Campaigns often don’t retain institutional knowledge. While consultants and staff learn from their experiences, transferring that wholesale to a new race is a difficult proposition. Even national and state parties have trouble keeping track of the lessons they learn from one cycle to the next.
So C&E has compiled some of the best advice we heard in 2015 and the stories that shaped this off-year. As we turn the Google calendar reminders to 2016, here are some things worth remembering.
Political Data Is The Message
Lots of consultants remember the bad old days when the parties’ voter files had little value. That’s clearly no longer the case. The Sanders campaign accessing Hillary Clinton’s proprietary data was likened to stealing “millions of dollars of research,” by one consultant. The data brouhaha inspired the first question at the pre-Christmas Democratic debate and spawned its own conspiracy theory. While some consultants question whether the fracas was enough to dislodge any partisan data infrastructure, it certainly put increased attention on the issue of cyber security.
The Stay Out Of Jail Card
This year we saw the first case of a consultant being prosecuted for coordinating between a Super PAC and a campaign. But now it’s not just the FBI investigating malfeasance among staffers and consultants. The FEC has been more active handing out fines, at least for certain violations by corporate or trade association PACs. Attorneys Robert Lenhard and Derek Lawlor offered some advice for staying out of PAC trouble. Their takeaway? Don’t skimp on the cost of compliance.
“Cutting costs for PAC compliance can seem like a smart move, until it isn’t,” they wrote in October. “Relying on one staffer when two are needed, limiting the audit to financial issues rather than including compliance, deciding not to segregate functions related to PAC receipts, relying on off-the-shelf training for PAC ambassadors all seem to make sense until something goes wrong.”
How To Protect Yourself Online
There will be breaches. From the federal government to Sony to Ashley Madison to the UCLA Health System to the Clinton campaign, 2015 saw security breaches that resulted in financial blows, damaged reputations and competitive advantages eroded. Still, there are ways that consultants and staffers can better protect their organization’s proprietary information. It starts with basic steps, according to James Norton, an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University and a senior adviser at The Chertoff Group.
“Campaigns should use current anti-virus and anti-malware software, content and email filters, firewalls, a data backup system and secure Wi-Fi networks,” he wrote in November. “Throughout the campaign, be sure all operating systems, software, and browsers remain up to date.”
He also addressed “database rights.”
“For example, perhaps some individuals should only be permitted to see information and not change it while others only need to be given permission to access a small portion of the data,” he said.
It’s advice that may have prevented the zombie server with 191 million voter records from going online.
Field Is Still Crucial
Jeb Bush recently switched his campaign’s point of attack from TV to field in a bid to mobilize his grassroots supporters to punch above his single-digital poll numbers. Let’s hope the Bush campaign read contributor JR Starrett’s piece on recruiting and training volunteers. “Managing and recruiting volunteers can be a daunting task that is often given to the staffer with the lightest resume,” Starrett wrote last March.
Now, Bush is reportedly deploying his headquarters staff to early primary states. But these seasoned hands should still heed Starrett’s advice. “If your campaign is failing to develop a roster of regular volunteers then do an assessment to determine the reasons for that,” he wrote. “A productive volunteer coordinator doesn’t need to possess the steely resolve of a gun slinger in the Old West. He or she just needs to create a structured workflow for the volunteers, build relationships with them and get them invested in the success of the campaign.”
All Mobile, Already
No matter how many times campaigns hear that mobile is the future, there are still some which don’t optimize their websites for viewing on smart phones and tablets. It’s time to think about “responsive design,” according to consultant Laura Packard.
“In the past, people tended to develop separate mobile-only websites for mobile devices (i.e. m.website.com), but that means more headache to update, maintain, market and search engine optimize,” she wrote in April. “For all but the very largest campaigns, a well-designed responsive site should make your life a lot easier.”
Packard also encouraged testing of the site before, during and after its launch. “Don’t forget to check the site on an Android and an iPhone device,” she wrote. “There may be quirks specific to one device that you should be aware of.”
There Are Still Southern Surprises
Democratic strategists have written off the South but two campaigns in Tennessee and Louisiana showed that there are still upsets below the Mason-Dixon line. Before the October mayoral race in Memphis, the incumbent, AC Wharton, was considered unbeatable. But Jim Strickland unseated him using a traditional campaign playbook. Meanwhile in Louisiana, the allies of Democrat John Bel Edwards created a social media conversation around Sen. David Vitter’s past prostitution scandal. The renewed interest in the old story helped derail the Republican’s anticipated gubernatorial victory.