Follow the Money
James Oaksun is a gay Mainer libertarian with an MBA, and earlier this month he published a piece on what he thought went wrong with the gay marriage proposition that lost in November. He laid out, from a local gay's perspective, what he saw on the ground, and it wasn't a pretty picture.
James has now written a follow up article, examining how the money was spent during the campaign. Click here for source data behind this analysis.
He's allowing me to share his thoughts, which are very provocative, and should give us all pause about how we keep racking up the ballot prop losses for gay marriage, and in this sad case, with much more moolah than our opponents.
Generally, I agree with a tremendous amount of his criticism, and I appreciate very much how he looked at the filings of both sides to come up with comparable expenditures and allocations. However, I disagree with him about creating an "Equality Inc" corps that travels around the country fighting these props.
We already have a cumbersome loose alliance of the same orgs - NGLTF, Freedom to Marry, Haas Jr Fund, HRC, Gill Foundation - sending some of the same staffers, such as Marty Rouse, Dan Hawes, Sarah Reece, Thalia Zepatos, to carry the same tasks. I'm not sure institutionalizing this network is the answer to turning the tide, but it's an idea we could debate with Gay Inc, if they ever held public community meetings.
Here's James' piece:
The 2009 ballot question on gay marriage in Maine was the most expensive initiative campaign in Maine history, and the third most expensive statewide political campaign in the state’s history. More than $7 million was spent on both sides. Only the U.S. Senate races of 2002 and 2008 were more costly.
This report will examine where the money got spent, on both the “Yes” (anti-equality) and “No” (pro-equality) sides. There were some significant differences in how the funds were allocated among different sources. Brief synopses will be provided on the major vendors on both sides. Finally, some suggestions for future equality campaigns will be offered.
Before there could even be a campaign, the “People’s Veto” needed to get the requisite number of signatures to qualify it for the state ballot. In Maine, that requires collecting roughly 55,000 signatures. Stand for Marriage Maine (the Yes on 1 campaign) spent more than $300,000 to gather the signatures. A Michigan-based firm, National Petition Management, was contracted to perform this task. They succeeded. Still, this meant that Yes on 1 needed to raise $300,000 before there could even be a campaign. In my analysis I consider this to be pre-campaign expenditures and do not include it in my ratio calculations.
When planning a major project, you need a budget. Decisions get made, dollars allocated, vendors selected. Here we know exactly who got what. We also know that one side won, and one side lost. Were there differences in how the allocations were made? It turns out there were some very significant differences that might suggest a different approach for equality forces in future campaigns.
No on 1 (the pro equality side) spent nearly $5 million on the campaign. Yes on 1 (the anti-gay marriage side) had substantially fewer resources – about $2.5 million. The two sides allocated their funds as follows:
TV/Radio 1,637 2,551
Signs/Literature/Mailing 307 810
People -- Employees and Consultants 270 343
Internet 113 343
Polling 176 160
Phones 1 267
All Other 64 130
(all amounts $000)
In Percent of Total:
TV/Radio 64% 55%
Signs/Literature/Mailing 12% 18%
People -- Employees and Consultants 11% 7%
Internet 4% 7%
Polling 7% 3%
Phones 0% 6%
All Other 2% 3%
A series of observations are apparent:
1. Yes on 1 overweighted traditional media, and as a result was relatively competitive with the equality forces on the airwaves.
2. Yes on 1 spent absolutely more dollars in opinion polling than No on 1, and more than twice as much on a relative basis.
3. No on 1 spent a huge amount on direct mail.
4. No on 1 also spent a large amount on phone banking. Yes on 1 shows
practically no expenses for this.
5. No on 1 spent nearly $350,000 on Internet activity – web site design and management, and advertising. More on this later.
6. Though much was made of hiring Frank Schubert to manage the Yes on 1 effort, No on 1 still spent $63,000 more on staff and consultants than did the anti-equality forces (including Schubert’s fee). (Incidentally, Schubert’s fee was $110,000. In addition, he billed the campaign roughly $26,000 in travel and additional expenses. The recent New York Times article citing Schubert’s costs at well over $300,000 was incorrect.)
Now to consider who exactly got the money. First, the pro-equality No on 1 expenses:
1. McMahon Squier -- $2.6 Million
Long active in Democratic politics, this Alexandria, Virginia-based organization has a decent track record. The vast majority of this amount was for purchased TV and radio time. Typically commissions on ad buys range from 10 to 15 percent. I assume they also did the creative work on the ads – the scripts and such. Presumably, therefore, some of their commission is analogous to Frank Schubert’s base payment from Yes on 1, as Schubert claims to do substantially all the creative for the anti-equality campaigns. (Incidentally, McMahon Squier is the chief media consultant for Maine’s Democratic Governor, John Baldacci.)
This is a Connecticut-based direct mail operation. According to their website, they produce “the only junk mail you’ll ever read twice.” They work exclusively with Democratic candidates and progressive causes.
This firm, based in Washington, DC, is something of a mystery. Their website is “under construction.” Five principal members are named. The firm apparently does new media/Internet work for Democrats.
This is a telemarketing firm, based in Washington, DC, that does phone work for Democrats.
This is a longtime Washington, DC-based polling firm. While they do corporate work as well, their principal focus is work with Democrats and progressive causes. Stan Greenberg came onto the national scene in the 1992 campaign for his work with Bill Clinton.
The anti-equality/Yes on 1 vendors have their own degree of mystery.
This was the Yes on 1 media shop. Analogous to McMahon Squier, they produce advertisements and book the air time, holding back a 10-15 percent commission. Mar/Com appears to be a shell company under the aegis of a man named Bill Criswell, of Criswell Associates in San Francisco. Very little information is available about this firm; their website is “under construction.”
This Michigan based firm has a long track record in successfully gathering signatures for conservative causes.
This is a direct mail operation, based in California, and hired by Frank Schubert. Very little information is available about them.
This was Yes on 1’s pollster. According to Frank Schubert, this is actually an East Coast polling firm that is operating under an alias (and with a Nevada mail drop). Schubert claims vendors do this because LGBT activists harass and target firms that work on anti-equality campaigns. As it is currently unclear who this polling firm is, we cannot say anything further about them.
In addition to Public Policy Strategies, Yes on 1 utilized Lawrence Research of Santa Ana, California, to do some polling.
This is the Sacramento, California-based firm that provided general campaign management and strategy for Yes on 1, as it had done (successfully) for California Proposition 8 in 2008.
In my previous report on the California, Maine and Washington campaigns, I suggested some strategic changes. Here I go further. If they are to start prevailing, the marriage equality forces also need a strategic redesign of their campaign organizational and operational structure. They should take a page from the winners. Success is success. They may disagree with their opponents’ motives and actions, but their opponents are winning at the ballot box and there may be something to learn from them.
Here is how the anti-equality forces set up their campaigns:
a. National Organization for Marriage, the Catholic Church and various conservative/Christian denominations (such as the Mormons) are the funders. They raise the money through a variety of mechanisms.
b. A professional campaign manager, with a record of success, is hired and is then rehired in subsequent campaigns. The wheel is not reinvented with each spin of the electoral process.
c. Scientific polling is overweighted in the budget. Push polling may or may not be used.
d. A small number of senior local operatives are hired as consultants.
In contrast, here is how the equality efforts are run:
a. A new campaign manager, with unclear experience and record especially against nationally renowned opposition, is hired for each campaign.
b. Not only does this inexperienced management team have to run a campaign, they also have to run a fundraising operation, with phone banking and the like.
c. Scientific polling is underweighted.
d. Overweighting is done to vendors with longstanding ties to the Democratic Party, utilizing mechanisms of questionable or obsolete effectiveness.
What I am suggesting here is a totally functional organizational model. Call it “Equality Inc” or something. It is a matrixed organization; there is no overall head per se. There are well defined functions that do their appointed tasks and do them with rigorous effectiveness.
The $5 million spent by No on 1 amounts to about $20 per vote. On a per capita basis, this was three times as much as was spent by the California No on 8 campaign (which also lost). Throwing more money at this issue, without serious reconsideration of strategy and organization, will be money wasted.