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The dream dies

By Doug Thompson
June 28, 2006

A little over a year ago, I began dreaming of building a grassroots organization to pursue real, non-partisan reform of the hopelessly divided political system in this country.

That dream grew as people told me what a great idea it was and promised reams of help – both financially and voluntarily. We spent the early part of this year filing the necessary papers to operate in all 50 states, lining up Constitutional lawyers to help write legislation, and meeting with activists who promised lofty results with organizing around the country.

We launched in May with grandiose plans of presenting real reform proposals to Congress, setting up extensive election monitoring in the midyear elections along with real time review of media bias and developing a growing army of nonpartisan activists in every state to try and find real solutions to the many problems that face this nation.

On Friday, the dream dies an inevitable death: The Campaign for Our America shuts down – a victim of broken promises, unmet expectations and my own ego.

We had hoped to start with a base of 2500 donors and build from there. Less than 100 came forward and 21 of those sent us bad checks or bum credit card numbers as donations. In the end, we raised less than $3,000 in actual cash. I covered 99 percent of the first month’s operations out of my own pocket and faced the harsh reality of having to cover 100 percent over the next six months.

We sent requests to more than 5,000 web sites and bloggers asking for help promoting the campaign. Just 11 responded. We sent out press releases to newspapers, television and radio stations and news web sites. Less than 1 percent gave us any publicity. More than 10 percent asked us to buy ads.

A number of friends promised to promote our efforts on their web sites. Only one did. Three lawyers offered "pro bono" services to help write legislation and proposals. Now they want large legal fees to continue and complete a project that is not done.

The Campaign for Our America depended on the support not only of donors but also of volunteers who shared our vision of non-partisan work towards reform. But a number of volunteers brought partisan goals to the organization. Others promised work but never delivered.

Earlier this week, I discovered that a recent friend we had met through our work in Southwestern Virginia was using CFOA to further his own political agenda and had hoped to cash in through an association with us. I terminated our involvement with him immediately and contacted those who were about to hire him based on his work with us. They withdrew their offer.

I can handle failure. I’ve failed on projects before and will no doubt fail on others in the future. Betrayal by a friend is more difficult to take. I don’t trust people easily and when that trust is violated it hurts a great deal.

But that betrayal did not sink the Campaign for Our America. It sank under the unsupportable weight of unmet expectations fueled by my own overblown ego.

I had thought the readers of Capitol Hill Blue would rally to our cause. I thought that lending my name and Blue’s to the effort would assure success, not only in fundraising but also in support and spread of news about the program.

I was wrong. Although readership of this web site is at an all-time high and our daily email newsletter goes out to more than 100,000 readers, the vast majority of that readership neither obviously neither supports my goals nor feels strongly enough about the Campaign for Our America to help.  I received enough emails that show many of our readers are partisan and will not support a non-partisan campaign.

So be it. Perhaps nonpartisanship is not possible in today’s bitter, partisan political world. Perhaps readership of a web site is not a true indicator of support. I don’t know.

I do know, however, that I grossly overestimated the support that would come from this web site. There’s no doubt I felt lending my name to the cause would generate interest and support. My ego got in the way of reality.

Because our donor base is so small and we do not have on-the-ground activists, we do not meet the criteria to qualify as a grassroots organization in 31 states and those qualifications had to be met by July 1. Failing to meet the criteria means our campaign is not a true grassroots organization and I cannot allow it to continue if it is not.

I promised donors that every dime they contributed would go directly into our campaigns. We kept that promise. Donations received helped fund election monitoring in New Orleans and San Diego and contributed to our moderate success in alerting media outlets of inaccurate reporting by Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly.

For a month at least, my long-time dream became reality. Our work on reform will continue, not as a grassroots project but as something I will pursue though this web site. Our media monitoring efforts will also continue as a research arm of Capitol Hill Blue.

The Campaign for Our America, however, is over and I’ve learned what I’m sure many will say is a long overdue lesson in humility.