Burger Kings and Political Things, that's what little campaigns are made of.

I think I had mentioned I went to Brookings on Tuesday to find a house. I worked in the AM, Drove to Brookings for a viewing in the PM, and drove home. 6 hours driving, 2 Burger King Meals on the road, and our Realtor tells us at 11PM that we are going to be competing with up to 3 other bids. What a day.

Speaking of 2 Burger King Meals, Yuck. I feel like the guy on Super Size Me. It's a day later, and I just feel nauseous. But as my life solely swirls around politics, My quisine for the day had reminded me of the guy who suggested that the Ron Schmidt Senate Campaign use Whopper feeds for fundraising.

It was in the pre-primary days of the Schmidt Campaign, and the staff had asked a few people who had been helping with the campaign to come in for a volunteer meeting. I was still firmly in my I'm-burnt-out-from-politics phase, but Ron & his family have been friends for years, so I told them I'd help with computers as I could. This meeting was a brainstorming session just to talk about ideas that people had. Pretty basic stuff.

During this meeting, one guy who had been stopping in the campaign office said, You know, I work at Burger King, and we have a lot of boy scout troops who do Whopper feeds. You can get as many as you want for for 59 cents .... and so on. I think my internal reaction was "oh my god." In my mind's eye, I could almost imagine the elite $1000 donors of the state receiving an invitation to help defeat Senator Tom Daschle by eating Burger King. Thankfully that idea went away rather quickly. Anyone who knows me understands that I'm not snobbish or anything, but c'mon. This was a bit much.

That brings me into my war college lecture on those helpful people who inevitably show up on your doorstep and say "I want to help. I want to be your main guy." If you've worked on a campaign of any nature, you've seen them. The Helpers.

**A Clarification as an afterthought - a "Helper" is NOT a volunteer. Volunteers show up to work, and say "What can I do to help?" You can't run a campaign without them. "Helpers" show up, and say, "You need me to handle this." or "You can't do this without me." Volunteers ask. Helpers tell. **

Some will propose raising a million dollars using hamburgers wrapped in paper. Others might seem a little more logical, and they're the ones you really have to watch out for.

A "helper" on a campaign I worked on wanted to be our main guy in one city - he wanted to big the big cheese, the main fundraiser in this area. And he thought big. He said he was going to put on a fundraiser at the local country club. Well, that sounded good at the moment. If he could put on the event he was promising, more power to him. Right? WRONG!!

We got a call shortly after that from the country club looking for our billing address. Billing address? Why? Apparently Mr. Helper was hellbent at putting on the most extravagant shindig this town had ever seen - and all the bills were to be sent directly to us. What? He's said HE was putting it on, but we're getting the bills? Nope. Not in this lifetime. If we were going to put something on, that's one thing. But when someone else says they are hosting an event for us, and without consulting us beforehand, tries to drop the bills in our lap for a dinner costing over $50 a plate each for about 200 people, it isn't going to happen. It would only take a few such events to totally sink a campaign.

And it's a lot more common than you think. I've been told of one "helper" in SD who happened to rack up thousands in bills for one campaign, without anyone giving him the authority to do so. Supposedly the campaign had to seek legal action. That's scary stuff - and it happens every day.

You also need to keep as close an eye as possible on "helpers" because some of them have a less than an altruistic motive. Some of them are actually con men. Campaigns attract money and donations of all sizes. That makes them an attractive target for those experienced in parting people from their money.

About a decade ago, before the days of the internet and background checks, one volunteer I was personally aware of was trying to charm his way into several campaigns by doing volunteer work. Until he was suddenly taken into custody for extradition to another state. And they don't usually extradite on misdemeanors, folks. On the basis of his loyal volunteerism, his wife was calling everyone trying to get someone to contact the governor on his behalf and put a stop to this injustice. Uh, how about NO. (Several years later, this same guy was arrested on the run to Canada with about $20,000 of someone else's money taken in another scam).

That one could have been a major disaster if he had endeared himself sufficiently to get some spending authority (or at least the appearance of it) for one of those campaigns. Do a news search - there's plenty of people who have stolen campaign funds and been arrested. Now, also add those that are not arrested because the campaign is in full swing, and the candidate can't afford a distraction that doesn't really look very good.

What can you do to prevent the invasion of the helpers?

Make the campaign manager the bad guy. Never agree to anything, make all people go through him (or her). They in turn need to check helpers out, or to assign someone who has been around the block to do so. Check your personal sources first, and their references second. Don't be afraid to say no, or to say that you need to check into it further. How would you handle it at home if someone was too insistent, or said you have to act "now", or the opportunity is lost? Don't check your problem avoidance radar at the campaign office door.

The campaign account you save may be your own.


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