Cash for Clunkers?

Rick Perry’s campaign has recently experimented with paying volunteers. The Dallas Morning News “Exclusive” story outlines the campaign’s program for rewarding volunteers for their recruiting efforts. Their system would provide small cash bonuses to volunteers who successfully sign up primary voters.

Cash-4-Clunkers-car-480I suspect that one of the motives behind this effort is to create the impression of excitement and activity early in the campaign season. Both the Perry and Hutchison campaign have been criticized as ineffective and this may their way of demonstrating the campaign’s vitality without going on the air with television ads at a time when Texans probably don’t want to see political ads.

This seems like a risky idea. One paid volunteer remarked: “I’ve been apolitical all of my life. But then I see what’s going on with the current [presidential] administration. I decided to step up and do my part. I got a big mouth, and I know a lot of people.” Making previously apolitical big mouths the face of your campaign means taking some chances with what these people say and do. The Republican party has already suffered from its association with some of the characters that occupy the fringes of the far right.

Another risk of paying volunteers with cash is that you attract people with the wrong motivation. Just as ACORN. Campaign professionals are well trained and have to maintain the reputation that keeps them in business. Volunteers have a deep commitment to the candidate and the cause. Paying people small amounts of cash may bring together the worst tendencies of volunteers and mercenaries by mixing the amateurism of volunteers with the uncertain loyalty of the mercenaries. Perry and other campaigns have used point systems or candidate-specific rewards (t-shirts, access to the candidate, etc) that would appeal to the loyal volunteer while offering little to attract non-supporters.

Texas Republicans have generally run smart and creative campaigns. It will be interesting to see what the Perry campaign gets for its cash.


A story in the Austin American Statesman probably better reflects changes in campaigns as they begin to embrace social media. Social networks are valuable to campaigns because they mimic some of the characteristics of the natural flow of political information between friends. Also, using Facebook or Twitter to get your message out is cheap. The campaign consultants I’ve heard from emphasize that it’s important that the candidate not be allowed to use these without supervision (actually, not use these things at all and instead have their communications staff generate such material). Like everything else in the campaign, the message flowing through social media must be part of a carefully crafted strategy and it only take one unfortunate post to seriously sidetrack the campaign for days.


One Response

  1. As soon as I hit submit on the original post I saw a message from the Hutchison campaign attacking Perry for “implementing ACORN’s playbook” and “promising cash for votes.” While the Perry plan does look like he’s paying people to be his friend, it is not fair to call it buying votes. My argument is that Perry’s move is risky and unwise. I would not argue that it is unethical or illegal.

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