Updated: Feb 21, 2022
During the last election cycle, I wrote about the wrongful demonization of campaign contributions by the Jack Porter campaign. I wrote that in response to a massive smear campaign against the business community in its support of Commissioner Elaine Bryant in her race against Porter. At that point, the Porter campaign’s messaging had already been battle-tested two years prior by Jeremy Matlow.
Terms like “dark money”, “special interests”, “good old boy network” were thrown around, in a master class on political vanguardism.
After all, the strategy worked again in 2020, as political consultants with a host of conflicts of interest deployed the same cynical messaging. In a time where Tallahassee still had fresh wounds from the FBI’s public corruption investigation, Jack Porter raised more than double what Elaine Bryant did, including contributions received from lobbyists and out-of-town PACs in a convoluted series of transactions, all while decrying the “dark money” machine that was supposedly stockpiling money to defeat her.
As we enter a new election cycle, Tallahassee locals are starting to get a sense of déjà vu.
Before the holidays, Commissioner Matlow’s campaign showed that they will continue to use these tactics in a recent Facebook post:
“Some folks think because they can write several $1,000 checks, their voice is more important than everyone else’s . . . help us send a message to the special interests that the voice of the people will not be silenced. So tonight we are asking for 1,000 people to donate $1 to our 2022 re-election campaign”
After the holidays, Matlow posted a similar message with an image of a transcript from the FBI investigation where it was alleged that a City Commission seat could be “bought” for $100,000:
“We are on a mission to send a clear signal that City Commission seats cannot be ‘bought.’ Not anymore.”
This messaging depicts Matlow as the hero, standing up against corrupt forces like “dark money” and “special interests”. In reality, Jeremy Matlow, the wealthiest sitting commissioner, put $80,000 into his own campaign. If what he did is not an example of “buying a commission seat”, then what is?
You can’t blame the Matlow machine for recycling the same tactics they used in 2018, and, then again, for Porter in 2020. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The problem with this “check-shaming” tactic is it’s disingenuous, hypocritical, and undemocratic.
Laying aside the fact that Matlow’s campaign does, in fact, collect $1,000 contributions (including $2,000 from the VanderMeer family collectively, who had to be refunded for over-contributing), and ignoring the fact that Matlow has “loaned” himself over $80,000 in the last two campaign cycles, there are a myriad of other intangible contributions their campaign receives that are not reported.
Those who follow local politics closely know that there is a large group of trolls spreading misinformation on social media, sowing dissent, and creating false perceptions in a fairly organized manner. This has intangible value, and the Matlow campaign has harnessed it.
If these unofficial campaign “volunteers” sit at their keyboards for 30 minutes to an hour a day (most clocking in more than that) engaging with posts, writing responses, liking, reacting with angry faces, etc. that adds up to an average of 270 hours in an election year. Let’s say that’s worth $15 per hour. That’s around $4,000 per person per election cycle.
Mike, Jeff, Will, Rob, Barbara, Max, Lucia, Leighanne, Teddy, Margaret, etc. There are at least 20 people (not including those that might have multiple accounts) that regularly engage in this work. Using this metric, that is about $60,000 - $80,000 of manpower donated to Matlow’s political campaign.
This is obviously an extremely rough estimate, and not entirely scientific. You could, of course, apply this metric to any kind of campaign volunteer: door knockers, sign holders, signature gatherers, etc. But the point is, this kind of intangible work has tangible value to a political campaign.
A lot of people don’t have 30 minutes to an hour to defend their favorite candidate or express their opinion on social media. The majority of local candidates don’t have the financial means to put up $80,000 of their own money to buy themselves a commission seat. So, what’s the alternative? Write a check! Support your favorite candidate by contributing to their campaign.
Don’t let anyone “check-shame” you or discourage you from exercising your democratic right. If you don’t have the time to volunteer, it is your constitutionally-protected means to participate in the political process. And compared to the resources of a pizza chain millionaire and an army of trolls, your $1,000 check is just a drop in the bucket.