A few weeks ago we visited our friends at the Lehigh County Senior Center to serve some coffee we made without electricity. They loved it. We're just not sure if they loved it because it was free, or electric-free.
Anyway, while we were there we bumped into the center's executive director, Rick Daugherty. While he was enjoying a cup of coffee, he said something he's probably regretting right now.
"Ya' know, you ought to do a cheap column about my campaign," Rick said with a smile.
Rick was the Democrat challenging Republican incumbent Charlie Dent in the race for Pennsylvania's 15th Congressional District.
We like to keep things nonpartisan here at On The Cheap. Regardless of your political persuasion, Rick accomplished something admirable. He ran a pretty effective campaign on a shoestring.
If you don't believe us, just check the numbers. Rick got 123,735 votes, or 43.4 percent, after spending $22,572. That might sound like a lot, but consider that his opponent and several previous candidates spent more than $1 million campaigning for the seat. Suddenly, Rick's war chest looks more like a change purse.
Still, his performance was as good or better than any Democrat facing Charlie in the last five elections, even though the district was recently reconfigured in a manner that makes it more favorable for Republicans.
We did some number-crunching in the On The Cheap lab and figure Rick spent 18 cents per vote compared with $8.25 per vote for Charlie, who spent $1.3 million seeking re-election. In 2010, Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan challenged Charlie and spent nearly $25 per vote, or nearly $2 million, and had a smaller vote count than Rick.
What?! ... some of you are probably thinking. Millions of dollars to run a campaign? A look at Charlie's campaign finance reports reveals how seeking office can be expensive. First, you have to pay people to go out and collect donations. Then, you have to feed all of those donors at fundraising events. Signing checks can sure make you hungry.
It's not fair to pick solely on Charlie. Politicians in both major parties engage in this practice. Candidates in House, Senate and the presidential campaigns spent more than $2.5 billion in the 2012 election cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Rick said technology helped him make his campaign efficient. They spread the word with homemade YouTube videos, kept tabs on things with cellphones and shared online calendars so a campaign headquarters with a staff wasn't necessary.
His campaign's biggest expenses were a television commercial that aired the weekend before the election and a campaign mailer.
"We sent out postcards because those are the cheapest," Rick said.
You can learn more about Rick's shoestring campaign, and hear from his campaign manager, Michael Laws, in a video at http://www.mcall.com/onthecheap.
Even though he lost the election, Rick said he is proud to send a message that you don't need boatloads of money to run a campaign. He thinks the perception that you need to raise a lot of money and then owe favors to your donors discourages many good people from seeking public office.
"I just don't think money is as big an issue in politics as people think it is," Rick said. "I've seen candidates with a lot of money lose and I've seen candidates with little money win."
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