My New Political Consultancy

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

A Prospectus

Purpose of the new company: Very rich people, interests and foundations in California are spending unnecessary millions in losing California political campaigns. My new political consultancy, Lose For Less LLC, seeks to save millions for those millionaires and billionaires, and make their inevitable defeats at the ballot at once less costly and more productive. Lose For Less, through offering its proprietor’s bleak view of the ability of anyone to win anything of real value in California politics, will profit by taking a small percentage of whatever the company’s clients, known as Little Losers™, would have wasted on the foolish campaigns they were contemplating.

Leadership: Joe Mathews, journalist and author, will serve as the sole proprietor of Lose for Less and its internet affiliate, which will be called LoseForaLotLess.com if pending litigation against the off-shore gambling firm that controls said domain is successful. Mathews has long given political advice for free, only to have it ignored; he thinks if people are going to ignore him, he should charge them for the privilege.

How Lose for Less Creates Value

Case Study #1: A very wealthy civil rights lawyer wants desperately to provide more money for individuals school districts and schools. She wants to do this by pursuing an income tax increase for all Californians – an idea that is guaranteed to lose. Nevertheless, she pledges more than $40 million of her inherited wealth to pursue initiatives that is sure to fail.

What happened in real life: The heiress went forward and lost big. Not only did she spend the money on a losing campaign, but also because she was its sole funder, the campaign would have no life after her—and failed to create a movement for local school finance in California. In the process, by putting a tax measure on the ballot against other taxes, she introduced herself to the electorate as a divisive figure, and turned some natural allies in education community against her.

Lose for Less’ approach: the new consultancy would have advised her to delay the initiative for another two years to build support and organization. Lose for Less, per policy, would advise her to limit her spending to $10 million – provided through a one-to-one match of the type you hear on National Public radio affiliates, the natural base for the heiress and her idea. She also should have focused on on-line giving. That way, the all but inevitable loss for her idea would produce a network of supporters to push reform forward.
What Lose for Less could have done: Lose for Less charges just a 5 percent fee based on the client’s (Little Loser™) spending in a campaign in which he or she moves forward. In this case, Lose for Less’ fee would be $500,000, for advice that could be detailed in a three-hour meeting. That is a fraction of what the heiress paid consultants – and for advice that would have saved her $30 million.

NOTE: Lose for Less will offer a discount for those clients who refer a family member.

Case Study #2: A bored marketing executive running a well-known Silicon Valley online marketplace is visited by a delusional angel suggesting she run for governor as a Republican. The executive, a billionaire, determines to spend whatever is necessary to achieve a job that involves governing a state that cannot be governed.

What happened in real life: Disaster. The executive spent more than $150 million to lose a race in which she never had a chance. Subsequently, she ended up taking a job as CEO of a company with the most dysfunctional board in American business.

What Lose for Less could have done: In such cases, Lose for Less would bring on a very large bouncer friend from a Hollywood club and assign him to block physically any attempt by the executive or his agents to file as a Republican. If executive found a way to go forward, Lose for Less would have advised limiting spending to $50 million, which is enough to reach any California voter who wants to be reached. If executive filed as a Republican, she would lose anyway—but would save more than $100 million in the process.

Lose for Less’ fee: 5 percent of $50 million is $2.5 million – again, much less than consultants make. If executive had decided not to run, Lose for Less would have taken the case pro bono – out of gratitude for sparing Lose for Less’ fellow Californians the pain of watching endless TV ads, and Gloria Allred.

Case Study #3: California’s biggest foundations decide they want to fix politics by binding together, creating a nonpartisan organization to pursue reforms by legislation and the ballot initiative process.

What happened: Millions and millions were spent. Many conversations were had. But the organization never meshed with other good government groups. And a long and very complicated ballot measure called Prop 31 went down to defeat.

What Lose for Less could have done: the consultancy would advise good government groups and foundations that ballot initiatives are the poison of the system, not the cure. Lose for Less also would point out that non-partisan reform doesn’t work in a partisan, polarized time.

For 1/100th of what was spent on California Forward and Prop 31, Lose for Less would offer an outline for an effort to build California’s civic culture, develop reforms that reflect the era’s partisan reality (instead of trying to pull people into a less partisan past that is no more), and to change public opinion to align itself with the reality of California’s governing system.

Reform would still be an uphill battle, and there would be plenty of losing. But at least there would be a path to winning.

And that’s the slogan of Lose for Less: to win, you have to know how to lose.

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