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Race to November: Maximizing Social Return on Political Investments

SOCAP October 23, 2018

Soon the midterm elections will be over and billions will have been spent on campaigning this season. Yet where does this money go and do these investments matter beyond Election Day? As impact investors and political donors, we have spent much of the last two years weighing how to get the highest social return on political investments. We all want to “win” but how can we truly leverage our resources for the long-term health and strength of our democracy?
Here’s how—
We are looking beyond candidates–to groups like Color Of Change, MoveOn, Mijente, and Indivisible that are operating with increasing sophistication to help us both win elections and transform our democracy. Together, these groups are active in close to 200 House, Senate, gubernatorial, and other key races across the country.

3 Reasons to Think Beyond Candidates:

1. We want to win by electing leaders who will take action for a more just and equitable future— in 2018, in 2020 and beyond.

Robust movement-building groups are creating infrastructure that will have a profound impact in the 2018 cycle— and, with resources, even greater in 2020 and beyond. Building a strong platform through issues that resonate with local communities, these groups are, in many ways, taking a page from the NRA’s playbook: an educated, organized base that is mobilized during and between election cycles can transform policy outcomes and our political culture.

2. We need accountability by proxy.

After we elect officials, most of us can’t spend time holding their feet to the fire, tracking how they vote and if they showed up for work. But if our candidates do win, we need to support our elected officials to advance progressive agendas and then keep up the pressure if they fall short.
Strategic and tactical base-building groups protect our political investments by working every day to hold those we elect accountable and ensure we have a democracy that works for everyone. Done right, these groups are empowered by us to be our “proxy” on key issues they monitor and advocate for all day, every day of the year, across races and states.
We don’t need a candidate beholden to us personally. It’s higher leverage for our political dollars if candidates are beholden to powerful, vibrant movements and organizations that speak for many, not an elite few.

3. Finally, we need to hedge our bets.

Many of us give to candidates or political parties because we get asked a lot and it’s easy to do. But what if we fund a candidate who is going to win anyway and our contribution could have made the difference elsewhere? What if our candidate loses? (One of the losing Florida Democratic primary candidates for governor spent $23 million on television ads and has nothing to show for it.)
We’re all about winning but also want our dollars to go far and have an impact, even if our candidates don’t win— we like to think of this as “losing forward.” So we’re betting on groups that register and connect with voters year-round— not starting from scratch a few weeks out from an election. Win or lose— these groups maintain that connection post-election, organize for important policy gains, and hit the ground running to get out the vote for the next cycle.

Impact investors can make a difference in politics

Impact investors are a critical part of the political infrastructure, and we can have a much bigger return on our investments if we focus on longer-term gains. Grassroots and national organizing groups are building the progressive voter base for years to come, not just the popular candidate of the moment.
With help from impact investors like Propel Capital and donor networks like Way to Win, other investors can provide the patient, high leverage capital for  carefully vetted, strategic organizations that are working in races up and down ballots across the country. Our additional support now provides the energy and resources needed for these groups to make the final push— helping to deliver votes in November and lay the groundwork for organizing every day after to fight for the future of our nation.
For more stories from investors working at the intersection of political engagement and investing, join me and other investors at the SOCAP18 panel, How Impact Investing Can Save Democracy 3:15PM on Thursday, October 25th as we discuss how to build a more robust democracy in 2018 and beyond. Also learn more about Propel Democracy and our political investing strategy.
SOCAP seeks to be neutral in political affiliation. Though this guest post advances a progressive political perspective, it highlights a unique approach to impact investing and the long term health of democracy which we’d like to offer for consideration to the SOCAP community.

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