What is ‘Good Optics’ Fundraising?

lavarr policy insightsIt’s fundraising season for political candidates. It’s not as much fun as deer hunting season, but it can be just as dangerous. Bullets flying all around.

Hundreds of candidates are hustling to raise money to pay for campaigns. I receive a couple of fundraising requests and invitations to fundraising events nearly every day. I get requests from legislative candidates, local government candidates, and lots of requests from Democratic congressional candidate Doug Owens, Sen. Mike Lee, Rep. Mia Love, and other members of the congressional delegation.

I suppose I receive these requests for two reasons: One, I’ve donated previously, so the assumption is I will again. Second, despite the fact that I do very little lobbying, I sometimes talk to a politician on behalf of a client, so I am required to register as a lobbyist. Lobbyists have targets on their backs for campaign finance people.  

So it isn’t any surprise that Gov. Gary Herbert is raising money from lobbyists and business people. So is nearly every other candidate. The difference is that Herbert’s fundraising pitch was recorded and released to the media. He himself noted that the “optics” didn’t look great.

But if Herbert deserves criticism for raising money from a bunch of lobbyists and business people, what about his primary opponent Jonathan Johnson getting an enormous chunk of campaign money from one wealthy donor who has a political agenda? What are the optics of that?

And what about wealthy gubernatorial candidate Michael Weinholtz essentially funding his campaign himself? If we don’t like fundraising, do we want only independently wealthy people to run for office? How is a person of modest means supposed to run for a major office when a serious campaign costs a million dollars or more?

Despite the “optics,” the substance of Herbert’s fundraising isn’t any different than what politicians do all the time. And raising money from a wide variety of sources is better, in my opinion, than receiving huge chunks of money from one or two sources.

No doubt, fundraising is the grubby part of politics. Do-gooders will come up with all sorts of ways to reform the practice by placing limits and restrictions – none of which work very well. Every reform has unintended consequences. Short of curtailing important constitutional rights, money will find its way into politics.

We are dependent, to some extent, on the honesty and integrity of those we elect to office. I believe Herbert, Johnson and Weinholtz are all honest individuals.

Contributions should be reported promptly. Politicians should be carefully monitored to see how they deal with issues important to major donors. Bribery should be prosecuted. Beyond that, keep the optics good.