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  • Obama's AdWords

       January 18, 2010

    Google served up this ad in my GMail today:

    It's interesting to see AdWords used as part of a get out the vote campaign, although, it's a little odd that the campaign didn't use any geo-targeting. Am I supposed to call and email all my friends in MA or do they just not care about wasting money?

    I feel for the people of Massachusetts. Their whole Senate campaign is about either Kennedy's legacy or about defeating Obama's agenda. Call me hopelessly local, but shouldn't the campaign be about the people of Massachusetts and the potential pork and special deals that these candidates can bring to them? Isn't that what it's all about?

    Posted by at January 18, 2010 12:08 PM

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    #  January 18th, 2010 1:50 PM      james
    I dunno where the ad link goes, but based on what I see on the Obama site, I think they're looking for volunteers to make calls. (And when I think about it, I don't think that any "find out where to vote" ad is really targeted at people who don't know where to vote. But that's another matter.)

    This brings up a topic I've pondered for a while. Owe to mass media and (in large part) the internet, it seems that state-level campaigns are becoming increasingly national events.

    Take the Daschle-Thune election of 2004, for instance. If I remember correctly, most of Thune's money came from outside of South Dakota. He was able to drum up a ton of donations via internet ads touting him as a savior who would remove Daschle from power. So here you had a majority of Thune's financial support coming from people he wouldn't even represent. Sure, you could argue that those people had a stake in the election, as the makeup of Congress affects people in all states, but is that really how it's all supposed to work?

    Another example is the Prop 8 initiative in California. I don't have any objective data, but it seems clear that Prop 8 was a national event. One only had to go as far as their own Facebook page to see dozens of non-California residents taking a stance, offering their opinions, and urging Californians to vote one way or the other.

    Michael J Fox appeared in ads supporting a Missouri candidate in 2006, despite his having no ties to the state of Missouri. It's undeniable that MJ Fox had a stake in the outcome of that election. But he wasn't a constituent. At what point does his legitimate interest begin to trump the interests of Missouri constituents?

    I don't think this is anything new in American politics - corporate interests, wealthy individuals, and political action committees have always had a hand in local elections. But the internet certainly changes things by throwing open the doors to billions around the world. Today, it's very easy for a LGBT activist in the Ukraine to spend $10 financing a like-minded candidate in Madison, Wisconsin. Or for a Pakistani gun nut to donate $10 to an NRA-backed candidate in Ely, Minnesota. Do we see this new access as taking power away from individual voters, or do we view it as a leveling the playing field?

    So I wonder - is our entire conceptualization of representative government flawed? That is, is it wildly incorrect to believe that the Senator from Missouri (or South Dakota) represents the people of Missouri (or South Dakota)? And, if so, shouldn't we start teaching our children how it really works? Because it seems that so many strongly-held political opinions are based on a theory of American government that not only doesn't exist, but never existed.  
    #  January 18th, 2010 2:03 PM      kris
    I think your point about the LGBT activists in Madison is actually based in reality as I seem to remember reading that Tammy Baldwin gets an enormous percentage of her contributions from out of state and, as such, is more a representative of the LGBT community than the 2nd District of Wisconsin. This was going to be one of my main running points against her, actually.

    I agree that races are becoming increasingly national in interest. We heard the same arguments about the American Presidential race too - about how the world was really involved and therefore, shouldn't the world have a say in it?

    But, back to the point at hand. The constitution was ratified with some guarantees that the rights of smaller states wouldn't be trumped by their more populous neighbors. The same arguments used for the Electoral College, for example, could certainly be used to impose some fundraising restrictions on state races, right? Why should wealthy and numerous Californians be contributing to a Wisconsin race? Rather than abandon the whole concept of states, why not just ban that?  
    #  January 18th, 2010 2:37 PM      kris
    Here's Baldwin's data from the '08 Election. 47% of her money came from out of state. That's not as much as I thought but is still an awful lot. For example, I looked up Paul Ryan in the next district over and 78% of his contributions came from Wisconsin.
    #  January 18th, 2010 2:42 PM      james
    I think you're making my point about a theoretical system vs. the reality of the system. Numerous Californians should be allowed to contribute to a Wisconsin race in 2010 because numerous Virginians were allowed to contribute to a Maryland race in 1789. The concept of "Senator X totally and completely represents only the people of State X" has never existed. Ever. Yet you're using that imaginary ideal as the basis for your view of government.

    At the end of the day, the residents of a state are still the ones doing the actual voting. That's the protection that the Constitution affords.

    You ask, why not ban "numerous and wealthy Californians from contributing to a Wisconsin race?" How exactly would you go about doing that, in light of the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment? Or the relative ease of establishing a residence in any state?

    Even if you did ban individual donations to a candidate's campaign, what about donations to PAC's? Or public service ads purchased by wealthy individuals?

    I think that passing laws that restrict source of donations only serves to quiet the common man. If you can't stop Aaron Sorkin from creating a nationally televised show that espouses a particular political viewpoint, why would you take away Joe Blogger's right to send $10 one way or the other?

    #  January 18th, 2010 2:51 PM      kris
    I think the framework of the government actually SHOULD be based on the ideal. The ideal scenario is that, for example, Joe Sixpack campaigns to the people of Wisconsin, gets support from them and ultimately gets their votes. Just because that's not the perfect reality of it doesn't mean we should abandon the ideal though. It's the "ideal" for a good reason!

    And yeah, banning out of state contributions is probably not a good or legal idea. Actually, since, as you pointed out, the people of that particular state are the only ones voting then the real check against too much out of state influence is to bring that out of state influence to light and use it in the campaign. So, as long as it's really easy for people to find out where the money and support comes from then maybe it's not a problem. Maybe the advantages of a Canadian talking about a Missouri election or a California GLBT activist donating to a Wisconsin campaign are counterbalanced enough by the opponent's ability to point this out and point out how the other candidate may not really be representing THEM. If we teach our kids to accept something else we'll actually be losing this whole check.

    If that's the case, then the ideal government actually works pretty well and no (or limited) worries.  
    #  January 18th, 2010 3:14 PM      BVBigBro
    The concept of senators representing only their state has existed, James. At one time senators were not directly elected.  
    #  January 18th, 2010 3:16 PM      kris
    Direct election doesn't really change anything though - if Senators went back to being elected by State Legislatures then outside money could simply come into important state legislative races, right? Of course - I think it would be easier to overcome the advantages of lots of $ in a smaller geographic race - it's so much easier to literally shake every hand and kiss every baby.  
    #  January 18th, 2010 3:31 PM      kris
    Going back to the first comment - the internet has really changed this, hasn't it? Can you imagine a) trying to find out who's even running in a given House race and b) finding out how to easily give them money before the Internet?

    The other thing that I think has changed is that people around the country have been caught up in this football game of Democrats vs. Republicans and they're all about their "team" winning. So it's about reaching certain numbers in Congress more than it is about any particular stance on issues individual candidates have.

    I think without that extremely partisan attitude of so many Americans you wouldn't have such national interest in local races. Maybe it's not the Internet's fault but rather our current political climate.  
    #  January 18th, 2010 3:39 PM      kris
    I just got the ad again and it goes here, so it literally is a polling place locator. Crazy. Oh, and then I put in a non-MA address and it just directed me to the state's election website instead of hitting me up to volunteer or donate or something - pretty lame.  
    #  January 18th, 2010 4:43 PM      james
    You're saying you support the ideal of "Senator X campaigns to citizens of State X and is financially supported only by citizens of State X?" Why is that the ideal? I think that ideal could lead to some pretty crappy results. (See, for instance, the Civil War.)

    On the other hand, some hold the view that since Senator X passes laws that affect all US citizens' lives, and uses tax monies paid by all US citizens to do so, then all US citizens hold a stake in the outcome of the election.

    I don't see why view #2 is considered radical, especially since it appears closer to the truth than the traditional view taught in schools.
    #  January 18th, 2010 4:55 PM      kris
    If all citizens hold a stake in the outcome of the election, then why don't all citizens get to vote in it? I think that's the problem.  
    #  January 18th, 2010 5:15 PM      james
    I'm not saying that they should. Or that they shouldn't, for that matter.

    I was only saying that out-of-state contributions are nothing new. I believe that trying to prevent out of state contributions is both futile & foolhardy. I think that the internet has leveled the playing field, taking an influence once reserved only for the rich and powerful and making it available to the common man.

    But then you have politicians seeking to change all of that through "campaign finance reform." When defending such endeavors, talking heads trot out fairy tales about the "ideal" system. "Well golly gee, George Washington had to go next door & ask his neighbor Farmer Jim for 2 bits to finance his campaign. We are seeking to return to that!" It's B.S. It was never like that and never will be. And most people aren't equipped enough to realize it.  
    #  January 18th, 2010 6:00 PM      kris
    Well, we already ban contributions from foreign individuals, so you could certainly see banning contributions from individuals "foreign" to the state or district or whatever - but of course that wouldn't account for PACs and the like and, since you couldn't ban me from talking about an election elsewhere it's a stretch to ban me from giving $ to it since speech = $. So yeah, I guess I'm on board with no banning - as long as reporting is quick & public and easily accessible.

    I think you do have a good point about how the Internet evens the playing field, but I also think that you're underestimating how much political campaigns have changed. We went from a time where Lincoln & Douglas could debate issues for HOURS and people were enraptured by it and got in depth reporting about it (as an aside - the Lincoln/Douglas campaign is a good example of an early instance of a local race going national, right?). Now, candidates debate once or twice for an hour and the reporting is all about who "won" and the spin. The mass media has really let the voters down. Their coverage is all about scandals and polls. It's no wonder that most people go to the polls totally ignorant about what the candidates they are voting for actually believe in.

    I think our elections are a load of crap. The Internet might help that in that just in the sense that people also have easy access to information but we really do have to reform the whole election process. We're getting the politicians we deserve right now and they suck. We gotta change something. Maybe it's all public funding or mandatory debates or changing the primary system so more voters have real choices. There are a lot of possibilities though.

    Anyway - I guess I'm not ready to resign myself to some rotten system. Why shouldn't we reach for the ideal?

    #  January 19th, 2010 1:48 AM      james
    The system isn't rotten. You're calling it rotten because it doesn't fit your unattainable, unrealistic, "ideal" system. So you're looking to make little tweaks here and there, believing that each tweak takes you closer to your unattainable ideal. It won't. The system isn't broken. Your model is broken.

    I'm not much of a history buff, and am admittedly pretty ignorant on most things history related, so I can't speak to the merit of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. But I do know people, and based on my belief that people are by and large the same from century to century, I think you're romanticizing the era at least a bit.

    First, we should realize that the nation was on the brink of Civil War, so I'm sure that Joe Sixpence was a tad more interested in politics at the time than he would otherwise be. But even with that increased level of interest, don't you think that a majority of people were more concerned with living their daily lives than they were with following the debates?

    Most people in 1860 were illiterate, worked a 16 hour day or more, and saw few others in a given day. Their news source was a single newspaper and the Sunday preacher. As far as the more educated electorate goes, it's 2010, by a landslide.

    If people are uninformed today, it's because they are choosing to be uninformed. And I don't blame them for one second. We all have more important things going on in our lives. Why should I care about cap-and-trade when I could be relaxing on my couch, staring at my big screen TV watching Dexter? Why care about so-and-so's latest comments on off shore drilling when I could be spending time with my family? Because honestly, whichever party wins an election, my life will be relatively unchanged. And I like it that way.

    #  January 19th, 2010 7:53 PM      james
    Contrast the competitor's approach: How Scott Brown Used Google to Get Results in Mass. Election

    Politics aside, you can count Google as a clear supporter of at least one aspect of Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown’s campaign — the use of online media. “He has definitely run a model campaign,” Google spokesman Galen Panger said in an interview with Digits. “He has really adopted every single tool in the Google arsenal.”

    There’s been a lot of news out today about how Mr. Brown has used social networking tools to help his campaign against Democrat Martha Coakley for a crucial Senate seat in Massachusetts. But amid all the talk of Twitter and Facebook, a slightly less sexy but still powerful tool has often been overlooked — the campaign’s groundbreaking use of Google to drive volunteers and voters.

    Beginning Thursday, the Brown campaign began what’s known as a Google network blast, an advertising tactic that floods Google content network Web pages in a particular geographic area with display ads from one advertiser. “If you were in Massachusetts, pretty much all day every day you would see a Scott Brown ad,” Mr. Panger said, adding that earlier ads encouraged people to volunteer for the campaign, while later ones focused on getting out the vote.
    #  January 19th, 2010 8:03 PM      kris
    that's "groundbreaking"? my god - why don't I rule the world?  



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