Saturday, August 17th, 2019

Real campaigns need real money


Waukesha Freeman 12/18/2014 Page A6 Opinion

Real campaigns need real money

Farrow challenger unlikely to reach voters without war chest

In case you missed it, the election for the next Waukesha County executive is essentially over. Barring a surprise last-minute entry, state Sen. Paul Farrow will be Waukesha County’s third county executive.

Farrow jumped into the race nearly right away and drove out the competition. The last holdout potential challenger with name recognition was Brian Dorow, a wellknown Waukesha County Technical College associate dean who has sought public office before. Dorow announced last week his decision not to run.

That leaves realtor and Waukesha County dispatcher Kim Wentz as, so far, the only other candidate on the ballot. In an exchange of emails, Wentz told me that she is not planning on raising money for the campaign. She is planning to invest $1,000 of her own money and rely on social media.

Because the position is “nonpartisan,” she asked me, “Why is it even necessary for fundraising in a nonpartisan election?”

This is the point where most newspaper columnists and editorial writers tut-tut about how terrible it is that money is so important in an election. I won’t.

Even the most basic “grass roots” campaign needs money. Voter lists, campaign literature, yard signs, postage, telephones, and even gas for the candidate’s car all cost money.

An army of volunteers will still need something to hand to people at the doors and it will cost money to organize them. They might even want some pizza or hot chocolate.

It’s up to the candidate to figure out where the money is going to come from. Many candidates for office self-finance. Everyone else has to figure out who the potential donors are.

“Nonpartisan” doesn’t mean “no money.” It just means that the Republican Party isn’t holding a primary to pick a candidate. And yes, we can joke we have a lot of “nonpartisan” elections in Waukesha County, even if the candidate’s party is listed on the ballot.

County executive is a countywide race. Over 200,000 Waukesha County residents cast their votes in the last election for governor. If even half that amount votes in a competitive election for county executive, that’s a lot of mail, door literature and phone calls.

Even if Wentz was planning on campaigning full time, which she told me she isn’t, then $1,000 and social media is not going to be enough.

I’m not trying to pick on Wentz here. She is merely the latest in a long line of candidates for different public offices to tell me that they don’t plan on raising any money. Accompanying that statement is usually a complaint that there is too much money in politics.

But the voters need to be reached somehow. Nobody is going to vote for a candidate they never heard from. How are candidates ever going to reach those voters if they don’t plan on spending any money?

There is a reason the top three finishers in the last election in the 97th Assembly District were also the top three in raising money. They were able to reach the most voters.

This is the point where someone will suggest that we publicly finance campaigns. Why should anyone be forced through taxation to support the candidacy of someone they disagree with? Roughly three-quarters of Waukesha County voters are Republicans. Should they be forced to subsidize Democratic Party candidates?

If Wentz makes the ballot and really puts an effort in, this is what is likely to happen. She will get a mention or two in the newspapers. If someone does schedule a debate (unlikely), she may even get a little press attention from it. Before Election Day, the newspapers will run a brief “who are the candidates” spot.

Most voters will never hear of Wentz’s campaign. Most voters will never know her qualifications or her positions on the issues.

In April, Farrow will be elected county executive. It’s a shame that there won’t be a competitive election because I do think Farrow should be made to answer some questions. From a purely selfish standpoint, I would like a competitive campaign just to fill my newspaper columns.

I wish Wentz the best of luck in her campaign. I try not to discourage anyone from getting involved in the political process. I just want them to have a realistic expectation of what they’re getting into.

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