Q: Photoshop—yes or no?
A: It’s certainly fine for minor stuff such as color balancing. Same goes for the obvious parody—a mock movie poster or putting a candidate’s face on Mount Rushmore. Beyond that, you should tread very carefully. Making substantive changes or altering the context of a photograph is not only misleading, it’s downright stupid.
Last fall, for example, the NRSC ran an attack ad that removed images of a childhood injury suffered by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). The “digital trickery,” as the Washington Post called it, was immediately decried as a “made-up photo” and inadvertently helped the opponent by evoking sympathy and reminding voters of the candidate’s ability to overcome adversity.
Q: My friend and I come from two different disciplines: spatial analysis and statistics. We got together and built some tools for campaigns that are a combination of mapping and polling (think microtargeting and geocoding, but better and cheaper). How can we best showcase what we do?
A: Ask some political veterans to serve as advisors to your new company so that your product development is positioned for use in the real world. These advisors can be paid or unpaid. Once you’re up and running, go to professional conferences, political confabs and, more directly, contact campaign headquarters and ask to speak to either the field director or the campaign manager. If you have a practical solution that can be scaled up or down to fit both statewide and more local campaigns, you have something to offer and you can gain a toehold as you further refine your product.
Q: What is a Hybrid PAC, and how do I start one?
A: Ah, the eyes glaze over. A Hybrid PAC is a committee that maintains a non-contribution account. It must register by fling FEC Form 1, Statement of Organization, within 10 days after raising or spending in excess of $1,000 in connection with federal elections.
Under “Type of Committee,” the PAC would check box 5(f ). Additionally, the committee must submit a letter to identify itself as a Super PAC or Hybrid PAC. The FEC has approved a template for Super PACs to use and has provided specific instructions for Hybrid PACs. It’s best to consult the FEC’s “Recent Developments in the Law” for additional information, but also retain an experienced campaign finance attorney.
Q: We’re finishing up an RFP to send out to policy consultants. We’d like to include best practices for other officeholders around the country and would welcome any feedback you might have.
A: First, require references. Second, review examples of past work. You should also ask for news coverage of previous issue plans, and ensure that the policy ideas for your district are not “cookie cutter” issues copied and pasted from another race. An issues document that looks like that will only open you up to charges of plagiarism and importing unpopular ideas to your district or state.
Q: I am 16 years old and have recently become fascinated with government and politics, particularly campaign finance. What do you think of the current campaign finance laws? Do they work for or against campaigns at this point?
A: As for whether Super PACs help or hurt candidates, it varies. Earlier this year, billionaire Sheldon Adelson pumped millions into a Super PAC that kept Newt Gingrich’s failing presidential campaign alive for an extra month or two. But Super PACs can also add to the unpredictability of close races, especially in down-ballot elections where last-minute decisions are often made without sufficient polling data or a knowledge of how an issue may play out on the ground.
For the time being, it does not matter whether any of us agree or disagree with current campaign finance laws, or court interpretations and FEC rulings on these laws. This brave new world is here, and it’s certainly not going to change during the current election cycle.
Craig Varoga has managed and consulted on local, state and national campaigns for more than 20 years. Send questions using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @CVaroga or email CVaroga@Varoga.US.