The page below is an old version of my Business Plan for a New Political Party. Due to popular demand, I have updated the Plan considerably and put it into Kindle Format. You can buy it here.
Yes, it costs a bit of money. But the return on investment is enormous if you are serious about starting a political party.
Are you serious?
Professionals: not a Panacea
Small party politics is largely a game of volunteer amateurs. Amateurs make mistakes; they lack expertise in critical areas. Volunteers are not always reliable; they put their paying jobs first.
For these reasons there have been various attempts to professionalize the party. Fancy consultants have been enlisted, campaign managers hired. Repeatedly, I have seen calls to get all the state parties to hire an executive director.
Some of these moves towards professionalism have been successful. More often, the results have been disappointing. There are several reasons.
Professionals are expensive.
Whatever the benefits of professional advice, it comes at a price. Oftentimes, it is more economical to just make the mistake and learn things the hard way.
There are areas where a professional can do a much better job. A good example would be that of producing a commercial. On the other hand, if you use up your entire advertising budget producing the commercial, the net benefit is negative. You are better off making a cheap, amateurish commercial and using the savings to actually run the commercial.
A state party with a paid executive director can do a better job of fundraising, but a large fraction of those funds must then go to paying the executive director. There are examples where this has paid off, but often this was because the executive director was willing to work hard for a pittance. Such professionals were really more (barely) compensated volunteers.
Professionals Give Expensive Advice
Any field that can support professional experts has money to pay them, and profitably use their advice. This means that most outside specialists are used to having a decent budget to work with. Professional campaign managers are used to working on big budget campaigns. Marketing experts are used to working with corporate budgets; they work in a domain were a few percentage points in sales performance can mean millions of dollars in new revenues.
For this reason, the prescriptions of outside experts, or experts brought in to work in house, can be overly expensive for a struggling third party. This can also apply at times to volunteer experts who bring in wisdom from their workplace.
Third Party Politics is Different
There are very few true professional experts in the field of third party politics. Most relevant professionals are professionals in somewhat related fields. While some of this expertise can be extremely useful, it is not always applicable. Third party politics is different and the differences are significant.
The rules of third party politics are different from major party politics. For example, before I became super-active in the Fairfax County LP, I attended the Leadership Institute’s Candidate Development School. (The Leadership Institute is a non-profit organization that teaches political skills primarily to conservatives. They have a good record of teaching principled conservatives how to wrest power from the remoras in the Republican Party and get elected to Congress.) I learned many useful lessons by going to this school; however, some of those lessons were very wrong for Libertarians!
A big one: the LI fundraising expert taught that early money should be used to raise more money. This money, in turn, should be used to raise more money yet. Only after several cycles of fundraising should the campaign divert money to public outreach such as yard signs, billboards, mailings, radio ads, etc. This is good advice for Republican or Democratic candidates. It is a recipe for disaster for third party candidates.
Third party donors are more sophisticated in some ways than the average major party donor. They tend to be more willing to give money early in the election cycle. Also, they are easier to reach, since most of the third party donor pool can be found in a single database. It takes relatively little money to reach and extract the money that this pool is willing to give. Then the money dries up! Using money to raise money yields diminishing returns. Attempts to do professional style fundraising usually result in campaigns that spend a large fraction of their money raising money, which leads to a very bitter donor base afterwards.
This happened with the Harry Browne campaigns, especially the second one. The poor showings have led many in the movement to cry “corruption” and to craft conspiracy theories. What these conspiracy theorists fail to realize is that such professional style fundraising works when the donor pool is huge and expensive to reach.
In third party politics, donations plateau quickly. Maximizing net funds requires careful attention to minimizing fundraising costs. Since the donor base is small, a campaign must return to it multiple times and/or establish pledge programs. To keep the money coming in requires providing evidence that the campaign is doing useful things with the money already raised. A third party campaign should print its yard signs and bumper stickers earlier than the major party campaigns. Doing so reassures the donors, and provides a small head start advantage for the campaign.
(Such a head start advantage can provide credibility outside the third party’s donor base as well. When I did the Economy of Scale project – printing issue signs to go with name signs – our signs came out early and strong. This may have been the trigger that caused the Republican opponent of participating Libertarian candidate Garry Myers to print up a flier which included Garry’s name and positions. We got more publicity from the opposition than from any other source!)
Similarly, the non-profit world has many similarities to the third party political world, but the differences are important. FEC reporting is not 501(c)3 reporting. (Did it really pay to buy off-the-shelf nonprofit database software? Or would the LP have been better off using in house talent to create a solution tailored to its needs? From my outside the office perspective, it appears to be the latter. However, I could be wrong. In the long run the outsourcing of database services to an outside vendor might pay off.)
Also, third party politics has many threshold effort situations that are different from many charities. For a food bank, each donation can provide additional meals. Each dollar provides positive marginal value. A third party is confronted by challenges such as ballot access, where 70,000 signatures can get you on the ballot in a tough state, whereas 68,000 signatures are utterly useless.
The Best Experts
Experts have very important knowledge and skills, but they can also lack important bits of knowledge that are critical for success in third party politics. Paying an expert to learn this knowledge can be extremely expensive, both in payments and mistakes.
The best experts are those who have specialized outside knowledge and experience with the particulars of third party politics. The best way to get such people is to recruit them as volunteers first. Let them see the workings and challenges of third party politics. Then, if you need more of their time, hire them as contractors as the need arises.
Otherwise, you might do just as well having your existing volunteer amateurs read airplane books and experiment in the field.
Copyright 2007, Carl S. Milsted, Jr. All rights reserved.