via Creative Commons Flickr user Scorpions and Centaurs
It’s an election year, albeit a midterm one. But with the presidential race looming in 2016, and campaigns starting earlier than ever, it is imperative that you start thinking about how to get the most political bang for your buck. You don’t want to be one of those chumps blindly donating to your preferred candidate with no assurance that anything will come from it, do you? Of course not. You want to make sure your actual “change” translates into political “change”! (Feel free to use that around the water cooler. That’s where I heard it.) So let’s jump in. I’ll take you through the various ways in which you can insert your money into the political process, and determine the relative strengths and weaknesses of each choice.
1. Donate to someone running for office. This is a direct way to put your money into the coffers of your preferred candidate. You might think that would be a good thing, but it isn’t. According to federal law, individuals can only donate a paltry $2,600 to a candidate’s campaign. That contribution isn’t going to amount to much in a presidential election when television ad buys cost millions of dollars. Not to mention the fact that such campaign war chests are so huge, the influence your $2,600 is going to be extremely minimal. For this reason, if you do insist on taking this route, it’s best to donate to campaigns closer to home. Forgo presidential and even senate campaigns for a congressional race. Or magnify your donation further by only donating to state, county or municipal candidates. Your local dog catcher may not be able to make pot legal, but you’ll at least have one politician in your pocket.
2. Donate to a nonprofit organization. If you have a particular issue you feel passionately about (e.g. charter schools, global warming, alternative energy, etc.), it may be best to put your money into a nonprofit that specializes in a specific area. The upsides? There are no limits on how much you can donate, you can write off the donation as a tax deduction and you will magically become a better person just by giving money to a nonprofit. That’s something right there money can’t buy. Although, I guess since you donated the money, that’s sort of like buying it. So never mind. The downsides? Well, after the whole Kony fiasco, nonprofits no longer have the squeaky clean image they used to. Who knows if the CEO of your chosen organization will be found roaming the streets wearing nothing but a deranged smile? That would be pretty embarrassing for you. (And the naked person.) Also, all it takes is one measly donation to a nonprofit and then you’ll be receiving their materials in the mail for a lifetime. So it’s probably not worth it just because of that.
3. Donate to a PAC/super PAC. “PAC” stands for political action committee. In its non-super form, a PAC accepts donations up to $5,000 per calendar year from individuals. Then, the committee redistributes this money to specific candidates, parties or campaigns during the election cycle. While you can funnel more money into a PAC, the fact that you don’t necessarily control exactly where it goes could dilute its impact on the race. Super PACs are similar to regular PACs, except in two main ways. First, Super PACs have no limit whatsoever on how much you can contribute. That’s what makes them so super. Second, unlike a regular PAC, super PACs can’t communicate with a candidate or party to determine how its money is spent. What’s the point of shelling out millions to a super PAC if you can’t make the candidate wear nothing but Hawaiian shirts during all public appearances? It’s just a waste of money. Don’t believe me? Ask the casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. He donated over $20 million to the super PAC aligned with Newt Gingrich’s primary campaign during the last election cycle. See what good that did him? If you can’t make sure your money is being spent exactly how you want it, super PACs are just a super waste.
4. Be a lobbyist. Let’s cut to the chase, after the election is over, it’s off to Washington where no group is more powerful than the lobbyists who work on K Street. It’s common knowledge that lobbyists influence every single piece of legislation at every step from inception to being signed into law. Sure, you could donate $2,600 to a campaign, or give money to a non-profit, or dump millions into a super PAC, but nothing will assure that said money will actually do what you want it to do after your candidate wins. It makes far more financial sense to simply shell out the money for college (and maybe even law school, if you feel so inclined) and then enter a lobbying firm. There, you’ll be able to influence change directly on the national level. Plus, you’ll get paid to do it! If that isn’t a return on a political investment, I don’t know what is. Oh, what’s that? You’re worried your principles may be comprised if you have to lobby for something you don’t actually believe in? Don’t worry. They’ll just pay you enough to change said principles.
Hopefully this has been a helpful guide as the political process kicks into gear once again. Best of luck to you and your money.
Allen Williams is a writer residing in Los Angeles, CA, where he spends most of his time rolling around in very small piles of money.