well throughout that process?
With all the campaigns I've worked on now, I've definitely seen many, many times that money is not everything, that sometimes, you know, you can be outspent three to one, you can have a super PAC coming against you. And because of the values that you are putting out there, because of the people power that you have behind your campaign, the grassroots power working for you, talking to people, you can overcome that and still raise the money that you need to run an effective campaign. I mean, for some of these campaigns that influence local politics, you don't need millions of dollars to run an effective campaign. You need to be able to have a clear budget and goals along the way and make sure that you're raising the money that you're spending, you know, at the appropriate times, make sure you've got all your bases covered. If you're smart about it, you can do a lot with a little.
Even given that, Drew, what is it that so critical in nature about fundraising or a fundraising apparatus for a campaign or a state party or even some of these parish executive committees or PACs? What's the piece of the puzzle that's so critical about fundraising?
Sure, I mean, while money is not everything, you do have to have money in order to get your message out there, right? You do need to have a base foundation to be able to support the the message you're putting out there, to support the operation that you're doing. So again, while you don't need millions of dollars for some of these races, you do need to figure out, you know, at a minimum, "Okay, what do I need to raise in order to be able to hire the staff I need to hire, do the voter outreach I need to do, place the ads I need to place, reach people that I need to reach?" Unfortunately, these days with the campaign finance laws we have, there is no campaign if you don't raise the money that you need to be able to do those bare minimums on the campaign trail.
What do you think Democrats need to do to get better at fundraising?
We were talking a while ago about the Supreme Court and about how Republicans have played the long game for a long time when it comes to a lot of the issues that we're kind of reckoning with recently. And so I think that what Democrats can do better is, you know, there's a lot of donors or just even average voters that a lot of times complain, "I only hear from people whenever there's election happening," or "I only get a call from you a few times a year when you need something." I think that at the end of the day, whether you're doing fundraising campaign, whether you're doing field, it's all about relationships, it's all about thanking people, making people feel special, making people feel valued, that they're a part of something bigger than them, because they are. And so I think fostering those relationships and keeping in touch with their constituents, with your donors, with every stakeholder in your campaign, even when you're not campaigning. Like if you get elected, you're not running again for maybe four years. A lot of folks don't keep up with the people that supported them initially. And this can be as simple as sending out newsletters every now and then, you know, doing tele town halls, writing thank you notes every now and then, just touching base with people, sending mailers to check in with folks. Some people are great at it, some people aren't. And so I think like, that's one thing that I really see on our side, that's an area for improvement. As far as just making sure we're staying on people's radars, keeping them connected, making them informed from a legitimate source. So what actually is happening, and how you're showing them the investment that you made in me initially as a candidate, this is all the good stuff that it's doing now. So if you're showing them all that along the way, it'll be that much easier when you come back to them four years from now needing their support again.
So that leads me to ask you what makes a good fundraiser?
Someone who makes a good fundraiser, I think, is someone who is not afraid to talk to anyone and everyone, and is also willing to actually ask for money. Rule number one about fundraising is you have to make time for it, fundraising is not just gonna happen. Unfortunately, people are not waking up every day wondering about how they can give to your campaign. I think that you need to make time for it. And you need to ask people and you need to probably ask them again. I know it seems weird. I know it seems like a necessary evil to some people, as far as the way that money can influence things these days, but it really is necessary. So I think you need to be able to talk to anyone and everyone, be willing to actually like sit down and take out the time to do the fundraising and it can be pretty effective.
And I guess what I hear from people, a hurdle for folks is their fear of rejection, when they're asking for money. How do you handle that?
I mean, you're gonna hear no a lot. I mean, just like with the way that it is these days, you're gonna get a lot of voicemails, you're gonna leave a lot of messages, you're gonna get told no a lot. But for everyone out there that is telling you no, there are those people that will tell you yes. You just got to stick with it. I mean, it's like almost applying for a job. You're gonna get a lot of rejection, there's gonna be people that pass up your resume, there's gonna be people that tell you no, there's people that are distracted. But if you hustle, if you stay focused on it, if you're putting in the time, then you will eventually, get those yeses. You will also in the process get better at doing it, too.
I've seen first time candidates who, you know, obviously, start off a little bit rocky with the initial phone calls, initial asks, but the more time you put into it, I mean, the more natural it becomes, the more you learn how to react when someone tells you, "Maybe I need more information." And then by the end of the campaign, you're almost a well oiled machine when it comes to having those conversations.
What are the different kinds of fundraising you've done? And I ask you that because I know you've done some digital fundraising, and what are the different kinds of fundraising you've done?
Digital fundraising, for sure, is something that I do a lot of these days, especially post pandemic, or mid pandemic, I guess depending where you live in the country. A lot of campaign activity has shifted to the online space. So a lot of communication and money that we raise for campaigns is done through email, and done through zoom and virtual events, and things like that. It is really important for a lot of campaigns, too, because I think it's a great way for you to be able to build up your grassroots support, that people power that I was talking about earlier. The digital spaces is not really a space where large donors give large contributions. The best way to kind of go after that is still kind of through, like, in person meetings and phone calls and events. So the online space has made it a lot more accessible for the everyday average voter and everyday person to be able to get involved and influence campaigns and give on a smaller scale, but from a much larger pool of donors. You're increasing your reach, you're raising money. And if your average donation is staying low, it really helps a lot of aspects for campaigns that are looking to really build that people power and grassroots network, which is super important, because at the end of the day, you don't want to just be a candidate who is backed by ten large donors, right? You want to be able to have a lot of people that are in your corner, a lot of people that are investing in your campaign.
So when we say digital, what are we talking emails, are we talking social media?
Yeah, mainly emails. I mean, I've done some digital fundraising over social media, but I haven't found it to be as effective as email. Texting is also something that is growing a lot right now. When texting first started in the digital campaign world, I feel like a lot of people thought it was super intrusive, more intrusive than like sending an email or making a phone call that someone is choosing to answer, right? Surprisingly, what I've seen in a lot of campaigns is that the response rate for text message is really high. And especially for younger people, and folks that are you're trying to get more engaged to your campaign, a text is not as intrusive as you might initially think that it is, and the response rate is good. Even with like, a link asking for money, again, you're not gonna get a $5,000 contribution over a text message, probably, but you might get, a thousand $1 contributions, you know, like, it adds up. And again, it increases the people that you're reaching that you can go back to, again and again to help fund your campaign.
I can anecdotally say, I don't really give money from texts, but I am on the Wisconsin Democratic Party's lists because I do throw them money every now and then. But they did get me because the chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party started a text list for, I guess they figured out who likes dogs, because his dog now sends out texts, and that one gets me every time. Texts from his dog, I'm like, "Alright, I'll send them $5."
And see, not just are they texting you but they're targeting you. They know information about you and that's how they can get you to give as well. Right? That's what's really cool. I mean, like, not just with fundraising, but with digital ads and stuff these days, I'm seeing it a lot more effective than traditional broadcast or cable ads. Like when you're on social media, you can target Lynda Woolard specifically, your demographic, your location, your likes, your interests, and tailor an ad specifically to you and your audience versus buying, you know, the 6:30 Jeopardy spot on ABC, that you have no idea who's watching, and these days, if they're even watching the commercials, or fast forwarding through them, if they're, you know, recording and watching it later. So I've seen a little bit of fundraising, kind of dabbling with that, too. But as far as online space goes, the most effective digital fundraising I've seen has definitely been through emails and through texting programs.
How are you getting an email list to get to enough people to give money?
There's a bunch of different ways this happens. I mean, when you start with a candidate, obviously, like, their personal contacts, their emails, their network, you know, people they know, right? If somebody gets an email from them, and they know them, they're in their personal network, then that's someone we can assume it's probably okay being on their email list. Anytime I set up on campaigns and send out initial emails, I always also put an opt out option as well, because a lot of people wonder how they got signed up on the list don't want the extra stuff. It's totally their choice whether they want to stay on it or not. So taking the candidates personal network.
Sometimes, as well, the state party provides email addresses that they have in Votebuilder, their database. If it's their Democratic endorsed candidate, then they will provide emails in that candidate's district that they have to add to the candidates email list. Sometimes they can even do like a an email swap, where the Democratic Party will send out an email for that candidate to that candidates district; the candidate will do the same. And then they will kind of swap whatever emails are of whatever people open each email that the other person doesn't have on their list already. Those though, mutually swap, like that same number of emails, if that makes sense, to build the list.
Then there are other ways, like through Votebuilder and stuff like that. They have phone numbers, if they have people's emails and stuff like that, I mean, that is public information that Democratic campaigns pay to have access to that then they can then use at their discretion.
And the sneaky way I know to get emails, which we worked on a lot when I was at the party back when Kirstin was there, was actually, while we were not asking for money through social media, we would create a Sign Barack Obama's Birthday Card or "sign this petition that says we want you to vote for this particular bill in the legislature," and when folks would sign up for that, we would then get their email address, which we then can add to the email list. And now you've got an email where you can ask them for money.
Social media is great for that, too. Yeah, you always want to be able to have a sign up for my emails on your website. And then you can just post that on social media, you can include that in a lot of the stuff that you send out. So you're always getting new emails cycled in. Every time somebody donates to your campaign, that email comes into your system. So yeah, so there's a lot of different ways that people can elect to sign up and be added to an email list. And if their emails are already there from another Democratic server, those can be added. And if they want to unsubscribe, they can do that.
Sure. Well, and look, I get more texts now for donations. I've gotten used to it. Like you said, initially, it was like, "Why do they have my cell phone number?" Now I'm just like, "Oh, delete, delete, delete." I don't really worry about it too much. But as Democrats, if we're actually saying we don't want corporations to fund elections, then at some point, we do have to understand that candidates and PACs and whoever, they have to raise money, they've got to find a way to raise money from a grassroots level. And it just requires this level of outreach, and this amount of outreach to get the money they need to run campaigns? It's just something that is baked into the cake now. I'm mentioning this because I hear people complain about it a lot. And I think it's just something we've got to get used to.
Yeah, I mean, even with all the technology we have these days, I do not think that anything has replaced just the good old fashioned phone call - person to person connection and conversation - when it comes to effectively being able to raise money from somebody. And unfortunately, with the campaign finance laws we currently have with the amount of money that is going into some of these races that the the opponent and the other side is getting into some of these races, sometimes we have to spend a ton of time on it in able to get our numbers up to the level they need to be at. So as a fundraiser, I know it sounds weird to say, I'd love some campaign finance reform to be able to make everybody's life easier. But until then, you know the other side is playing the game. So we've got to play the game, too.
Well, you mentioned phone calls, and one on one conversations, let's talk about Call Time a little bit.
Let's do it.
Talk to me about the importance of Call Time for a candidate.
Like I said a while ago, fundraising is not 'when I get to it,' right ?You have to set aside dedicated time in order to fundraise or it will not happen. On campaigns time and time again, I've seen Call Time or fundraising time scheduled out, that undoubtedly gets booted or moved for a meeting or for a photoshoot or for something else that's happening, but the truth is, if you just don't make that time, if you don't put in the hours, then you're just not going to hit those goals. So you need to set aside that dedicated time for it. And then you need to make sure that you're using that time effectively. I've also seen a lot of candidates who are on the phone, talking to a donor having a great conversation. If you don't get off that phone call without knowing a) if they're gonna give to you or not, and b) how much they're gonna give to you, then that call is a waste of your time. I mean, you have to be able to ask for specific amounts of money. And there's a ton of tools these days, I mean, to be able to go online, look at what certain donors or certain folks have given in the past, to then inform you and kind of give you an idea of what their capacity is, how much they usually give to campaigns. So making that specific ask, and then making sure that you're following up, making sure either you're sending that email afterwards with that donation link, you know, sending that envelope in the mail if they want to give that way. There's a lot of people that have conversations and you know, "I'm gonna give to your campaign." Awesome. And then they don't hear from you again, or it drops off because everybody's super busy. You need to make sure that you're using that time effectively, you're making those asks, you're identifying who's giving to you, and how much, so you know how much to expect, and then you're following up and actually collecting that money.
So you as a fundraiser would sometimes make the calls and then the principal or the candidate would also make calls. Do I have that right?
Yes. As a fundraiser, I do believe that the candidate is the best fundraiser, obviously, it's their name that's on everything. At the end of the day, a lot of these donors, they are the person that they want to talk to. The candidate, though, unfortunately, cannot be everything to everybody at all times. They have the busiest schedule, they have a ton of stuff on their plate. So when I'm looking at a Call Time program, I'll take larger donors, people that might be more likely to want to have a specific conversation with that candidate and hear from that candidate and to make a large donation, prioritize those calls for the candidate. Then I'll take some of the other calls for myself or for the finance team, that we can do ourselves through phone calls, through email, through whatever outreach we can do inviting them to events. And if they want to talk to the candidate, obviously, we can connect them. But we have to make sure we're using the candidate's time most effectively, because their time is so valuable. So it's sort of like an all hands on deck strategy of which calls we give the candidate, which calls we want for us, which folks can try to ask in other ways besides phone calls, because we don't have all the time in the world, either to sit there and try to call every single person that we want to reach out to. So it's sort of, here's all the different methods and if we need to hit them up three different ways, then great, that's better than them not hearing from us at all.
And do you sit with the candidate when they're making their calls?
Yes, I mean, I've worked with some candidates that do not like to be staffed. But it is so much more effective if you're having a finance staffer sit there with you, who can just keep you on task. Again, it's so important to set aside this dedicated time and use it effectively and not be distracted. Right? Like if you only have an hour, getting through 20 calls is a great use of your time versus sitting there, being on your computer or getting distracted by your phone. You look up and an hour has passed, and you've only made eight calls, right? That's 12 calls you didn't get to where you could have had really good conversations and could have gotten some pledges or could have gotten these people to give. So having a person there whose job it is to keep you on track, provide the calls to you, making sure you're using your time effectively, I've seen it make a real difference in the amount of money that a candidate is able to raise.
And what's the best piece of advice you could give to someone about Call Time?
The best piece of advice I could give you as a candidate who is maybe it's their first time running for office, and they're dreading making calls is just trust the process. Believe in the staff that you've hired, let them guide you as to how this system has proven to work for other candidates over the years. And if you stick to it, if you put in the hours, you know, like we talked about a while ago, it's gonna be a lot of "No"s, it's gonna be a lot of left messages, it's gonna be a lot of people not answering. Those conversations you do have, they are critical. And so if you put in those hours, the more hours you put in, the more people you'll be able to have successful conversations with, you'll see the numbers rise, and you'll see that it is an effective tool.
So if you are working with a local, maybe a parish-wide or regional candidate who was running for the first time, how many hours a day, would you recommend that they do Call Time?
I usually start with at least two hours a day. And a lot of factors depend on this right? Like, are they working full time or not? Also, like how big is the budget? You know, are we talking about a race that needs to raise a million dollars or racing that needs to raise $75,000? And how much time do we have to raise that money, right? So there's a lot of different factors that go into, "Okay, this is how many hours a week you should put into it and and this is how many dollars you should be aiming to try to raise like per hour." But generally, I would say at least two hours a day sitting down. The morning is great, because then you get it out of the way and it allows more time during the day for those people to call you back.
I like that tip. Well, I often hear new or inexperienced candidates complaining that the state party isn't turning over their donor list to candidates. And I don't even think that's legally allowed, is it?
I don't think so. I know federally you can go on to the FEC website and look up all the donors who gave to a specific candidate, right? It'ss against the law to call off of that page on that website. And I mean, the numbers aren't there on the reports, but, what you're supposed to do is take that information and make your own lists as to who to reach out to, do your own research on the contact information, right? Because those numbers and email addresses and stuff like that are not going to be on the report. It is not legal to just print out those lists and that just be the list that you fundraise from.
So as you basically mentioned, that information is all out there. It doesn't have to come from the party or another candidate, you can do the research and find out who donors are. It might not have the data on what their phone numbers are or what their email addresses are. But that might come in your other database that you're going to get from the party, which would be Votebuilder, right?
Absolutely. Yeah. So you can use a combination of all those methods in order to sort of build your own fundraising list. And trust me now in 2022, it is a lot easier to do this these days than it was when I started doing this in 2010. I mean, we used to spend hours fiddling through physical finance reports. It was insane. Now there are programs and there are good websites out there that can compile this information for you and also even compile more specifically like a donors giving history. And that's been super helpful to me, like if I know there's a donor specifically that I want to ask to give to a candidate I can use these websites or programs in order to see, you know, compiled from various websites online - the FEC, Open Secrets, Louisiana Ethics, wherever there are campaign finance reports available online - it compiles all their donations, all their donation history. So I can look at it at a glance and figure out pretty quickly what their capacity is, how much I want to ask them for. So it's taking that and then, you know, figuring out who these donors are, and then using Votebuilder. It's a great tool in order to get pretty accurate phone and email information based on what people provide the state party and what's provided in their voter registration records. It sounds silly, but even websites like usphonebook.com, truepeoplesearch.com, there are good websites out there that you can actually find, it's kind of alarmingly surprising how much information is available online these days about you. Sometimes I joke as a fundraiser I'm a professional stalker and sometimes when making these fundraising lists, it kind of feels like that a little bit. But you know, it's all in the good spirit of being able to reach out to people and raise money from them, get them involved in a campaign for a good cause.
It sounds to me like you're making a case that it's really important for candidates, particularly new candidates, to hire someone, a finance director, someone who knows fundraising pretty well, that that could be a really key component to running an effective campaign.
Absolutely. I mean, I might be biased, but I think it's probably the first hire you need to make. I mean, there's a lot of campaigns, even smaller ones, that don't need to have a ton of consultants, don't even need to have a campaign manager sometimes until later down the road in the campaign. I mean, if you're just starting, and you're maybe like, a year and a half out, over a year out from your election, that finance staffer, even if they're a volunteer, they need to probably be the first person that you come on, because again, unfortunately, there is no campaign without resources and without any money. So you need to be able to get a foundation, you know, raise what you need to at least get up off the ground running so that you can then figure out how you're going to get your message out there, hire your field staff, hire your manager, hire whatever consultants that you need. You can't do any of that, unfortunately, without creating that donor network and getting some of those resources in the door from the beginning.
And then that sounds to me also, like you've mentioned, you've had other roles on campaigns. So that's helpful if you have a finance director who can also do some managing, do some field, do some graphic design like you. If you were starting early on a campaign, you could help the campaign get away with not having to have that staff just yet by being able to also fill in some of those roles I take it.
Yeah, this has absolutely happened me before. I had the opportunity to manage a red to blue congressional race in upstate New York in 2016, actually, right after I worked at the Louisiana Democratic Party, and one of the reasons they hired me as a manager was because of my fundraising background. They had a finance director on staff, but they saw a real asset in having someone who was versed in something as important as campaign finance to be able to come on board to manage the campaign, that is also overseeing the fundraising process, and adding their skill and expertise to the fundraising plan. In lieu of being able to hire more finance staff at the time, they were struggling with getting money in the door, didn't have enough, maybe to hire another finance staffer, so having a manager or somebody else in the campaign that's also versed in this area that could kind of help out in the meantime was super beneficial.
And how about the campaign finance reports or the ethics reports as we call them here in Louisiana? Is that something that the finance director helps with? Or do they need more of a legal person hired to do that?
Sometimes, I mean, it depends on the size of the campaign, but I really think if you have the resources, the means to do so, you absolutely should hire a compliance person, or somebody who is versed in the campaign finance laws. This is not always the finance director. You know, the finance director is in charge of the income, the stuff that we're raising that's coming into the campaign. They are not the treasurer, they are not the person who is usually preparing the finance reports. I mean, for a lot of my campaigns, like, I'll look over the finance reports before we resubmit them, right? Just to make sure all the contributions and stuff like that are accurate and match what I have. But you know, the expenditures and the output of the campaign, that's the campaign manager, and the person that does the budget, a lot of the time, who's overseeing that. The person who's putting together the reports is usually the treasurer or compliance staffer, who may also be a lawyer. And that's important because campaign finance laws are confusing, and they can differ a lot from state to state, and they can differ for state stuff versus what's permissible, maybe nationally. So, you know, sometimes I've seen candidates that, very well intentioned, didn't mean to be doing anything wrong, who just didn't know about certain things, and mess up on a campaign finance report. Being able to have someone on your team that is versed in that, or at least access to have somebody look over it, who's versed in it, or to be able to talk to about this kind of stuff, you just want to make sure you're covering your bases, because as a candidate, you shouldn't be worrying about that. Your name is on everything, obviously, you are ultimately responsible, but being able to have somebody in your corner who can help you with all that, it's just again, so beneficial when you're trying to do so many other things on your campaign.
Really important, not crossing the the law in your campaign, really important.
You don't want to break any laws, period, you certainly don't want to break any laws before you even get elected. Right? Like, not a great start. Not a good look, especially if you're trying to get votes.
100%. How would you start to build a fundraising plan?
Yeah, so it's, you know, sitting down with a candidate and talking about who might be interested in giving to their campaign. And to define who those people are, I generally tend to put people in four different categories, when we're talking about people that we're going to be asking for money. The first category would be people that you know personally. If I'm a candidate, this will be my family, friends, people I went to school with, people I work with, anyone I've ever touched in any aspect of my life who I'm still connected to. I literally download my phone contacts, download my email contacts, put them in a spreadsheet, make a list, you know, look through and who can I ask for money from this list? And it seems counterintuitive a little bit, because people are always kind of nervous to ask people that they know for their hard earned money, but these are the people that know you personally and hopefully like you, so if you're still connected with them, and friends with them, this is pretty low hanging fruit. It should be people that when you're looking to build that foundation, when you're looking to get a little bit of money in the door initially, that you can have a base to begin to do other things off of. This is a great place to start and be able to get a good sum of money in the door fairly quickly.
The second group I would then go to would be other ideologically aligned folks, like other Democrats, other people that support people like you that are running. So, you know, if you're the only Democrat in the race, great, you may not know this donor, personally, but they are someone that gives to lots of Democratic campaigns consistently or recently. So obviously, that would be somebody that you would go to and say, "I'm on the same team that you're on, we're working against the other team, I need your support for these values that we align on, can you give to my campaign," right? So that's the second group. So personal folks, then people that are then I ideologically aligned with you.
The third group I would go to are those people who you may not know and who may not know you or necessarily be 100% supportive of you, but they're definitely not supportive of the person that you're running against. This actually comes up quite a bit. I go back to 2015, John Bel Edwards versus David Vitter. I mean, this a textbook example. John Bel worked extremely hard for almost two years going all over the state, connecting with folks. And it was a real struggle to get money in the door initially, and because of that, a lot of people didn't know who he was. And obviously, David Vitter had a lot more name recognition, was involved in state politics for a lot longer. A lot of people knew him. However, a lot of people hated him, disliked him for obvious reasons that we don't have to get into. So that really helped him especially later down the road because of all the work that Governor Edwards did to put in that time to get to know people. I mean, we eventually got a poll showing him in striking distance and showing him actually a little bit ahead of David Vitter and the switch flipped, and all of a sudden people were like, "Wow, okay, not only do we absolutely detest David Vitter and don't want him as governor, but you can actually win. And so now we're going to put everything we can behind you."
So that that group of people that, you know, you can get on your side, because they absolutely do not want the other side in office is super important. I think that'll really come into play this year, too, in light of the Supreme Court stuff. I mean, there are so many Democrats I've seen that are energized to run for office and energized to vote, because they are scared and they don't want to see more of what is happening on the other side right now, and are just absolutely disgusted by the Republicans that are unabashedly supporting what's happening right now. So I think a lot of a lot of people raising money this year, are going to be like, "Look at the Republican I'm running against, you may not know me, this Democrat running in this district, but look at the Republican who's supporting what's going on right now. That's why you should support me and get invested in my campaign."
And then the fourth group that I look to raise money from are sort of your advocacy organizations and other folks that sort of get involved in the campaign. So this can be organized labor, this can be environmental groups, this can be people that are often focused on specific issues like Planned Parenthood when it comes to abortion rights, stuff like that. These groups tend to not donate initially. But you know, if you're working hard, you're raising money, you're getting your message out there, if you're, like I talked about a while ago with Governor Edwards, if you're demonstrating that viability, if you're showing, "Yes, I may not be in the lead, but I have a strong campaign, I am setting myself up to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that are coming my way, I have a good staff, the wheels on the bus are moving," then these organizations can come in and say, "Great, you'vegot a shot, we want to help you cross the finish line." And so you'll see in the last month, couple months of some close campaigns, these kind of groups start to line up, get on board, help with that final push. But again, you have to work hard to get yourself in that position to be able to take advantage of that help. What I've seen some times is a lot of campaigns fall victim to the idea that you need to be doing exactly what some of these large organizations want you to do. And while that is important, it's more important, I feel, to run your own campaign and run the campaign that you know is working in your area, in your district, or wherever you're running. Because again, they're not going to help out if you are not putting yourself in a position to win and be viable. So if you are keeping a good relationship with these organizations that can be helpful, while running your own campaign and making sure that you're focused on what you know is working for you, then those opportunities will be there for them to help you out.
That's a smart way of putting it and I love that you brought up polling because a good poll can really let folks know, as you say, you're a viable candidate, that you have the potential to win, and therefore people will want to invest in your campaign more because people want to invest a in a winner. People just naturally want to invest in a winner. But secondly, people don't want to throw their money away, and you need to show them that they're not just wasting their money with you.
Right. I mean, I have such a love hate relationship with polling, as I'm sure many candidates and campaign staffers do. Because some of these donors, some of these groups that are looking to invest are looking to help out in some of these races. sometimes they're gonna come to you and they're gonna say, "Okay, how much money have you raised? And what's your polling look like?" And that can be a double edged sword for a lot of campaigns, because sometimes there are really good things happening on the ground, happening in campaigns that aren't reflected on what the campaign is raising or what the polling says. But, you know, if you do get that good poll, if you do get those good fundraising numbers, you know, sometimes that's more important for getting those other people on board and on your side.
The polling situation: If you're a new candidate, for instance, it may not be that you're showing that you're polling high yet, but if you can show that your opponent is vulnerable, like an incumbent is vulnerable and not getting 50% of the vote, that just shows the opportunity for your campaign, if your campaign can take off, that they're defeatable.
That's where it's important in polling, to test certain messages. Because every candidate obviously has their idea of like, "Okay, this is what I think would be good messages in order to gain votes," right? If you test those in a poll, and then you can show in the poll how those certain messages move certain people from the undecided column or from your opponent's column into your column, then that is very helpful. Even if you have an initial poll showing that you're down, if you can show that, "Look, with the right money and resources and investment and people involved in my campaign, this is where I can get." So that's why the investment is important. That's why it's, you know, important to be able to show some of that polling information sometimes if you have the means to do so.
And when you're setting up your fundraising plan, are you going to look at past similar races to see how much a winning race actually cost in the past? Or how are you deciding how much money you're trying to get?
Yeah, that is very much the case for a lot of these districts. Nowadays, you pretty much can't run for congress anywhere for less than a million dollars, unfortunately. But yeah, for some of these smaller races, you can look back and see what a candidate raised and spent to be able to kind of get a good sense of how much it might cost to run that campaign, especially if you're running against somebody who is an incumbent, I mean, checking out what their budget was last time. What they raised and what they spent on that can give you a good idea of where to start from or how much you might need in order to run a competitive campaign that would be able to go toe to toe with them.
Have you worked with nonprofits? Have you found some of this stuff to translate over to the 501(c)(3) or (c)(4) world?
Yes, I have worked with some nonprofits. And what I will say is that I have found that fundraising is very different for them versus a campaign, mainly because these organizations, I mean, even for an organization like the state party, they're not a 501(c)(4), but an organization or nonprofit that is not running for office towards a specific election date, they're still there after Election Day, right? There's less urgency. If you're a candidate running for office, there's a very specific time period, you're racing towards a goal, you're racing to a deadline, we need this much before Election Day, and there are built in urgency tools that make it so much easier to raise money from folks. But if your organization is like, you know, we're here whether your candidate wins or not in this election, the urgency isn't there.
So organizations like this need to get a lot more creative. And I think one of the successful ways I've seen nonprofit organizations raise money successfully are having donor programs, like having long term recurring donor programs that investors, regular donors, whoever can buy into, whether they contribute one lump sum per year, or they give, you know, twice a year or every quarter. And then with that donation they make, they get invited to one or two dinners or events or something that the organization will put on every year. That's been a really good way to make sure that money is always coming in the door, and that you fostering relationships, like building, sort of like your group of people that are behind your organization, invest in your organization, and not just giving one time and then forgetting about you, and you're forgetting about them.
You may not have an answer to this question, but I'm going to ask it anyway, just because I'm curious. Was there anything particularly interesting you learned from working at the state party?
Yeah, I mean, it was it was the first time I was raising for something that wasn't a candidate. Before that I had been working in fundraising campaigns for about five years, and then I went to the state party, and I mean, for a lot of the year it was like pulling teeth. I mean, a lot of that was circumstantial. We had just lost Senator Landrieu the year before, there were a lot of people that did not have a lot of faith in a statewide Democrat being elected in Louisiana. So it was very hard to be able to get people to buy into the message of, "We can do this, and here's why." But yeah, I mean, what these donor programs I'm talking about, we reenergized that when I came. They had a recurring donor program before, but we sort of revamped it and I think they still have it today - the Blue Krewe - where people could give anywhere from $25 a month to $500 or $1000 a month. And with that, ythey would get complimentary tickets to the True Blue Gala that happened once a year, or they would get regular updates from the state party or complimentary invites to other events that are happening in their area, certain merch and swag that we were selling, right? I mean, it was a great tool to be able to engage people all year long, and have money - even if it wasn't big amounts - just always coming in the door and always working for us. While we were going after some of these larger donors and having these larger events, it was kind of working in tandem with some of the more traditional fundraising stuff we were doing that year.
Well, you've worked for a lot of candidates that I particularly like. Deb Holland was one that I really liked that I got to go meet here in in New Orleans at James Carville's house, because she came here I think it was for Netroots Nation.
That's a fundraiser I organized actually. I wasn't here for it, but I organized it. Deb remains one of the most consequential campaigns I've ever worked on. I mean, she was our first Native American woman elected to Congress. And that was a campaign, sort of what I was alluding to earlier, we were outspent three to one in that campaign. We did have a PAC that was helping us. But, it wasn't a huge amount, there were other PACs also working for our opponents. It was a six-way Democratic primary, so people who generally aligned on the majority of the issue. So it was like, "How do we stand out?" And, you know, in the beginning, she was told a lot of what candidates from her background are unfortunately told sometimes, like, you know, "You're a woman, you're a Native American, you're not gonna able to raise the money, you're not gonna be able to compete with some of these other people that are in this race."
But I've almost never seen a candidate work harder than she worked. And the inspiration that she was able to light in people, I mean, that was a true campaign of actual people power and field and grassroots making a difference and overcoming being outspent and us being able to not do some of the things that some of the other campaigns were doing. We ended up winning that six-way primary with over 40% of the vote, I think. It's a pretty Democratic district where she represented so that, you know, the primary was it. If you won the primary, I think it was like a 90% chance or something that you were gonna win the general. So winning that race and working on that race and being able to raise money for her, remains one of the most formidable experiences for me.
And with that, too, I learned so much about Native American tribes and their issues in this country. I mean, we spent a lot of time going around to a lot of these different tribes and meeting with their leaders. And actually, our campaign was a trailblazer for raising funds from tribal entities. I mean, I think we raised like $250,000 from hundreds of tribes all over the country who wanted to see the first Native American woman in Congress. And that was, I mean, it was a movement, it was really great.
And for anyone who doesn't know what is she doing now?
She is our current Secretary of the Interior, also just continuing to break barriers and chart the way for other people that haven't traditionally had a voice at the table and been represented. I mean, it's just really great. I'm very proud of all the things she continues to do.
And then of course, the other one I'll name check is Cory Booker, his presidential campaign, and I was like, "Hey, where do I send the money?"
I figured you were gonna bring him up at some point. Yes. He's the real deal, right? I mean, it's rare that you work for someone who's absolutely in it for the right reasons, who has their heart in the right place, you know, and Cory is the epitome of that. So I used to live in California for a little while and while I was there in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to work on the presidential campaign as the Northwest finance director. And so I was part of like a fundraising team of about 12 to 15 people that were working all over the country. And my area was mostly San Francisco, Northern California, Silicon Valley, all the way up to Portland, Seattle, sort of all that Northwest area. It's so nice to meet politicians and elected leaders that you admire. The biggest comment I would get about Senator Booker all the time, like, "Oh, he's got to be too good to be true." And I'm like, "No, he really is the person that you see in the judicial committee hearings, in the debates, like in all these different things like that is actually him and what he truly like feels in his heart." And I mean, it was my first presidential campaign I've worked on and it was such a pleasure. And I learned so much to the process.
Well, if folks aren't following him on Instagram, I highly recommend it, because he makes me feel better every day. Last three questions, Drew! What do you see as the biggest challenge for progressives in Louisiana?
Oh, boy, there's quite a few. Biggest challenge, honestly, is probably the fact that we are not viewed as a competitive state. We are unfortunately written off sometimes because the competitive races aren't happening here. So money is not being invested here. Good staff is not being sent here. The attention is going elsewhere. And then it's sort of like a chicken and the egg situation, because we don't get that good help and the good attention on Louisiana. Then it just reinforces the fact that Democrats are not going to be as successful here as they are in other states. Then that feeds into this whole group think of, you know, Louisiana is just not a progressive state, or most of these congressional districts are just red districts and that's just how it's going to be forever. So I think there's a lot that goes into that, obviously gerrymandering, which we could talk about for another hour. But I think unfortunately, the fact that we're just not seen as a competitive state right now, when it comes to national elections or other critical elections, really doesn't give us as many opportunities as progressives to make inroads here as it does for progressives in other states.
It is a Catch 22 Drew, because what ends up happening is when it's not considered competitive, so there's no investment in it - and I understand why that is - and then your candidates who are most likely to win a race end up not running, because they look at it and say, "Well, I can't raise the money. The polls aren't in my favor." So some of the folks that we'd love to see running end up sitting out, and I understand that because it's a deeply personal decision to run for office. Some of the folks I have in mind have young kids and like, "Okay, you want to spend your time with your kids at this point in your life? I dig that, but it snowballs.
At the same time, you never know. I mean, some of those people that maybe the numbers and all the metrics do look like they are against you, but I mean, every now and then you can strike gold. Not every election is going to have an AOC, but she still happened. If you have the right dynamics and electoral climate, that could maybe switch things in your favor. You know how we talked about through this podcast episode, like if you're setting yourself up to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that might come to you when that switch does flip, if you take advantage of that, then you can get somewhere
What's the biggest opportunity for progressives?
I'm sure you've heard this a lot on here, but I think it's like the younger generations. I think it's young people. I mean, I really do. I think that there are more means and ways these days for younger generations, and everybody in general to be involved with politics and campaigns. In some ways, there's more oversight and transparency. And in some ways, it is also harder to get accurate information sometimes when you're looking for information. But especially amplified through the pandemic, I mean, people want to be able to make a living, and be successful right where they are, and not have to worry about external factors, or if they need to move somewhere, or just like other stuff like that. So I think younger people that are going to be looking to hopefully make those investments here will also be the kind of people that want to see more progressive issues come to the forefront. So, you know, I've got a lot of faith in my generation and the generation after me to start being able to influence and have more voice and more of a say in a lot of our elections. And the fact is, they already do have that power, you know, they just need to use it.
Agree, Agree. Drew, who is your favorite superhero?
Oh, my gosh, I mean, there's so many, what I will say is that, there was a show I've been watching recently that is that has become my favorite superhero show: The Boys. Have you seen it?
This has dominated all like superhero conversations and thoughts that I've had recently. I just finished the most recent season. And I mean, for anybody that's not watching it, I will say it's definitely an adult show. There's a lot of traumatic things that happen. However, it is an incredibly smart satire send up of not only like superheroes, and the whole sort of, like Marvel Universe, but also our current American politics. It's actually a really good blend of superhero universe sort of stuff, and kind of like mirroring what's happening in America right now. There are characters and certain people with certain motivations in the show that are exact replicas and parodies of a lot of issues that we're fighting against right now. And, you know, it kind of goes to show you that some of these superheroes and people that you know, other people give a lot of power to, there's a lot of corruption that comes with that, there's a lot of selfishness that comes with that. And a lot of times at the end of the day, the average person is the hero, has that power to be the hero and influence what is happening even when they don't necessarily think they can. So, I know that doesn't exactly answer your question, but if you're not watching it, you need to watch it, because I think especially for political junkies, I think it's like a really great like, meshing and blend of everything people are obsessed with about superheroes right now and the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe and everything with like, contemporary American politics.
Well, you've inspired me because I haven't started the latest season yet so I will have to start
Lynda! It's so good. I mean, it just keeps getting better and better and more shocking.
All right, I'm in, I'm in. Drew, or as I call you "the other Drew," thank you so much.
It's really funny actually, because my my husband's goddaughter when I first kind of came into the family, the only other Drew she knew was Drew Brees, so she was like, "Oh, you're Drew but you're not Drew Brees." So for years I was "not Drew Brees." Now she's older and knows who I am.
Thank you for joining me to share your expertise. Really appreciate it.
Of course and thank you for having me. I'm so glad to see everything you're doing and thank you for doing this and putting a voice to progressive politics in Louisiana.
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