In The Republican Grift-o-Sphere, There Are No Patsies
On Tuesday the Washington Post published an article on hapless Republican congressional candidates, hoodwinked by greedy media companies that exploit their fundraising prowess and leave them with nothing. The horror!
Patient Zero for this investigation is Kimberly Klacik, the failed GOP congressional candidate in Maryland's 7th District. Klacik professed that she "almost passed out" when she discovered she'd pocketed less than a quarter of her fundraising haul after one of her campaign ads went viral.
While the Post notes in passing that the spot, produced by Newsmax's Benny Johnson, "showed her marching in a red dress and high heels past abandoned buildings in Baltimore, asserting that Democrats do not care about Black lives," it neglects to mention that it went viral because Donald Trump and his vile elder son used it as a stick to beat a majority-Black Democratic city with. Nor does it query why a candidate running to represent the people of Maryland in our nation's capital couldn't be bothered to read her own vendor contracts. Probably because they were too busy tut-tutting over poor Kim Klacik getting chewed up and spit out by "the system."
Her campaign is an example of how some consulting firms are profiting handsomely from Republican candidates who have robust appeal in today's politically charged environment — even when they are running in deep-blue districts where it is virtually impossible for them to win. The more viral the candidate goes, the more money the companies make — a model possible only through the online outrage machine of hyperpartisan politics.
Fundraising companies say their fees are well-earned and still leave candidates with more money than they would have if their ads had not been shared widely. But critics, including Klacik and some other 2020 candidates, say the system is deceptive, trapping first-time politicians in onerous contracts that siphon away cash their donors intended for them.
As of this writing, the piece is still trending in the Local section, although it includes precious little "local" background to flesh out the story. But I grew up in the 7th District and currently reside next door in the 3rd, and this article pissed me off enough to write a 20-tweet thread about it, so, yes, let's talk about poor Kim Klacik, caught in the clutches of those ruthless ad guys, shall we?
First of all, despite multiple references to "her district," Klacik doesn't live in the 7th. She just shoots videos there exploiting the poverty of some of its residents. She lives in Baltimore County, where she serves on the Republican Central Committee and tweets nasty attacks on "Baltimore City residents moving in on section 8."
Ain't she a peach!
For the record, the 7th District crosses multiple county lines and contains plenty of middle and upper class neighborhoods, too. Did Klacik ever credit Rep. Elijah Cummings for representing the second wealthiest majority Black district in the country, which includes Johns Hopkins University? LOL, nope!
When Rep. Cummings (may his name be for blessing) died in 2019, Klacik ran twice to replace him — once in the April 2020 special election, and once in the regular November contest. She lost both races by more than 40 points to Democrat Kweisi Mfume, a beloved local figure who held the seat in the late '90s and led the NAACP in the interim. Hardly a surprise in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans six to one, and hardly a race that would attract much outside funding in a normal year.
But nothing about 2020 was normal, so Klacik hoovered up more than $8 million, 65 percent of which came in increments of $200 or less after people saw her ads and got out their checkbooks. The Post article has plenty of anecdata on those poor donors who had no idea so much of their money was going to vendors.
"It sounds like part of the swamp that needs to be drained," said Bruce Dale, of Mason, Michigan, who was not happy so much of his $800 in donations were siphoned off by the vendors. "They can say it's legal, but there are a lot of things that are legal that are wrong. This is wrong."
Suzanne Salata of Capitola, California, thought the vendors' cut of her $500 donation was ridiculous. "Like at a nonprofit, if their overhead was 40 or 50 percent, you wouldn't give to them. It's not exactly apples to apples. But I've never heard of a kickback like this [in campaigns]."
"If you're giving money to a cause," said Greg Ruggles of Bettendorf, Iowa, of his $200 check, "you want it to go to the cause, not to the company creating the ad."
But no one was more upset than poor Klacik herself, in the Post's telling. "I actually lost sleep over this," she said. "These companies — it's a racket. Unfortunately, this is why we ask people to send us checks directly to our P.O. box."
Well, at least she didn't say cash in a brown paper bag, right?
The Post describes an unhealthy media ecosystem where "High-margin fundraising fees — sometimes in excess of 90 percent of a donor's first contribution — have sucked resources out of conservative politics" and first-time candidates are captive to rapacious media companies that "redirect [...] money that could be spent more directly on winning elections."
That's an odd thing to say about a candidate who lost a race by 49 points in April, collected $8 million, and then went on to lose by 43 points in November. Here on Planet Earth, there is no amount of money that "could be spent more directly on winning" this election, because the district is D+26. That's why local Republicans didn't bother to field a serious candidate and the national party ignored the race. The donors who saw her stupid ads and donated would have been better off giving their money to Kenneth Copeland — at least that gift is tax-deductible, and, heck, he might even pray for ya!
Ditto for Lacy Johnson, the second candidate profiled in the article, who racked up $12 million in donations for his doomed challenge to Rep. Ilhan Omar. Although presumably those donors got the satisfaction of stickin' it to a member of The Squad, which has to be worth something.
What did donors "get" for their money with Klacik, who knew damn well she had no chance of winning? Because it's real clear what Kim Klacik got. The Post notes that "within days of the Baltimore ad's release, she landed a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention," and that she's "now a frequent Fox News and Newsmax commentator," without pausing to wonder whether this might not have been the point of the whole exercise. Is it possible this entire campaign was an attempt to hoover up donor dollars in a craven attempt to boost this woman's profile and launch her into the lucrative wingnutosphere? Dunno, but that sure wouldn't fit with the Post's description of a doe-eyed innocent buffeted by forces beyond her control, so it appears they didn't bother to consider it.
And speaking of stuff that got left out of this story, let's talk about what happened after Klacik got convincingly and predictably trounced in November.
That's right, she stomped her pointy stilettos and shouted that it was RIGGED. And with the connivance of the state's Republican governor, to boot! Then she took some of that mountain of cash the rubes sent her and plowed it into a very serious investigation.
That did not happen. She made all that shit up, as she strung out her fifteen minutes of grift on the donors' dime.
I don't know whether the Post reporters left that part out because it didn't jibe with their depiction of their subject falling into the clutches of conniving media types, but you can miss us here in Charm City with that business about poor, innocent Kim Klacik being a victim. She announced a stunt candidacy; she launched a bunch of ads maximized to go viral with a national audience, while spending virtually nothing in Maryland; she took advantage of the spotlight with hundreds of appearances in the MAGAsphere; she used her platform to lob baseless accusations of election fraud; and when it was all over she kept the grift going with Newsmax, Fox, and now, we guess, the Washington Post.
Do you think this person got conned by avaricious ad men?
GIVE ME A BREAK, HON.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.