The LP's Bus Bench Bust

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The LP's Bus Bench Bust

by Ari Armstrong, February 6, 2004

Late last year, the Libertarian Party of Colorado spent $312 on a four-page fund-raising letter and $912 on a full-color envelope to mail that package plus the winter newsletter.

How much money did this $1,224 investment raise? As of today, nobody seems to know. I sent out e-mails on February 3 and 5 to several board members but didn't get a definitive answer. Treasurer Jeff Oliver confirmed the fundraiser made at least $700. Fundraising Director Michele Poague said, "It made money... not a great deal." Chair Norm Olsen said, "We did come out ahead on the deal." He said the party raised enough for one bus bench ad, then a single contributor sent in enough to pay for a second ad. Outreach Director Rand Fanshier reported, "First estimate looks like we have donations for 2 bus benches for one year. First will be placed in Boulder, 2nd near Wadsworth and Colfax. More by Tuesday next."

It seems, then, that one generous donor made the difference between a loss and a gain on the fundraising effort, but the profit margin was slim. I wonder why that initial $1,224 was not simply dedicated to the ads or to a more important project.

I also have to wonder whether bus bench ads are an effective use of party money. Do they really accomplish anything? Are they going to generate votes or contacts? I don't see why they would. They are passive, and the message of the proposed ad communicates little. I suspect that most of the membership agrees with me, which is why the fundraiser generated so little money. In 2000, Shawn Elke Glazer purchased bus bench ads in her state legislative district, and they made no discernible difference. The party's money could have instead funded, say, a Libertarian campaign, flyers for outreach booths, or any number of more obviously useful projects.

The LPCO board decided to mail the quarterly eight-page newsletter only to paid members -- roughly 500 people -- rather than to roughly 5,000 people who are LPCO members by voter registration, except for the election issue, which will be mailed to the complete list. Perhaps I'm biased because I produce the newsletter (and do so for a set fee, by the way), but it seems to me that the party is alienating its core group of supporters in order to run an ineffective publicity stunt for the mass public. If the party can't even get the 5,000-plus registered Libertarians in the state to participate, why does the board think a random person is going to get excited about seeing an ad on a bus bench?

Ralph Shnelvar, who supported the bus bench ad campaign, told me a joke that strikes me as analogous to running political ads on bus benches, and analogous to a great many activities within the LP.

There was a farmer in one of the communist Eastern European countries who heard the latest five-year economic plan to increase egg production. The farmer, wanting very much to help out, went to the grocery store, purchased a dozen eggs, and planted the eggs in his field. But, alas, the eggs didn't grow. So the farmer purchased another dozen eggs, and this time made sure to plant them blunt-end down. Still no results. He bought a third carton of eggs, and this time hard-boiled them before planting them. No good. Finally, feeling increasingly frustrated, the farmer wrote a letter to the Department of Agricultural Research describing his problems. He received a response some months later that stated, "Dear Comrade, Thank you for working for the good of the party and the good of the economy by attempting to increase egg production. We want to do everything possible to assist you with your efforts. To help us in our research, please send us a soil sample."

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