Burke: With many fires to fight, where to aim extinguisher?

For most, our political donations to support candidates are limited. How do we direct our dollars?

By Tom Burke / Herald columnist

I heard someone describe the the U.S. Supreme Court overturn of Roe V Wade as a “dumpster fire.”

It isn’t. It’s so much worse — more like the Okanogan Complex tragedy where 304,782 acres were destroyed. And other court decisions — on guns, the EPA and tribal rights — are conflagrations more like the Cold Springs Canyon fire or even the Great Fire of 1910, which killed 38 people, than a dumpster fire.

But, because we’ve had more than a week to absorb and discuss how bad all this really is, I’m not going to stoke those blazes any further for now.

Nor will I get burning hot mad in print about their public prayer or Maine school funding decisions or the revelations by Cassidy Hutchinson to the Jan. 6 committee about the insurrectionist, Donald Trump.

But watching all this has driven home, yet again, something that’s been bothering me for a long time: I can’t do what I really want to do to help.

Now of course I will vote against the Christian evangelical nationalists striving to impose their religious philosophies on everyone else. And I will work to defeat their plan to ban abortion nationwide. I will write my elected reps telling them how I feel about adding five more justices to the court (Do It Now!). I will phone them about killing the filibuster. And you bet I will use my bully pulpit here to explain the danger our country faces from these anti-democratic zealots.

But what I really want to do, I can’t. I simply can’t donate enough money to all the people or causes I’d like to help.

Because in America today there isn’t just a SCOTUS fire, there’s a dozen or score or a thousand wildfires destroying our democracy, needing to be extinguished, needing to be deprived of the heat (evangelical fever), oxygen (media attention), and fuel (phony issues ala the Big Lie) that make them burn. And it isn’t water that will do the trick, it’s money.

And I don’t have thousands to contribute; at best it’s hundreds between now and the November elections.

So how do I use it? Do I give it all to one candidate or one cause? Or do I spread it around for as far as it will go?

The firefighter in my family tells me about the triage procedures used to identify what to save when wildfires rage. How “triage” is the process of classifying structures according to their defensibility or non-defensibility in the face of an inferno.

Clearly, then, what we need is political-donation triage; a technique to figure out who or where to contribute; how to identify what you most care about, ignore those that can’t be helped; and so maximize the impact of your giving.

In 2020 small donations — gifts of under $250 — made up 22 percent of political fundraising, up from 15 percent in 2016. And most Americans donate less than $250; 55 percent reported donating less than $100 while 32 percent donated between $100 and $250.

The downside of that generosity, however, is that small contributors don’t necessarily know what to do with their money, sometimes funding bad candidates in poorly chosen races (like the hopeless effort to unseat Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene) or pouring money into races where is isn’t needed (giving to California’s Rep. Adam Schiff, for instance).

Of course everyone is asking for money. My inbox is filled with good people asking for help in good causes: people like Sen. Raphael Warnock and governor candidate Stacy Abrams in Georgia, John Fetterman in Pensslyvania, Patty Murray here in Washington, plus Mark Kelly, Liz Warren, Beto O’Rouke, Barack, Kamala, and even Joe (from Delaware and 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.).

But like I said, my resources are limited. So I went looking for a way to have the most impact in the races I most care about.

To donate, I’m using using Act Blue — secure.actblue.com/about — a one-stop-shop for Dem donations from individual donors via the Internet. It’s secure; does not endorse individual candidates; and about every Democratic candidate in the known universe uses it for fundraising. (Republicans have tried to match it, but they lag behind, except for Donald Trump’s line-his-own-pockets, phony “Stop the Steal” direct mail campaign.)

I’ll also be looking at “Swing Left” (swingleft.org/p/funds) as a way to maximize my minimal contributions. It matches Democrats by ZIP code with their nearest swing congressional district, defined as one where a Republican had won by fewer than 15 points, allowing rank-and-file Democrats to participate in the most important races in any given electoral cycle. Swing Left’s political professionals target winnable races and provides targeted pathways for folks to give to the House, Senate and selected local races of their choice.

The upcoming midterms in November may seem sooo far off, but they are really just around the corner.

Their significance cannot be overstated. If the Republicans win in the House, it will be two years of non-stop MTG-Boebert-Gaetz Trumpist insanity-QAnon-conspiracy-Christian-evangelical nationalism.

Because as Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said at the Reagan Library last week: “We are confronting a domestic threat we have never faced before. And that is a former president who is attempting to unravel the foundations of our constitutional republic. And he is aided by Republican leaders and elected officials who have made themselves willing hostages to this dangerous and irrational man.”

And a Supreme Court determined to take us back to the 18th century.

Sláva Ukrayíni!

Tom Burke’s email address is t.burke.column@gmail.com.

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