“Judd Apatow is not available to accept your phone call, ” and so it goes for a first time candidate dialing for dollars to represent her district in the US Congress.
I don’t know Mr. Apatow but his last name starts with an “A” and that means he was at the top of the list I received from the national fundraising consultant hired to help me find enough money to convince would be supporters that I can mount a “First Tier” campaign.
My name is Michelle Lee. I am a wife and a mom. I’ve been a nurses aid, a factory worker and a journalist. For more than 30 years, people in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region called me the T.V. news lady.
From the field and my chair at the anchor desk I brought them the news focusing on how the decisions made in Washington impacted our friends and neighbors in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District. My work was guided by the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.
I did it without personal comment or opinion Monday through Friday on the 5, 6 and 10 o’clock local news.
A Democrat at birth, I cast ballots in every primary and general election since I was old enough to enter a voting booth, but not one viewer knew whether I was a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent. I have never been a political insider. I never worked on behalf of a political party nor did I openly supported or oppose a candidate during my career.
That was then. This is now. On the night Donald Trump was elected president I was on the anchor desk. A political analyst leaned in during a commercial break and whispered to me, “these numbers tell me Trump is going to win.”
I felt as if I had been punched in the gut.
55 days later I left my career behind. A few weeks later I was on a bus out of Duluth, Minnesota headed for Washington D.C. to participate in the Women’s March. It was my first act of political and social activism.
I went on to attend Wellstone Camp, the Vote, Run, Lead Camp and Take Action Minnesota focusing on their candidate tracks determined to one day serve my community.
When our Democratic Congressman Rick Nolan announced he was retiring following our party caucuses friends urged me to jump into the race.
“You have name awareness... people trust you,” they said.
Other friends who worked in politics tried to talk me out of it telling me there wasn’t enough time to mount a campaign. They also described how Washington was broken. They also warned money talked---that good candidates often had to walk away.
And that brings me back to dialing for dollars.
I’ve already picked the low hanging fruit. That’s how the experts describe family and friends who believe in me and who are willing to donate a few hard earned dollars to send me to Washington. Those are hard calls to make. I know the value of a dollar in their lives. Most have given to my campaign. Unfortunately, it is not yet enough for me to qualify for the all important “tier one” status, meaning enough money raised to cause big donors to pay attention to my campaign.
Rather than traveling my 27, 538 square mile district listening to the people I hope to represent, I’m told it is more important to sit in a room with an assistant and spend 30 plus hours a week calling a list of strangers.
Judd Apatow doesn’t know me. I doubt he’ll ever meet any of the candidates like me who are calling him. But that's the world we live in. Because our politics are now filled with consultants and money bundlers.
As a result critical campaign time is focused on convincing people like him that I and other candidates like me are the only line of defense between mean spirited legislation designed to make the rich richer and build walls around the working poor.
Are you as troubled as I am about this money game?
The truth is, it will take good people to get involved in the process by volunteering for the candidate of their choice, holding house parties and yes, raising money to send them to Washington.
Even though Mr. Apatow is not available to take my call don’t be surprised if you get a “cold call” from me, Michelle Lee a former T.V. news lady from Minnesota asking for your ideas to steer our nation in the right direction and for a donation to send the first ever congresswoman to represent MN-8 in Washington.
Note: This particular blog post was written during a low point in fundraising during my primary campaign for the 8th Congressional seat in Minnesota. My experience opened my eyes to the power of dark money and outside interests in swaying election outcomes and the need for public funded campaigns.