Project Wonderful

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

No, No Limits (So Reach For the Sky?)

Finally my CNN Breaking News alert pays off:

The U.S. Supreme Court today struck down limits on the total amount a person can donate to various political campaigns in a single election season. However, the court left intact the limit on how much an individual can give to any single candidate.

"We conclude that the aggregate limits on contributions do not further the only governmental interest this court accepted as legitimate," said Chief Justice John Roberts, referring to a 1976 ruling. "They instead intrude without justification on a citizen's ability to express the most fundamental First Amendment activities."

The divided 5-4 ruling could have an immediate impact on November's congressional midterm elections, and add another layer of high-stakes spending in the crowded political arena.

What do we think?

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ask An Election Nerd: Should I Work At A PIRG?

Hi! I love your blog and as a recent college graduate in the poli sci field I am in desperate need of advice. I've been job hunting for about two months now and have come up pretty empty despite about two years of work experience between campaign and nonprofit internships. I saw a post you made about US PIRG and Work For Progress pretty much confirming all the negative stuff I've heard about them but I'm getting desperate. Are they really that bad of an option?


It must be PIRG recruiting season because I got a rash of questions about PIRGs around this time last year and now I am seeing them again. Rather than just give my own opinion, since I have never worked for a PIRG, I thought I would curate all the responses I got when I posted this question to the blog last year, and post them for you to decide. I've put my original response below and then the many submitter responses that followed.

My tangential dealings with PIRG have been mostly negative. First off, they have been frequently accused of advertising wages that they don’t deliver unless workers are able to meet an exceedingly high quota. Second, studies have shown that only about 8-10% of money raised by commercial fundraisers goes to the causes they claim to support. The rest goes to overhead. Thirdly, I would never give cash or my credit card information to someone I met on the street, or who came to my door, so it’s hard for me to promote the solicitation of others doing so. (Also anecdotally the only person I have ever met who enjoyed worked for them was an insufferable douchebag. That said, I have never worked directly with PIRG, so I leave it open to my blog followers to dispute.

"To the person who got offered a job at Fund for the Public Interest, please don't take it. I got offered one last summer which made me super excited. It was my first time living on my own and paying rent and I had found a job that wanted me, or so I thought. It ended up being a terrible idea. If you do some quick research, the results will demonstrate that the organization has a history of violating labor laws. I hope this helps!"

"Don't EVER work for the PIRG's. Any campaign where you are forced to put your life in danger (and going door to door ALONE in unsafe areas with large amounts of money is UNSAFE) is not worth it. Most of the PIRG's pay very low wages, with the promise that you can make more with commission which is usually only 20% for directors. Unfair. Unsafe. Unhelpful to the cause."

"I've worked for Grassroots Campaigns and the Fund. Tell that person who got offered the job at the Fund to avoid it like it has plague. Then tell her GCI is in a recruiting mode and if she got offered a job at the fund GCI will probably love to have her."

"The PIRGs are RIDICULOUSLY unfair. They are so massively underpaid. I got offered a job my first year out of college -- the annual salary was $21k.... in ATLANTA. No. Just.... no. To be avoided."

"Hi Nancy, I love your blog, but I'm really turned off by the negative comments you've published about The Public Interest Network. I've been working with TPIN for a year, and my experience has been entirely positive. Yes the hours are long and the pay isn't great, but I love what I do, so every paycheck feels like a bonus. The training is unparalleled, the campaigns are strategic, and the people are super smart. I wouldn't let some angry former employees dissuade anyone from working with them."

"Based solely on my experience with CalPIRG, I definitely do not recommend they take the job. I'm not gonna say they're a conspiracy, but their business practices are super sketch."

"The 90% overhead myth is just that - a myth. True, a fair amount of the initial donations go to overhead, which makes it impractical for some campaigns but the long-term benefits of the registry is worth it to their clients. ACLU, for example (the main campaign I worked on) got about 35% of our donations. But those donations often turned into long-term donors - an ACLU rep told us that it's more important they have a database because their returning donors almost triple the day-to-day donations."

"Two more things to add: It's easy for people to complain, especially when people expect things to happen for them or to them — you know as well as I do that that isn't organizing. It's a lot harder to actually put in the effort, swallow your pride and do whatever you can to make an impact, while knowing your own personal wall and making sure you take care of yourself. Plus, everyone at TPIN identifies with your blog and we are all big fans. Like you said, we're all on the same team."

"One more response to the person who inquired about working with the national PIRG: see This site is built by former PIRG employees and is a pretty good summary of most people’s comments so far. I’ve never worked for the national PIRG but have worked with a number of former PIRG employees on other campaigns who almost universally hated their time there. PIRG has tried to recruit me to work with them three times, and when I’ve pushed them for details they’ve described 80 hour work weeks at an effective pay rate of less than $7/hour (no overtime pay, since most positions are salaried) and rarely any days off, perhaps some Sundays but at least six days per week of expected work. This doesn’t sound good to me, so I’ve turned down their offers and taken jobs on other campaigns instead.

I should note that this criticism only applies to organizations which are under the umbrella of the national Public Interest Network out of Boston (this includes USPIRG and many state PIRGs, the Fund for the Public Interest, Environment America, Green Corps, and Fair Share Alliance). It notably does NOT include MPIRG (Minnesota), which has no affiliation with the national network and maintains much better labor practices and employee retention. NYPIRG and a few other state PIRGs also operate independently and have better practices."

Hope this helps!

Campaign Love and Mine,


To support CampaignSick Click Here.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

How Having a Rare Disease Made Me Good At My Job

As many of you know, I have Takayasu's Arteritis, which is a form of vasculitis and a rare, chronic auto-immune disorder. February 28th was Rare Disease Awareness Day and many people shared and encouraged other to share their stories about living with vasculitis online.

Before I go any further, I want to emphasize that I am fine. I've been in remission for years and was lucky that I had parents and doctors and healthcare (hello, HEALTHCARE) such that I was diagnosed early and avoided some of the more serious complications associated with the disease. That said, being sick sucks any way you slice it. Now that I've been in remission for a long time, I can look back on my experiences being actively sick and see how they shaped who I am today. I've been meaning to write a post like this for a while and since Rare Disease Awareness Day occurred while I was traveling for work, I had the kick in the pants/layover down time to make it happen. (Sorry person sitting next to me who saw me cry in the Minneapolis airport.) So without further ado, here is how being sick eventually made me good at my job:

1) It taught me empathy.

I posted about Harold Ramis dying from vasculitis on Facebook the other day and a friend jokingly responded, "but you don't look sick." This is a common response to people with a rare disease and one of the most surprising things about being sick. On the one hand, your life is entirely about your disease. Things like what you eat, how much sleep you need, managing pain, and the stress of dealing with doctors and insurance companies are always on your mind and often the lens through which you see your day. At the same time, when I was most actively sick it was from my Freshman to Junior years of college. I was making new friends, picking majors, doing internships and studying abroad in St.Petersburg, Russia. Most people I interacted with besides my close friends and family had no idea I was sick. When I routinely arrived unprepared to meetings with my academic advisor, I must have seemed irresponsible. When I slept 12 hours a day, I must have seemed depressed and anti-social to my Freshman year hallmates. When I was constantly sweaty, often out of breath and bright red walking around campus, frequently screaming on the phone to my parents or insurance company, I must have seemed...gross? crazy?

I tell you this not to play the world's tiniest violin, but to paint the picture that has informed my interaction with volunteers, party activists and other less than savory, more difficult characters. It's also what makes me so supportive of Democratic causes like access to education, providing universal healthcare, and rehabilitation in our prison system. I am as big a proponent of personal responsibility as you're likely to meet, but it seems to me that people to who don't support these causes have never been the victim of circumstances beyond on their own control.

We've all seen the Ian Maclaren quote on Facebook, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Being sick has taught me to temper my natural inclination toward judgement with the understanding that you never know what's going on with someone else's lived experience.

2) It made me better at dealing with candidates.

I remember once while waiting for MRI results that from a specialist who was slow in responding, I sent an exasperated email that included the line, "please remember, while this is your JOB, this is my LIFE." Sure, it was a tad dramatic, but I often reflect on those interactions when dealing with finicky candidates. It can be very frustrating when your candidate doesn't seem to trust you or your judgment, but at least from a candidate's perspective at the end of the day, it's their job and reputation on the line, not yours. Of course, good campaign staffers are deeply emotionally invested in their races, but that's sometimes hard for a candidate to see. It doesn't make them right, but it does help me to remember what it feels like to have a stake in something that is deeply personal to me, and primarily professional to somebody else.

3) It taught me to push myself.

I've said before that the greatest lesson to learn from working on campaigns is that you are capable of more than you know. As I mentioned above, despite being pretty actively sick I (probably unwisely) studied abroad, started college, interned at the Massachusetts State House, and for a while swam a mile every day. Although in retrospect this probably wasn't the wisest decision for my physical or mental health, it did give me strength, self-confidence, and a deep rooted belief that I can accomplish anything. This served me well when I started campaign life. Fourteen-hour work days? I can sleep after the election. Eight hour call time? No problem. GOTV goals? Sure, I like a challenge.

The flip side to number 1, of course, is that knowing what one can do in the face of adversity, as a manager I don't take kindly to people who make excuses and I don't make them for myself.

4) It made me crave something outside myself.

The sad reality of being sick is that it forces you to become somewhat narcissistic. I was lucky to be at the center of a network of friends, family, and health care professionals all taking care of me. So many of my conversations were about my body and how I was feeling. So much of my mental bandwidth was taken up by my physical being. There wasn't an hour of my day where some part of my brain wasn't thinking about doses of medicine, test results, side effects, or endless arguments with insurance companies. By the time I graduated college, I was ready for my brain to be obsessed with anything but my body.

Campaign people joke that the best way to get over personal trauma is to hop on a campaign because you simply won't have time to be in your own head. Never has this been more true than when I graduated college. Although I had been in remission for over a year, it wasn't until I began my first job on a campaign that my life became about something other than my illness. After years of feeling like a victim of circumstance I was suddenly eating, sleeping and breathing agency--not only empowering myself, but empowering other people. I was able to redirect the single-minded focus that had allowed me to graduate college, join a sorority and live a relatively normal life despite being sick to something bigger than myself. (Sometimes to my doctor's and parents' chagrin) I didn't have time to think about my body all the time anymore. I wasn't a sick person, I was an organizer.

5) It taught me crisis management.

Long-time readers may remember a post last year in which I shared that I've suffered from fairly intense anxiety and panic attacks--a phenomenon I attribute almost entirely to having been sick. When I was diagnosed, I was about to graduate from high school. I had been admitted to Tufts University, which to my 17 year old mind was as close to a utopia as a smart, passionate, sensitive girl from Chappaqua could get. I had worked really hard to get into Tufts and was eager to start my new life among like-minded people far from the hometown where I never felt accepted. And then, just like that, I had the rug pulled out from under me. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness, especially one no one I knew had ever heard of, threw a wrench in my plans to say the least. Visions of college a cappella and studying on the quad were replaced by fears of hair loss and weight gain (which, by the way, are drug side effects I was way more afraid of than having a stroke or heart attack, thanks for that, society.) Since then I have been wrestling with the underlying awareness that no matter how well things are going, everything can change on the drop of the dime. Little things like my boyfriend not texting me back right away or my boss emailing me "let's find a time to talk later" have been known to send me into a tailspin of worst case scenarios.

That said, when the rubber hits the road, I am excellent in a crisis. Due to the curve balls that being sick has thrown me, I learned to make bold, firm decisions quickly and see their next steps and consequences, even under pressure. I can fire staff, hire new staff and issue a press release while other people are still freaking out about the offending tweet. I know there's no point in fixating on what cannot be changed when there are circumstances that still can be. And even when things are bad, I can put them in perspective.

So that's that. I always feel a little awkward when I post something intensely personal, so I hope you found value in it. Hoping you never have to experience this stuff first hand.

Campaign Love and Mine,


To Support CampaignSick Click Here.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Direct Mail But Were Afraid To Ask

Ladies and Broworkers, may I present my friend and sorority sister, Bridget Cusick. Direct mail: You've got questions, she's got answers. Thank you very much, Bridget!

1) Who are you and what is your job?

Bridget Cusick, vice president in the campaign and creative services division at BerlinRosen, based in New York City. I do direct mail and other forms of paid communications for progressive campaigns and organizations.

2) How did you wind up at BR, what experience prepared you?

I came to BerlinRosen after six cycles working in field, communications and management on municipal, congressional and statewide campaigns, as well as a number of years at agencies, one focused on political direct mail and two others on corporate advertising and public relations.

3) What does a typical day look like for you?

During "campaign season" – by which I generally mean July through November – my days are dominated by the various steps in producing direct mail for campaigns: writing plans based on extensive consultation with them and their polling firms on message and targeting, working with other members of my team to develop creative ideas for bringing the plans to life, drafting copy for each piece and collaborating with a designer to get copy and photos into a layout, presenting pieces to clients, getting their input, pulling mailing lists and ultimately working with a mail house to print and mail. As part of our services, we also spend considerable time consulting on the broader aspects of our clients’ campaigns. Our mail has a lot greater chance of being successful if the campaign is running on all cylinders and so we use our collective campaign experience to help campaigns make sure they are doing everything they can on the ground and with earned media to be successful.

4) In general, how many different pieces of mail do you need for a mail program to be a effective?/How should they be spaced out?

Typically, if you make a decision to do mail, you should allocate the resources to mail the selected universe of voters at least five times, and you should schedule the pieces so that their impact will build and remain until election day – meaning they should hit recipients' homes at least once a week and should not end more than a week before election day. It's more complicated than this and depends on the overall landscape and other media that are in play (are you better- or less-known than your opponent? Are you also on TV? Are other organizations communicating on your behalf?) but those are general rules of thumb. Sadly, the impact of any medium wears off fairly quickly after communications cease – so if, say, you start mailing early and aren't able to sustain those communications until the election, the impact of your communications will have largely worn off by the time voters go to the polls. You don't want that. There is some research suggesting that mail's impact diminishes after a certain number of pieces because people get used to seeing it and start ignoring it. However, more research is needed here about how design, targeting, timing and other decisions cut against diminishing returns and enable a campaign to continue communicating effectively.

5) What goes into a "good" mail piece as opposed to a "bad" mail piece?/What are general best practices/common mistakes?

To some extent it depends on the goal of the piece, of course. For example, a lot of research has been dedicated to mail aimed at turnout, and some solid best practices have been identified – e.g., telling people that their neighbors will all be voting and other so-called "social pressure" techniques. Less solid data exists on persuasion mail at this point, but there's more research coming out all the time. In general, several things make for a good mail piece:

- Text is kept to what is essential. This is one of the biggest challenges we face and I think one of the biggest mistakes campaigns make: thinking that they need to say far more than they do. Less really is more. There are some exceptions, depending on the audience you are communicating to, but in general, you have a very limited window to say a few important things, and you want to make sure your recipients take away at least a couple of key messages.

- Good organization of text. We want the most important messages to pop out at readers. Paragraphs need to be short; bulleted or numbered points are best. The "rule of threes" applies: people remember things better in threes (and have trouble retaining more than three points). If people see a wall of text and are already only a little bit interested in what we have to say, we've just increased the chances that the piece is going straight into the garbage without imparting any information.

- Good photography – or no photography. We place a high premium on authenticity with our candidate campaigns, so we almost always take the time to conduct a photo shoot after planning to figure out what photos we need. But there are occasions on which we choose to do pieces that do not include photography or graphics at all – instead choosing, say, a letter format and making the sender a neighbor or respected community member; these types of pieces can also have a lot of impact.

6) What are the tradeoffs between mail and other types of media like radio, or TV?/When is mail more effective than TV and visa versa?

Most often it's a question of efficiency. If you have hundreds of thousands of people to reach in a single media market and you have the money to be on TV, then TV makes sense. If you are again talking to a large audience, and it includes people who spend a lot of time in their cars (e.g., suburban and exurban commuters), and you have the funds to be on radio (usually less expensive, but not as much less as you might think, than TV), then being on the radio probably makes sense. Both of these media are great for frequency (repetition of the message to drill it into people's brains), memorable creative executions and emotional impact. When you have a smaller or more niche audience to communicate with – e.g., because you are running a state house race that comprises only a fraction of a TV market or because you're trying to communicate to a subset of the electorate with a message not intended for the masses – then mail is still probably the best medium for you. You of course also might choose mail if you want to include a response component or more detail than you can effectively communicate in a :30 TV spot or even a :60 radio spot.

7) What are some tips for effectively "layering" a mail program with field or other media?

Once any kind of paid communications go live, field folks will hear a lot more recognition of their candidate – which is obviously satisfying. ("Oh - I saw his ad/got some mail from her.") Mail and lit pieces can help get people talking about issues on the phone or at doors (as can a TV or radio ad). Phones can also be used to draw attention to a piece and reinforce its message. In general you want all of your communications to create a virtuous circle that help you and your candidate connect with voters, persuade them and GOTV.

8) What should a candidate or campaign look for when hiring a mail consultant?/What questions should she ask?

Look at their portfolio, ask for case studies and get references. Do your consultants sound smart? Are these folks you could see working well with? It's a lot like hiring an individual for a job. Pricing matters but most mail firms have some sense of what others are charging, so if you see huge differences there (in either direction), you probably should be skeptical and ask the firms to check their assumptions.

9) What should one expect to pay for a mail piece and mailing? What factors impact the cost?

Costs will include postage, printing, photography and agency fees. Different agencies divide up or lump together these costs slightly differently, but those costs are always there. Postage is the most fixed – by which I mean, it doesn't matter what agency you work with – and often billed separately. It will change based on piece size (letter-size vs "flat," AKA large postcards or folded brochures), whether you send nonprofit rate (cheapest but most restricted) standard rate or first class, and the density of the universe. Most political mail goes out at standard rate and gets what we informally call a "red tag," which enables us to mail at the reduced rate but still be in mailboxes within a first-class window of 1-3 days. You also get a discount per piece based on how close together the homes are to which the mail is getting delivered and whether the mail is sorted for mail carrier routes. Your mail firm, in combination with the printer/mailhouse, should take care of these things for you to get you the best prices. Printing costs can depend on a number of factors, from where your printer is located to paper choice to the speed at which you need to print, but the biggest driver is quantity: the larger the run, the less each piece costs.

10) What do you think are common misconceptions about paid mail?

I think the biggest one may still be that mail is going away and being replaced by online communications. Online has a big role to play, but ironically perhaps, its importance increases the larger a campaign gets (think of how many more presidential or US Senate-level online communications you see as opposed to down-ballot races). Mail is still harder to ignore – and though younger voters change their addresses pretty frequently, pretty much every voter has a mailbox!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

When You Support CampaignSick, It's Actually Going To Fox News

Okay so that would be CRAZY and is absolutely totally not the case, but if the National Republican Congressional Committee has anything to say about it, it's not that far-fetched. The fundraising scheme (and scheme it is) is summed up nicely by Jay Bookman at the Atlantic Journal Constitution.
Kyrsten Sinema is a Democratic congresswoman running for re-election in Arizona. So if you wanted to make a donation to Sinema, you might Google her campaign and find yourself directed to the website .

At the "" site, you'd find a large, attractive picture of Sinema, with a large banner reading "Krysten Sinema for Congress" in the same color scheme as her campaign signs, along with a checklist of possible donation amounts.

Except the site is a Republican fundraising site, with contributions going to defeat Sinema. It does say that, in smaller type below the banner: "Make a Contribution Today to Help Defeat Kyrsten Sinema and candidates like her". But by design that single word "defeat" is easy to read past or overlook, and is the only real clue of what's going on. From the URL to the banner headline to the candidate's picture to the candidate's colors, the overwhelming intent of the site is to defraud.

This is pretty freaking gross, you guys and it demonstrates once again both that Republicans don't think their candidates can win on their own merit and that rather than resort to things like more sensible platforms and more likeable candidates, they are all too happy to cheat.

By the way if you still want to support CampaignSick, I promise it will not go to other blogs.

Today In Voter Suppression: California Same Day Voter Registration Delayed Until 2016

The Voting News has the release here, but basically from what I can gather, Secretary of State, Debra Brown says the state won't be meet the legal standards it set for itself in time to implement same day registration by 2014, which (again from what I can tell) the Secretary of State was responsible for:
"The law was expected to take effect in 2014. However, to be operative for the 2014 general election, the Secretary of State needed to complete its HAVA compliance by December 31, 2013. Last month, Bowen took to Twitter to explain why the state won’t be adopting California’s landmark same-day voter registration law anytime soon. 'That law (CA Elections Code section 2170) will likely take effect in 2016 or later,' Bowen tweeted on Jan. 13."
So you know, there's that.

Oh Look! Republicans Re-invented VoteBuilder.

This Gawker article pretty much nails it when it comes to reviewing the video:
"I chose to be a part of Para Bellum Labs because this is something that has never been done before," says new employee Lauren. (By Republicans, no, this has not been done before. Not successfully. But by Democrats, well, um. Yeah.)
I came to this video, of course, with an extreme pro-Democratic bias but it feels a little creepy to me. The language and even the hipster facial hair and office layout parallel what you would expect from a Democratic tech start up but something's not quite there. It feels a little soulless, the "New York Style"-deli-chain-in-the-Midwest of campaign technology if you will. Also as the Gawker article and many Facebook friends were quick to point out, they named it after a famous Nazi pistol, or at least like one.
In fact, it's part of an old Roman cliche, "Si vis pacem, para bellum"—if you seek peace, prepare for war. That's been quite an inspiring little phrase through history, at least to militarists. It was especially inspiring to Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken, the German government's arms manufacturer from the late imperial era to World War II.
Politically sensitive as always, GOP.