When I clicked through to read the bizarre AP report on the shocking(!) revelation that PACs raise money to donate to politicians friendly to their cause, I couldn’t help but notice some very bizarre statements by the head of the Tennessee gun group profiled.Â Apparently the AP got hold of his pitch for raising PAC money:
Harris wrote that his goal is to raise $240,000, or $1 for every person with a handgun carry permit in Tennessee. But he acknowledged that that goal is likely unrealistic.
â€œSometimes you make aspirational statements when you ask for money,â€ Harris said. â€œAlthough I would be tickled to death if we did, I have no expectations of raising a quarter-million dollars for the PAC.â€
First, I love the pitch idea. It’s very tangible for people to understand and embraces those who don’t feel like they have enough money to participate in politics. If you have $1 to give, you’ve made a worthwhile investment. In a recession, that stands a chance at encouraging participation. Second, I appreciate that he is realistic in his goals. One thing sorely lacking among some on our side is any sense of political reality when it comes to participation by their gun owning peers. For practical planning purposes it is wise to realize that you may not meet that goal, and for this particular group, there are more than fair concerns with it.*
However, why the hell would you tell the Associated Press that you have no intention of meeting your goals? It’s one thing to predict a likely outcome, but it’s another to announce your failure for the world – donors and politicians included – to read. If I lived in Tennessee and received the donation request, I would have told Sebastian we should give because it’s a good cause and a good pitch. But if I read this article before the check went out the door, the check would never go out the door. With Harris already announcing to politicians that their PAC won’t be hugely successful, I’d suggest our check instead go to PVF where NRA will flex its muscle and tell politicians that gun owners are ready to give in order to protect our rights. If the state group is publicly conceding defeat in the press, then that tells me they aren’t interested in really flexing their muscle to make this happen.
Lesson: Be realistic, but don’t tell the world you plan to fail. Steer the conversation toward how motivated gun owners have been lately, especially in regards to politics. If the reporter really wants to talk money, talk about other ways gun owners have demonstrated they are ready to open their wallets with the run on guns and ammo. We’re already voting with our wallets, and now we’re ready to make that happen in the political world.
Another weird little element that caught my eye may or may not be a big deal. It’s possible that the reporter is making hay about it and Harris just commented on it, but I would be curious to know how they are handling this from a practical standpoint:
In the recent newsletter, Harris warned supporters that if they give more than $100 per quarter, their names and other identifying information will be included in campaign finance disclosures. Telling potential donors about that threshold in advance can help avoid uncomfortable situations later, he said.
â€œI want to make sure that if I call and say â€˜who is your employer because Iâ€™ve got to put it on the form,â€™ that they donâ€™t all of a sudden say â€˜give me my money back,â€™ â€ he said.
I can understand that the reason he probably did that is because gun owners are pretty sensitive about these things. With the reports published online, there is fair concern for people who aren’t “out of the closet” as gun owners in their professional lives. But to be honest, I would have been much more subtle about it. Rather than making a big deal, just make the donation check off amount $99 instead of $100. If you list higher amounts, then just put an asterisk with a notation at the bottom that more information is required for those giving $100 or more in a quarter. It’s subtle, but it gets the point across.
Hopefully, this is a case where the AP is creating a minor controversy where there is none. Given the overall nature of the article, it could easily be seen as such. However, if that’s the case, there was really no reason for Harris to talk about it at all. And even if he felt the need to elaborate, don’t say it’s because you’ll lose donations. That reinforces to serious donors that you plan to fail. Even if a donor does send in $100, don’t call him and make the only options give up the information or don’t give at all. The suggestion should be that they give $99 so as to support the cause and still have their privacy respected.
Lesson: Keep your trap shut when it doesn’t need to be open, especially when the person on the other line is clearly writing a piece that blows things out of proportion. There’s no need to create added paranoia with gun owners. Believe me, there are a few that are paranoid enough to cover us all. If that paranoia keeps regular Joe Gun Owner out of the political donation process, then you’ve lost when you really didn’t need to given a reasonable alternative.
*Using the state’s search report function, I cannot turn up any results from 2008 or 2009 with contributor information. According to filing records for donations made to candidates, they have not been any reported donations since 2000. At that time, they donated $125 to 19 candidates for a grand total of $2,375. Because I could not find contribution or PAC records from that year, I don’t know if they only had $2,375 to give away or have been sitting on much more since that time.