Indian Country politics and public policy

Commentary by Mark Trahant

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Chase Iron Eyes will send t-shirts to supporters for a $40 contribution to his campaign. (Campaign photo)

 

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Chase Iron Eyes told the Fargo Forum that he is letting his campaign consultants go and is trying to raise enough money to keep his campaign sustainable.

“I was convinced that I needed an advisor, and these advisors brought other advisors who all cost a great deal of money,”he told the Forum. “I didn’t get into this to drag my family through the whole process to end up in debt because of outside consultants.”

Raising money is the toughest challenge for any Native American who runs for office. Most of us just don’t have the kind of network where we can call lots of people up and ask for few hundred dollars. Over and over. Yet it’s an essential task because that money is used to pay staff, develop field operations (such as registering voters and getting them to the polls) and paying for campaign advertisements. It is what is required to be competitive. (HBO’s John Oliver did a great segment on the “call center” approach to campaigns.)

And the Democratic Party is not investing its resources into the Iron Eyes campaign. He’s on his own. (This is not unusual. One candidate told me the party said raise a few hundred thousand dollars … then you will get our money.) It’s that crazy circle: If you need the money, you won’t see it; but if you don’t need the money, it will be there. (Previous: The hidden history of why Native Americans lose elections)

Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, is running against incumbent Rep. Kevin Cramer.

Cramer has raised $1.06 million compared to Iron Eyes’ $82,137. Most of Cramer’s funding comes from Political Action Committees, some $652,000.

On his new web site, Iron Eyes said this campaign has never been about money. “Money will make you forget we are a democracy dependent upon our direct involvement in that democracy,” according to the Iron Eyes for Congress page. “Money will make ND forget there are 3000 oil spills that big oil refuses to clean up & that a Republican controlled government says there is no money to clean up.”

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FEC.gov campaign finance report for House candidates in North Dakota.

It’s not uncommon for a campaign to reboot (and that’s true at almost every level of politics). Iron Eyes has a new web page, https://ironeyesforcongress.us/ and is building a sort of retail approach to the campaign. (Contribute $40, send a screenshot, and you’ll get a t-shirt.)

There is also a new social media push using the hashtag #FaceTheStorm. The idea is that people will tell their own stories about why they support Iron Eyes. Iron Eyes explains the idea this way on a video: “Faced with a dangerous blizzard on the Northern Plains, when snow storms are blasting everything that lives here, the buffalo do not hide. Because they have thicker fur, a thicker head, and thick skin, the way they are designed makes it more probable for them to survive if they face the storm. That is what we must do who value people over politics. We must come together and face the storm.”

How are other the other Native American candidates for federal office doing? The latest Federal Election Commission reports show how difficult a task raising money is for new candidates on the #NativeVote16 list. (Edgar Blatchford in Alaska is not yet reporting his campaign contributions.)

Republican Representatives Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin are incumbents so money is not a problem. Cole has raised $1.44 million and Mullin $1.3 million in their bids for re-election.

But in Arizona Republican Shawn Redd has raised a little more than $23,000 for his upcoming Aug. 30 primary for an open seat in the 1st congressional district.

To the south, Democrat Victoria Steele, running in Arizona’s 2nd congressional district, has raised nearly $200,000 while her opponent, Rep. Martha McSally, has tallied more than $5 million.

That same mismatch is occurring in Washington state. Former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas has topped $166,000 from his fundraising efforts, but trails incumbent Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers who has received contributions of more than $2.5 million.

Denise Juneau is raising serious money. Her latest campaign report shows that she trails incumbent Rep. Ryan Zinke, but not as badly. Juneau’s contributions total more than $1.1 million to Zinke’s $3.5 million.

There are better ways to elect candidates. In Canada the party funds the candidates who earn a nomination. Other countries have public financing of campaigns so that every candidate has an equal shot at winning. That’s the direction we ought to be heading. But in this election, money still counts and Native candidates will need a boost in the form of many personal contributions from across Indian Country.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

 

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