Op-Ed: We have nothing to fear but email fundraising pleas

Man in a suit speaking into microphones with one hand pointing
Senate candidate Tim Ryan on the stump in Ohio in May.
(Jay LaPrete / Associated Press)

Tim Ryan has got to stop texting me. So does Beto O’Rourke. James Carville needs to lose my email address. I can’t take the histrionics anymore. Last week, I received a text from Ryan’s Ohio Senate campaign that began “David — we have a problem.” It went on to detail a “fundraising slump.” All of this as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was announcing his plan to introduce a bill restricting abortion nationwide to 15 weeks after conception.

This is not the time for fear-mongering. This is the time for standing up.

I don’t doubt Democratic politicians understand this. Even as Republicans equivocated — “I don’t think there’s much of an appetite to go that direction,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) — the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) pushed back on Graham’s assertion that his proposal was merely “a minimum national standard limiting abortion.” She warned: “If Republicans get the chance, they will work to pass laws even more draconian than this bill.”

This is an approach that resonates, going on the offensive, engaging in the fight.

Politics, after all, is blood sport, particularly in the divided nation we’ve become. Still, if the fundraising texts and emails I’m receiving are any indication, some candidates have lost sight of this. No one, not even a supporter, wants to be harassed all day and told, primarily, how troubling things are.


Trump’s constant wheedling with his supporters is vacuuming up dollars from small donors and funneling almost none of it to Republican candidates.

Aug. 26, 2022

Ryan represents a case in point. Earlier this year, I made a donation to his campaign. Now, I hear from him more than I hear from my kids.

I mention my kids because they, too, text or message asking for money. The difference is that I love them.

I know I brought this on myself. I made the choice to donate, and I will donate to Ryan again. He is immeasurably superior to his opponent, J.D. Vance, a millionaire backed by conservative billionaire Peter Thiel. I sent money the first time because I want to see a Democratic majority in the Senate, and here in California, the Democratic incumbent up for reelection, Sen. Alex Padilla, is a lock.

I wanted to help, in other words, and Ohio’s race is one in which I might. What bothers me is the psychology behind the fundraising appeals. Or perhaps strategy is a better word.

“David — this is a five alarm fire,” begins one text from Ryan. “Can I be real with you?” another asks. “I was tossing and turning all night.”

Ryan is hardly the only fear-in-fundraising offender. “I’m sorry to message ya so late, David, but I’m too damn scared not to!” Carville bleated in a recent Democratic Party email, and hourly, it seems, I receive notifications about candidates like O’Rourke in Texas, Raphael Warnock in Georgia or Val Demings in Florida. “David,” reads a message from the latter, “I wish I was reaching out with better news.”


Fear, of course, has become a hallmark of the moment — fear infused with rage. We’re all terrified about a lot of things. The economy and inflation. The preservation of democracy. The defeat of facts and truth by lies and misinformation.

Despite California’s blue lean, its donors send millions to politicians of both parties.

Aug. 23, 2022

I fret about it all, and I appreciate that Ryan and the others worry about it too.

Yet trepidation is a lousy selling point, especially for someone who aspires to lead. I’m not looking for false bravado — we had enough of that during the last administration — but I wouldn’t mind a bit of fortitude.

Take President Biden as an example. After a rocky start to the year, he has found his voice — and his footing — with both his aggressive, anti-Trumpist Sept. 1 speech in Philadelphia and the White House’s pointed social media critiques of Republicans who accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness yet oppose his student debt relief plan.

I know there’s evidence that fear works as a fundraising strategy. “If you send out an email that says, ‘Please give me money so I can, you know, make the roads better, or your life better,’ you’ll raise a little money,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told CNN in 2021. “If I send out an email that says, ‘If you don’t send me $5 or $10, Nancy Pelosi’s going to destroy your family,’ I’ll raise a lot more.”

Nonetheless, with about sixe weeks left in the election cycle, I’d like to make a plea for resilience over fear. Yes, democracy is on the ballot, and the stakes could not be higher. And yet I can’t be alone in wanting to vote — and donate — for something rather than reacting, from a defensive crouch, to apocalyptic fears.

Each time my phone goes off, I feel a jolt of anxiety. What‘s the crisis now? But what I’m really starting to worry about is that fear won’t sow support as much as it will wear us out.

David L. Ulin is a contributing writer to Opinion.