Are Endorsements Legitimate? Do They Matter?
In every election, candidates are bombarded with endorsement questionnaires from a variety of special interest groups and the media. In turn, candidates who receive endorsements use them to tout their legitimacy to voters, often with advertising, robocalls, and mailings paid for by the special interest groups that endorsed them. Prior to wading into the political arena in 2010, I actually found it helpful to receive the “apple” ballot that indicated who teachers supported, the robocall letting me know who my local police officers endorsed, or the opinion of the Washington Post.
What I have learned, however, is that endorsements are usually not made based on a thorough review of a candidate’s platform or their record of results. Special interest groups make endorsements based on what they believe the candidate will deliver to their members. The Washington Post made recommendations based upon short telephone interviews in which the candidate who delivered the best “talking” points won.
Let’s take the case of the local race in District 9, and let’s look at the long list of endorsements that Mr. Franklin received. The Professional Firefighters endorsed him in June, and he touted this endorsement through robocalls, a mailing, and any public forum where he could claim it. It’s ironic that the professional firefighters chose to make an endorsement in the race, considering all fire stations in District 9 are primarily staffed by volunteers, not professionals. Additionally, voters may not know that while the Professional Firefighters sent out a questionnaire and interviewed all the candidates in the spring of 2010, they had already contributed $500 to Franklin’s campaign in January 2010. No other candidates in the race had received campaign contributions prior to the endorsement process. It appears that Franklin had an inside track for receiving the endorsement before any other candidates were even considered.
There’s even more proof that my assertion is correct if you follow the money trail a bit further. After the firefighter’s public endorsement of Franklin, they gave him an additional $5,500 in late June. Two other Council candidates received $6,000 from the Professional Firefighters in other districts at the same time, but each received all of their $6,000 after the endorsements were publicly announced. I can only conclude that Franklin had lined up his endorsement from the Professional Firefighters Association long before the group made an “appearance” of thoroughly reviewing each candidate’s platform a few months later.
If you review the campaign finance database thoroughly, it is also evident that the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) had made up their minds about endorsing Franklin well ahead of their public endorsement process. Vince Canales, the head of the FOP, contributed $125 to Franklin’s campaign in December 2009, but made contributions to no other candidate in the race. I’m quite confident he had a major role in deciding who the FOP would endorse before they interviewed any other candidates, so it’s no surprise that Franklin is who they chose later on.
The Washington Post also endorsed Mr. Franklin. They based this endorsement upon a very brief, 10-minute telephone interview about his platform. I would hope that informed voters took more time than that to review and vote for the most qualified candidate. Unfortunately for the Washington Post, while Franklin won, no other Council candidates that they endorsed in contested primaries won their elections. So I’m not sure their endorsement really “turned the dial” for voters.
While endorsements may have little to do with the final outcome of the local races, it gives candidates some of the momentum they need to win. Special interest groups can rally their members to vote for a particular slate, work the polls, and fill candidate’s campaign accounts with the money they need to win. Since voters do not take the time to become informed about the machinery that puts preferred candidates in front of them, they may make their choice without really understanding that the candidate they voted for is not for them, but for the groups that got them elected. I think we all understand that, but we need to be more outraged about how the endorsement process really works.