A recent proposal by Virginia’s AG Ken Cuccinelli to raise the fees for people to run for office and to even participate in party conventions is drawing a lot of fire. It’s about to draw some more, right here.
Cuccinelli’s political director Noah Wall attended a meeting of the Virginia Republican State Central Committee Saturday to encourage the proposal, calling for gubernatorial candidates to pay up to $50,000 for a spot at the party’s nominating convention.
He suggested up to $25,000 for lieutenant governor and attorney general candidates, as well as fees for delegates attending the convention.
Unmentioned in this story is the part of the proposal that levees a $50 per delegate fee for even participating in a nominating convention, leave running for an office completely aside. The reason Cuccinelli wants to raise the rates and levee new fees on delegates to conventions?
In an interview, Cuccinelli said higher fees would help defray convention costs for the party, ensuring conventions are a financially viable option for the party. He said the state party was forced into the red by the 2009 shindig where he, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) were nominated for office.
Cuccinelli responded that even with higher filing fees, conventions are cheaper for candidates than primaries, making them a better option for non-traditional candidates. And he denied that the move has anything to do with his own political future.
“I don’t anticipate that we’ll ever exclusively use conventions,” Cuccinelli said. “But the convention is in danger of simply not being an option. … The State Central Committee is not going to vote for a convention if they expect to end up in a financial hole afterward.”
Here’s an idea. If the conventions are too bloody expensive for the Party, then don’t hold one. I understand completely the notion that they’re cheaper, in the long run, than a primary election because 1) the people doing the voting are all coming to the candidates rather than the candidates having to go out among the masses, 2) the message can be targeted directly at people who care about it in the 1st place (as evidenced by their filing to attend the convention), and 3) given that a convention necessarily reduces the number of people who will be participating in the vote it allows the candidates to better maximize their effort-to-voter ratio.
To all of which I say: So? There is absolutely no way that the vast majority of people I know could drop $50K just to file to run for an office. And, frankly, telling people who are card-carrying Republicans that they have to pay $50 a head to be allowed to vote on Party business looks, sounds, and works like a poll tax. We Republicans don’t like those, do we? I know I don’t and most of my fellow GOP’ers up here in Loudoun don’t, either. Once again, whose idea was this? I would have expected this out of Pelosi or Deeds (if he hadn’t gotten crushed in 2009) but Cuccinelli? There is no chance that putting these fees in place won’t keep people from participating and this at a moment in our history where we need all of our citizens to get involved. This is exactly the wrong message at precisely the wrong time.
If the convention format is that ruinous to Party finances, then let’s leave it to the National Party and run primaries here in Virginia. Let’s change our Constitution to allow the State Board of Elections to register voters by party so the parties can control their nomination process during the primary election. That handles the 1 issue I have with primaries. Then, if the money is an issue for the candidates in running a primary, let’s do something about the primary process that will even the playing field. OK, here’s my first stab at it.
First, we restrict the time frame for candidates to campaign to 3 months before the primary, absolutely no further. If they can’t get the message across and convince people in 3 months, they’re not going to do so.
Second, the RPV sets up a campaign web site where each candidate for office gets a page, complete with a uniform set of tools. I recommend we bring in the guys from Project Virgina to consult on what that would look like. Make the system flexible enough that candidates can change the appearance to match their campaign’s look and feel requirements but the site would basically have all the same tools. Everyone gets the ability to generate an e-mail list, everyone gets a facility to accept online donations, everyone gets a blog with cross-connects over to the major social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. This location becomes the clearing house for information on the candidates and offers Republicans state wide a one-stop shop to learn what they need to learn to make a rational choice for our nominees.
Third, the RPV sets up an event schedule that the candidates must attend, barring some kind of emergency. Let’s say we do 2 debates and 2 town hall-style events where candidates can stump speak for a few minutes and then get questions from the membership. The technology to do that over the Internet exists today and would not be difficult to leverage. That would expand participation opportunities for everyone.
The idea is to open up participation to larger numbers of Virginia Republicans, not narrow it by pricing people out of it. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and northern Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall are both against Cuccinelli’s proposal and so am I. We shouldn’t do it.