The Texas Democratic Trust

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1 The Texas Democratic Trust Challenge to Act Now There is substantial agreement within the political community, both nationally and in Texas, that Texas demographic trends favor Democrats. Most believe it is reasonable to project that by 2010, Democrats could have an opportunity to seriously contest for statewide offices and for legislative majorities. As a result, it is tempting to simply wait for things to get better or for new leadership to emerge. However, an improved political environment as a result of demographics and the emergence of new dynamic leadership will not just happen on their own. Republicans see the demographic trends as clearly as Democrats. In past election cycles, and certainly in recent months, we ve seen Republicans use volatile social issues and high level minority appointments as tools to carve significant GOP voting blocks from traditional Democratic constituencies. The GOP in Texas has relentlessly used its statewide office holders and legislative majorities to consolidate and insulate its power. Remaining on the defensive and allowing GOP efforts to continue unanswered for another election cycle is dangerously irresponsible and could forfeit whatever advantages demographic trends project. Conversely, by beginning now to rebuild the basic Democratic party structure, assure adequate resources to marginal Democratic office holders and invest in key candidates, counties, and regions, we not only put ourselves in the best position to realize the promise of future cycles, but may in fact move the clock forward by winning elections and mobilizing constituencies that would otherwise be lost. Individuals and organizations who have resources to invest, who have skills to apply, or who are accountable to at risk constituencies, have a responsibility to act now rather than simply sitting back and hoping for the best. Plan. To Win Purpose of a Texas Democratic Trust : Conversations with potential donors, party leaders and Democratic elected officials make it apparent that those with a political stake in the re-emergence of the Democratic Party in Texas want a comprehensive but accountable financing structure outside the State Party, but designed to rebuild and strengthen the party over time. They also agree that there should to be a coordinating body to ensure maximum benefits for money being spent by Democratic groups and organizations. By creating a new model called The Texas Democratic Trust, Democrats can exercise the flexibility to invest major 1

2 donor contributions in programs that will benefit party building efforts in future cycles but also help fund and coordinate nuts & bolts campaign activity in Financing: The Texas Democratic Trust will stand as a State PAC or an independent division of an existing State PAC. Major contributions will be invested in the Texas Democratic Trust and then moved as contributions to other political organizations to pay for specific activities or programs. In some cases, the funds will be contributed to pay for an entire activity. In other cases, funds will be pooled with resources from other appropriate and legal organizations for joint operations. The source of most Texas Democratic Trust funding is anticipated to be a relatively small group of highly motivated donors who are willing to make large contributions as an investment in the future of the Democratic Party in Texas. These funds alone will not be sufficient to pay for all activities needed in the current or future cycles. Instead, the funds will used to leverage targeted campaigns efforts and state party activity to bring about professionalism, discipline and accountability. Texas Democratic Trust - Structure Texas Democratic Trust Advisory Board: Texas Democratic Trust founding contributors will invite Democratic stake holders such as individuals and/or organizations who currently have committed significant funding to Texas Democratic efforts; representatives of Legislative leaders, representatives of major constituency groups; and a representative of the State Party to sit as the Advisory Board to the Texas Trust. Other individuals and/or organizations who demonstrate the ability and commitment to invest at least $250,000 in agreed upon candidate assistance or party building activities may be invited to participate as stake holders as well. Preliminary List of Anticipated Invited Stake Holders: In additional to party representation, non-party stake holders who may be invited to participate on the Advisory Board include Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee, Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, Texas Trial Lawyers Association, Texas AFL-CIO, Texas State Teachers Association. Others may be invited at a later date depending upon their commitment to Texas Democratic Trust goals. Texas Democratic Trust Director and Management: A Texas Democratic Trust Director will be appointed by contributors to the Trust. The Trust budget, project awards, project funding levels, and funding schedule will be recommended by the Trust Director and presented to an Advisory Board for approval. The Trust Director will have a vote on the Advisory Board. Upon plan approval, Trust Director will be responsible for making sure that recipients use funds for the intended purpose. The Trust Director may delegate and oversee specific activities to other paid and unpaid individuals. Accountability Measures: The Trust Director will be responsible for providing the Trust Contributors and the Advisory Board with a quarterly report detailing all funds received into and dispersed from the Trust and providing copies of all reports filed 2

3 with any state or federal agency. Further, an independent auditor may be retained by the Trust to audit Trust activities and report directly to a designated Board Member other than the Trust Director. Texas Democratic Trust - Goals and Priorities Obviously, it is neither wise nor reasonable to predict that statewide offices will be captured or legislative majorities won in the 2006 cycle. However, work toward these goals should begin in a deliberate, coordinated and accountable fashion. Efforts should focus on these realistic goals: State House races Texas State House Democrats enter the 06 cycle with a number of potentially endangered incumbents and face the possibility of defending some very marginal open seats. At the same time, there are enough potentially vulnerable GOP seats that a net gain for Democrats is possible. Clearly, the top priority for Texas Democrats should be supporting and funding targeted House Democratic incumbents and House Democratic Campaign Committee efforts. County level races There are key counties and regions within the state that offer potential for important electoral and organizing gains, including, but not limited to Dallas County, Harris County, Bexar County, McLennan County, Brazos County and the Webb County/South Texas border region. In addition, it is important to stop the bleeding in areas like the East Texas districts held by key Texas House incumbents. Each of these areas has strategic importance to marginal races and/or show possibilities to significantly increase Democratic turnout and performance with a chance to win sooner rather than later. Professional Texas Democratic Party While it may not be practical to achieve this cycle, ultimately the Texas Democratic Party should be the organizational hub around which partisan Democratic activity turns. Both State and Federal law anticipate and encourage political activity through the State Party. It is essential that we begin working to bring about the inherent efficiencies in a strong state party. We can begin the rebuilding process this cycle by making specific purpose investments to professionalize party staff and operations, refine donor and voter contact data bases, coordinate training, and fund targeted turnout activity. The current Chair is working hard to build an aggressive and effective political operation at the party. However, he must overcome a decade of decline, and it is unreasonable to believe that the party can be rebuilt without significant help. By proactively engaging the party and managing funded efforts with professional oversight, the party will be value added to 2006 political campaigns and a key part of Democratic reemergence in future cycles. Message Development and Aggressive Research: We must invest in both message research and aggressive opposition research in order to develop and test issues and language, expand, energize and mobilize our base and bring to light GOP candidate and party vulnerabilities. 3

4 Donor Development: Democratic candidate campaigns, the House Democratic Campaign Committee and the Texas Democratic Party cannot function effectively to win elections if they remain dependent upon only one or two major donor sources and continue to approach fundraising as a dirty chore avoided to the point that fundraising efforts devolve into last-minute, desperate pleas for help. To help fund activities in the 2006 cycle, and more important, to realize opportunities in future cycles, a significant investment must be made to help key party organizations employ effective fundraising strategies that include online and multi-level donor management, diligent prospect research, and aggressive solicitation and event planning. Texas Democratic Trust - Funded Organizations/Activities The following organizations are considered likely recipients of Trust specific purpose contributions. In most instances, the activities listed under the organizations would be funded in-part rather than entirely with Trust resources. Any organization that is incapable or unwilling to carry out these tasks responsibly will not be funded. The detailed activity of each organization will be driven by needs and opportunities identified through a Statewide Political Audit conducted by the Trust Director who will be authorized to call on in-state and national political targeting professionals. 1. House Democratic Campaign Committee: The HDCC should stand as the principal political committee providing assistance to House Democratic Campaigns. To fulfill this responsibility, the committee must have the ability to raise significant funds on its own and attract and recruit capable staff to manage and direct HDCC activities for State House Campaigns. The Texas Democratic Trust should invest in building the fundraising base of the HDCC, the Trust Director should assist in planning and recruiting staff for the HDCC, and the Trust should be prepared to contribute to the HDCC s targeted candidate fund. Facilitate online/small donor program Development Professional Campaign and Finance Divisions Targeted Candidate Fund Conduct State House GOP Candidate Opposition Research 2. Research/Message Lab: Texas has suffered perhaps more than any other state from the failure to develop and deliver a specific state and regional Democratic message that can be shared and amplified by candidates running in competitive races. In addition to daunting political circumstances, the unique cultural and geographic diversity of Texas, coupled with the challenge to communicate in 19 different media markets, some that require expensive bilingual communication to reach our base, pose an unmatched challenged that requires special, and specialized, attention. The dominance of George Bush combined with left-of-center rhetoric from national Democratic figures and the lack of any significant national party investment in Texas in more than a decade, has left Democratic candidates with no choice but to go it 4

5 alone on message. Far too often, the first task of a credible candidate running statewide or in a marginal district has been to distance him or herself from the party so they can be heard on substantive issues. Of course this puts them at odds with party regulars whose enthusiasm these very same candidates need to be successful. A significant investment must be made in polling, focus groups and candidate specific opposition research to provide party leaders and individual candidates with reliable information to develop and deliver a winning message at the state and regional levels. Further, it is essential that an intense effort be made to conduct aggressive opposition research on current and anticipated state-wide GOP candidates as well as targeted State House candidates. Our Party, as well as our candidates, must have the information they need to aggressively articulate a positive and constructive agenda and then contrast it with the failures and shortcomings of the opposition party and GOP candidates. The Texas Progress Council may be a practical, currently existing, organization to conduct broad message polling, focus groups and opposition research. Also, the Texas Trust should consider making use of the services of non-partisan organizations such as the Legislative Study Group where useful and practical. Regional Party Labeling Survey/Focus Groups: Hispanic & African American Persuasion/Mobilization Poll Statewide GOP Candidate Opposition Research 3. County& Regional Project Grants: The same demographics that are driving optimism for future state-wide victories are creating opportunities at the county and regional level now. Dallas and Harris Counties are the two most readily recognized due to the prospects for county-wide victories and the value of electing Democratic officeholders in the state s largest media markets. However, attention should also be paid to other counties, some in rural areas, where organizational activity now will pay significant dividends in the future. In fact, there are many quite credible programs underway in the far corners of the state that show great promise. For example, Senator Eliot Shapleigh has developed a smart and accountable program in El Paso that can be replicated in other border counties. In Dallas, the Texas Values in Action Coalition is planning a smart and ambitious program that may warrant partnership. And the Harris County team that elected Rep. Hubert Vo and reelected Rep. Scott Hochberg has developed valuable methods to increase urban, base turnout in newly emerging areas. A close examination should be made of county activity in rural east Texas and in central Texas as well where county level activity will benefit State House and other candidates running in competitive districts. Winning Back Urban Counties Rural At-Risk/Opportunity Counties Border Program 4. State Party: The current State Party Chair has a clear understanding of the challenges ahead and is prepared to work constructively with activists, candidates and key contributors to renew and rebuild the party. Given the need for strong oversight and to provide assurances to donors, a summary of the suggested activity includes the following. 5

6 Professional Staff and Management: It is essential that the State Party be staffed with capable individuals who have the ability and resources to carry out meaningful activity. The DNC has made a qualified commitment to provide up to $250,000 each year for professional staff. The Trust should play a direct role in selecting and training existing and additional key party staff and determining which staff roles are best funded by the DNC. Key staff includes Executive Director, Finance Director, Political Director, Comptroller, Strategic Communications Director, Data Manager/Tech Support, Convention Manager, and Primary Director/SDEC Support. Donor Development and Professional Finance Division: TDP must develop an aggressive but realistic finance plan that identifies, solicits and engages donors at the low, middle and high dollar level. Further, TDP should even more aggressively reinvest small dollar contributions in prospecting efforts through mail, internet and telemarketing in order to expand the small donor base and maximize contributions in the coming cycles. In order to prospect low dollar revenues rather than drawing them down for use this cyle, the party must aggressively raise middle and high dollar funds. Trust seed funds should be used to help TDP develop and execute a finance plan. As the TDP donor base expands, TDP should make donor lists available to competitive campaigns as a campaign service. Voter file Update and Online Enhancement & Training: The first building block for direct voter contact, by both individual campaigns and party organizers, is a voter data base. Trust resources should be used to assure that the statewide voter file is updated and enhanced through improved online accessibility and refined research applications, targeting criteria and matching. Political Audit/Develop County-level Targeting Criteria: Given the poor performance of state-wide Democratic candidates in Texas over the last three cycles, it is important to re-examine basic targeting criteria and the measures used to compare one opportunity from the next. This is especially true at county/regional level and other down ballot races where changing demographics, candidate funding and ability and opposition research can have a disproportionate impact. It is important to use real, hard facts before making financial commitments at the county level. Before resources can be responsibly committed to county level races, it is important that targeting criteria be developed to determine the relative impact on local races in the short term and statewide races in the long term. Organizational Audit/Activist Exchange Network: There are dozens of organizations and individuals in each region of the state that present themselves as Democratic, Democratic-leaning or progressive. In some cases, these organizations plan specific and ambitious activities during the election cycle. These individuals and organizations should be identified and a determination should be made as to how they can legally and effectively be enlisted to assist coordinated Democratic efforts. Strategic Communication/Strategic Surrogate Program: Too often the Party s message strategy consists of little more than press releases featuring 6

7 harsh or colorful quotes from party leaders. Rather than relying on the hot topic of the day and only emphasizing free or earned media coverage of the party itself, efforts should be concentrated on developing a substantive, research-based message grid that can be communicated internally to activists, allies and directly to voters online as well as officeholders and candidates all of whom could then reinforce the party s message. To the extent possible and practical, elected Democratic legislative and local officeholders and county level or respected community leaders should be used as surrogate messengers. Candidate, Campaign, Activist & Surrogate Training: Regional trainings should be conducted to provide candidates, campaign staff, potential campaign staff and local activists with the skills they need to win competitive elections through both formal campaign roles and effective grassroots party building activity. Further, the trainings should serve as a job bank to identify and help place talented individuals who are desperately needed in competitive campaigns. Consideration should be given to approaching the DNC and other potential sources for additional resources to fund a comprehensive Texas training program. Targeted Base Voter Contact Program: While most direct voter contact will take place in 2006 at the candidate level, it is essential that key, base constituencies hear directly from the party with a Democratic message. A highly targeted and accountable program should be conducted at the party level to communicate to these voters. Direct mail, phones, and media (to the extent budget allows) should be used. Funding of door-to-door programs should be conducted in concert with local party or candidate efforts where accountability and efficiency can be assured. Summary/Conclusion: Virtually every demographer and political analyst agrees that the Hispanic population, as a percentage of the potential electorate is increasing and that registered African Americans are beginning to vote in numbers approaching that of Anglos. As a result some jump quickly to the conclusion that the re-emergence of the Democratic Party in Texas is just around the corner. Looking only at demographics, that may be an easy leap. However, in terms of party organization, message development and candidate preparation, we are far from being in a position to compete consistently and aggressively at the statewide level. The Texas Democratic Trust proposal outlined above is an attempt to inject Democratic venture capital into the political process in Texas to help jump start the effort to make a demographic trend a political reality. Texas Democratic Trust resources will seldom be used to fund any political activity in its entirety. Instead the funds will be used to leverage, reinforce - and in some cases enforce - practical and accountable activity by the State Democratic Party, Democratic Party Legislative Committees and Democratic Candidates. These organizations are not in a position to succeed on their own and certainly will not succeed competing with one another. At the same time, stepping in to do their job for them would be equally ill-advised and 7

8 inefficient in the short-term and, over the long-term, would make it even harder for Texas Democrats to take full advantage of favorable demographics. The 2006 general election is less than 20 months away. Candidate filing in Texas opens in less than eight months. To realize the promise of the future, we have to begin planning to win and executing a winning plan now. 8

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