"If you’re a good person, you have to sign RIGHT NOW"
January 9, 2019 7:40 AM   Subscribe

How upstart Democratic consulting firm is making millions... and lots of enemies in progressive politics Mothership Strategies is probably in your inbox right now, begging you to give money to a progressive cause or Democratic candidate. The Washington Post details how they got their start from the DCCC (who pioneered the all-caps alarmist style of email fundraising) and how their higher than average fees have helped them grow quickly and made their founders rich. Most people don't like this stuff. Previously, they were pilloried by the democracy-reform community for their role in starting End Citizens United, a Democratic PAC that presented itself as a grassroots group... and then that coverage mysteriously disappeared from the internet. But hey, at least we got a funny twitter bot out of it.
posted by jlittlew (12 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Grifters come in all shapes, sizes and political affiliations. Some of them have goldendoodles.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:47 AM on January 9 [9 favorites]

I wish there were some way to let the candidates know about this. Before the 2016 election, I signed up for DCCC newsletters, donated to a few candidates, and wound up on a swarm of candidate email lists. They sent emails with subject lines that alternated between "DOOM IS COMING" (send us money to prevent it) and "WE ARE VICTORIOUS" (send us money to keep winning).

At some point, they took over my inbox, even after unsubscribing to several of them (either I couldn't catch them all, or I hadn't unsubbed from the "master list" somewhere), so I set up a filter for all political emails and now I see none of them.

Sometimes I wonder if the whole fundraising-email game is a Republican plot, designed to annoy and frustrate liberal voters into disengaging from politics.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:00 AM on January 9 [18 favorites]

Sometimes I wonder if the whole fundraising-email game is a Republican plot, designed to annoy and frustrate liberal voters into disengaging from politics.
Pretty sure that stuff's worse for Republican voters.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 8:19 AM on January 9 [2 favorites]

My sense is that Republican and conservative-leaning groups do this a lot, but also do more on the merchandising side of things (even before the MAGA hat), which is a slightly different play ("premiums" in the direct response fundraising parlance... but also online stores and the like). In many ways it is an acceleration of what has been happening in direct mail advertising -- started by civic society groups and then taken by campaigns, arguably perfected by Karl Rove.
posted by jlittlew at 8:33 AM on January 9

Haha! Joke's on them! I don't have any money!
posted by East14thTaco at 10:52 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]

Soooooo... in 2017, I'd donated to a candidate running for Virginia House of Delegates and wound up on a couple dozen campaign fundraising lists. In the midst of my Whack-a-Mole, I typed an irritated open-text response to one of the campaigns when asked why I was unsubscribing. Well, the candidate for that campaign wrote back personally:
I can completely understand and that genuinely makes me feel horrible. Just so you know... in order to be considered a viable campaign, the house caucus makes us jump through hoops. We have to hire professional campaign and finance managers from a list THEY provide. In return, we really get no support or assistance from them at all unless we raise the big bucks. It has nothing to do our message or our desire to serve people.

This is just so they think we're serious candidates. It's all very sickening to me too so I understand how you feel. I'm glad you support candidates you know and who have positions that align with yours. They need that.
posted by duffell at 10:58 AM on January 9 [26 favorites]

(Context: 2017 saw an unprecedented number of first-time candidates with diverse life experiences running for local office in Virginia. Some had never worked on a campaign before, much less run one. It was also an overall less white and much more female set than any group of candidates that had run for those offices previously. The old guard--mostly older white men--were the ones telling them "you don't understand how this works, here's what you'll have to do if you want any help from us.")
posted by duffell at 11:06 AM on January 9 [4 favorites]

The same forces are at work here as on YouTube, or with clickbait headlines. Probably these Mothership people are using more-or-less the same multi-armed bandit approach to decide which emails to send.

Part of the problem is just that you can't really quantify "man these emails are starting to seem deranged" and so there's no way to optimize for it. Plus I imagine the whole process has a kind of automatic-writing/Ouija-board effect: it could start to feel like some external force is really writing the emails.

Morally speaking, I tend to think we should just pretend as if whoever's name is on the email actually sat down and carefully composed it intentionally, and form our views of their character accordingly.
posted by vogon_poet at 11:23 AM on January 9 [2 favorites]

The DCCC did not invent the all-caps alarmist style. Thanks to conservatives in my family, I've seen their junk mail since the 90's. All caps, USUALLY mixed in with REGULAR caps FOR EMPHASIS, was a clear sign the fundraising was aimed at a conservative audience. The more caps, the more unhinged it was likely to be.

And every last one of them took a paranoid AMERICA WILL BE DESTROYED tone. Whether it was some obvious scam from some random group wanting your $50 to fight SHARIA LAW IN OUR SCHOOLS, or the GOP itself claiming poverty. DEMOCRATS ARE OUTRAISING US AND THIS MEANS YOU WILL SOON HAVE NO GUNS. If you don't give now, we can NO LONGER consider you a REPUBLICAN.

My wealthy Republican relative had dementia at the end of his life. Much of these fundraising efforts felt like they were specifically written for people like him. Who could no longer think clearly, and who were easily frightened. This, combined with tactics like fedex-ing him appeals with an overnight return envelope, got him to part with tons of money.

I too noticed the change in tone from the DCCC in 2016. Was really disappointing to see them imitate the horrid scams of the Right.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 4:42 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]

This place screams of a sweat shop. I bet little of the windfall makes it very far past the three top guys. Sounds like they hire a bunch of new idealistic college grads and work them to the bone. Hey, Mothership staff! UNIONIZE. Your 25 year-old multi-millionaire boss doesn't give a damn about you!

My generation is being hoodwinked by HQ Trivia economics. "Sure, I spent 80 hours at the office, but they have seltzer on tap!"
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 4:53 PM on January 9 [1 favorite]

Strong agree that a lot of this stuff seems like it is just preying on the elderly.
posted by vogon_poet at 6:08 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]

The elderly are the ones with the lion s share of the money, so
posted by eustatic at 9:42 PM on January 9

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