Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What does a slated judicial candidate get for $40,000?

A couple of comments to posts on Page One of the blog deserve a post of their own.

An anonymous commenter wrote:
"Chutzpah" is a Yiddish term that loosely means "shameless audacity" and on this Rosh Hashanah I can think of no better term than to describe the arrogance and imprudence of the Cook County Democratic Party.

First, the slating contribution was $30,000, then by mid-summer they raised it to $35,000, and finally by slating the party upped the contribution to a whopping $40,000. The reason for this 34% from one year to the next? Well, there was none. No explanation was offered.

Then today, the most galling e-mail was sent out by the party telling candidates that in addition to their $40,000 ... they needed to get petitions signed with 1,500 signatures!! If you got just 700 more signatures on your own, you can get on the ballot and save yourself $40,000!!

What exactly does the $40,000 get you? The party does not supply a lawyer, does not get your signatures, and does not pay for any ballot challenge you file or defend. Then on top of it, you are still shaken down by half the committeemen who invite you to attend their birthday party ... for $250, or ask you to join them for a day at the horse races ... for another $500, or invite you to attend their picnic ... for another $250, and on and on it goes. Then there are the extra charges you get from your "campaign consultant," even though you don't know what the hell she did with the first $6,000 you gave her. Then come election time, if you are in a tight race, committeemen will expect candidates to pony up more money if they want to be on that ward's palm cards, and some committeemen will tacitly imply that if you don't cough up a substantial amount of money, they will in fact offer you zero support ... that's zero with a "Z." Oh, and don't forget that there are some notorious committeemen who will also shake down the your opponent and print several sets of palm cards, just enough to make it look legit when you stop by. And there they will sit, in a back room of some ward or township party office gathering dust and mildewing.

Shanah Tovah everyone! May you be inscribed for a good year. That will be $1,500.
That comment is not just bitter, it's funny and, I think, thought-provoking. As was this subsequent comment, which read:
I echo what has been said above. I just received an invitation to Louis Arroyo's "candidates forum" and the "entrance fee" is $750!! In return, you will get to step up to a microphone with 20 other candidates and over the din of the talking guests tell them your name, bar association ratings and mention some charity work you did 17 years ago. No one will hear you or remember you. Arroyo will not know your name when you come in, will not know it when you leave, and will not remember it tomorrow. On election day, you will get nothing for your $750. [Read that last sentence again.]

The Cook County Democratic Party is also holding a fundraiser that you are expected to buy tickets to and attend within days of writing them a $40,000 check. Bigwigs from the CFL will be there, so if you don't attend you do so at your own peril. More money down the drain. It is usually around this time of the campaign when candidates begin trying to convince their kids that Dartmouth is really no better than Moraine Valley Community College.

It is all a big gamble. If you win election, or lose election, at some point you will be in a mortgage foreclosure courtroom as either the judge or the defendant.

I do disagree that the Party does nothing for the $40,000. A week before election, they will send out a mailing with a life sized photograph of Toni Preckwinkle's face on the cover, and inside will be your $40,000 thumbnail photo and name. There will be a number of candidates running for office also listed in the mailer, and most of them will not have paid anything for the mail piece which you have happily subsidized.
I believe these comments raise valid questions and I'd like to see the discussion continue.

So let me add my own two cents. Even if I can't be as amusing.

I suppose I'm being Dr. Pangloss again, but I submit that slating by the Democratic Party in Cook County (and the concomitant $40,000 pledge) buys a judicial candidate two things: (1) Credibility and (2) Access.

Kitchen table candidates can and do win judicial races -- occasionally -- particularly if the candidate is blessed with a sonorous appellation (for any Ivy Leaguers in the audience, that means 'has a good ballot name'). Or if the candidate winds up the only female in a race with three males. Or maybe vice versa.

But slating, at least countywide slating, immediately confers a mantle of credibility on a candidate: This man or woman has some serious pull. This man or woman will be a formidable opponent.

Now, in the bad old days of patronage, when no one got a city or county job without a letter from one's sponsor, frustrated applicants found that there were two types of letters -- one that got you the job and another that merely got you an interview. So it is these days with slating: Some candidates are more slated than others; we can see this in the election results in every recent election cycle. Some candidates get dumped by ward or township organizations that are supposed to be promoting them, no matter what ads they buy for the adbook or how many holes they sponsor at the golf outing.

But nobody on the outside -- meaning 99.99% of the population -- knows who's been SLATED and who's been merely slated until Election Day or shortly before. So even the candidate who's been merely semi-slated, with some major committeemen's fingers discreetly crossed, starts out with a perception of credibility.

The commenter's remarks about petitions should scare every slated candidate down to the marrow: Surely one of the major components of a candidate's credibility is the belief that his or her nominating petitions will be "bulletproof." And I certainly can't think of a slated candidate in Cook County who's been knocked off the ballot for defective petitions or insufficient signatures.

But I no longer believe it to be a fool's errand to think about challenging even a slated candidate's petitions. My belief is not based on empirical studies -- unless the MacArthur people want to throw some money my way, this judicial election watching must necessarily remain a hobby -- but I think a slated candidate would be wise to do more than the Party is apparently asking for, petition-wise, if he or she wants to be assured of "bulletproof" ballot status.

But my perception, or the Party's asking for candidates to help in circulating their own petitions, will not damage the credibility of a slated candidate unless and until one of them gets knocked off the ballot.

So $40,000, for now, at least, buys credibility.

It also buys access.

The commenters are clearly frustrated that, after coughing up $40,000, or promising to, they find they still have to pay for every imaginable event that they might wish to attend (which, if they are serious candidates, should be every imaginable event).

It's like paying to enter Six Flags and finding out that every single ride, even the merry-go-round (do they have a merry-go-round at Six Flags?), costs extra.

So $40,000 does not guarantee admission to anything -- it buys only an invitation to everything.

When I ran for judge in the mid-90s, I would go anywhere I could, see anyone I could. In a good week, I'd get out to two or three events. The slated candidates, however, can go to two or three events a night, and more on weekends, especially if they're smart enough to have, or hire, a driver.

I noticed, when I ran, that I kept running into the same people, over and over again, many of them committed to one of my opponents. In fact, many of those same people were my opponents at any event I was fortunate enough to attend (I ran in crowded races). But I could only go to events that I knew about, whether because someone (one of my opponents, perhaps) tipped me off, or the event was one of the few advertised to the general public. I was on nobody's mailing lists in those days, so I never even heard about most political events, and most of the ones I did hear about had already happened.

You might think that the act of filing petitions alone would put a candidate on at least 80 mailing lists (50 ward and 30 township organizations) -- but, even when politicians are raising money, they apparently still don't want nobody that nobody sent.

And, let me tell you, I was that nobody.

I'm sure it must be numbing for the slated candidate to run into so many of the same people, night after night, often on the same night. But it is in seeing and being seen that the slated candidate can turn the initial perception of credibility into virtual invincibility. Especially in these days of social media, where the candidate takes a few quick selfies with the host at each event, and any other worthy willing to pose, and posts them on Facebook and Twitter and whatever else the kids are into these days. Social media is like a force multiplier: Whatever buzz may be generated for a candidate who shows up at everything, paying a la carte, is magnified by posting the pictures on Facebook. Sure the other candidates and other careful observers may get tired of seeing your face 16 times a day in their 'News Feed' -- but the random 'likes' and reposts from friends, family, law partners, fellow candidates, or whatever, puts your mug on all sorts of people's screens. Half, or maybe three-quarters of the people who vote for you may not remember your name by the time they leave the polling place on Primary Day, but when they're making their mark, they mark you, Mr. or Ms. Social Media, because yours is a name they've seen before.

And you can't get that sort of exposure without being at everything (and letting the world know about it) -- and you can't find out about anything unless you're given access -- and $40,000 gets you that.

Maybe that's too high a price. But what is a better alternative? Readers, what am I missing?

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