My latest article on my blog at the Washington Times Communities, Public Square Today, is now live:
A good friend asks:
In your experience, are most services used by local candidates donated? A candidate for the . . . State House, whose staffer attended my recent social networking class, asked me today if I could provide free services. . . . I know that this candidate is getting some services for free. For example, a large and expensive web design company is donating her website. I would like to see this [person] elected, but I’m not in the position to spend a lot of time on a volunteer job. Reduced cost, yes, but free, no. I know I could make a case that my services are necessary to her and worth the money, but there is no use making the point if campaigns for State Houses are normally run completely by donations and volunteers. Any thoughts about this?
This is the dance that all campaigns (even national ones) play. Political campaigns are inherently time-limited and relentlessly focused on one thing: winning. Any money spent that does not have a clear and direct impact on votes is avoided at all costs.
So, campaigns know they need to pay for media time, there is no way around that. They know they need to pay for mailings. Everything else is fair game — staff time, phones, office space, Website (as you note), and social networking consulting services.
However, just because the campaign would like services donated does not mean that you have to provide them gratis. It is up to each individual person. Any free consulting work is a contribution in kind to the campaign (and would need to be valued and reported as such). So, not only is the campaign asking you to work for free, but they are also asking you for a donation.
And so, what is “normal” is not the issue here. The issue is: Do you want to make this campaign contribution?
People make campaign contributions for a lot of reasons. Some do it because they really want a person elected. Others do it because they want to be noticed later, if that person is elected. Some do it to feel closer to power. And, some companies donate their goods or services in part to market them to others, or in hopes that they will be retained on an official basis once the candidate wins.
Whatever your own decision, just make sure you follow all the relevant campaign finance rules for your state.