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Before he decided to leave Congress, there were signs that Jason Chaffetz’s reelection wasn’t going to be as easy as it had been in the past.
Chaffetz had recently endured a wave of criticism for dismissing the angry constituents who attended his town hall meetings as “paid protesters.” One of those constituents, a local physician named Kathie Allen, created a Crowdpac page to run against him and shattered fundraising records - raising more than $500,000 from some 15,000 people in the span of a few weeks.
Not the kind of stuff any “safe” GOP incumbent wants to see.
But it didn’t stop there. Two brothers, also frustrated with Chaffetz, launched a Crowdpac campaign to fund billboards throughout the district demanding that Chaffetz investigate President Trump’s ties to Russia. It raised over $12,000 within two weeks from nearly 600 donors, and now the billboards, which dot the I-15 corridor, may outlast Chaffetz who has suggested he may resign before his term is even over.
With declining approval ratings and an organized opposition within his district, there is plenty to suggest that political pressure played a role in Chaffetz’s hasty decision to leave Congress. And thanks to advances in the way citizens are funding political causes, this power now belongs to anyone.
Through crowdfunding, it’s possible to connect with tens of thousands of donors across the country who want to support your cause. Not every candidate will raise the vast sums that Allen has for her bid. But her example offers five key takeaways for anybody interested running for office in the digital age.
Lopsided districts with impossible odds are notorious for the weak competition they draw in general elections. It’s a vicious cycle of apathy: the perceived lack of agency in these districts becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when quality challengers never emerge to face powerful incumbents. But Allen broke the cycle simply by showing up.
Crowdpac’s Start Running tool allowed her to begin exploring a potential run with no commitment, and the pledges she collected became donations when she decided to officially enter the race. This allowed her to launch with instant momentum and take her exploratory effort to the next level.
Start with pledges.
Allen was a political unknown who had never run for office before. Yet she raised more money and recruited more donors in the first quarter of an election cycle than most first-time candidates.
How did she do this? Before officially deciding to run, Allen asked friends, family and colleagues to invest in her potential campaign with pledges of support.
On Crowdpac, donors aren’t charged unless the candidate they support actually gets in the race — it’s a lighter ask that makes it easier to recruit supporters. For Allen this proved to be crucial since building this initial base of supporters gave others the confidence they needed to get on board.
Have the structure in place to capitalize on a moment in the spotlight.
If Allen’s Crowdpac page had shown little traction or signs of support, those beyond her immediate network would have been less likely to invest in her campaign.
To get traction, Allen needed to demonstrate that she had an existing base of support. To that end she amassed nearly $20,000 in pledges from her own small network before her campaign ever went viral. Then when Chaffetz gave a CNN interview where he suggested that low-income Americans might have to forgo iPhone upgrades to purchase health insurance, her campaign was widely shared by a national audience outraged by his comments.
Start with momentum.
The goal of every campaign launch is to generate momentum. But thanks to crowdfunding, launching with instant momentum can become a choice instead of a blind objective. It’s a technological hack to a universal challenge that allows candidates to capture political energy whenever it erupts before their campaigns begin. And because energy drives action, it should never be wasted.
Mason Harrison is the head of communications for Crowdpac, a campaign crowdfunding platform.