In order to have a successful ballot initiative in 2016, the MTCIA would like to partner with M+R, a professional consulting and research firm that specializes in ballot initiatives and signature gathering. The following is an introduction, plan of action and estimated budget from M+R. Fundraising is already underway in several local chapters, and state-wide fundraising goals will be posted in the coming days. We need the help of all the providers and patients in the state to make this happen! Please join the MTCIA in our fight to Keep Medical Cannabis in Montana.
Thank you for contacting us about the potential Medical Marijuana citizens’ initiative for 2016. We believe in direct democracy as a way to enact meaningful policy change and are inspired to help citizens organizations build power and achieve their policy goals through the initiative process. We also bring decades of experience as advocates for the public interest and have special expertise in running ballot issue campaigns.
In this memo we present information on M+R, our ballot issue experience and our approach to winning ballot campaigns, along with an initial timeline and a preliminary budget for the campaign.
If you agree to work with us, the next step is to prepare a contract, a schedule of campaign activities and a timeline. The budget is preliminary at this point. We would expect an advance retainer of at least one month on the day the contract is signed. It is important to note that expenses must be paid in advance. We can work with you on an expected payment schedule so you can plan your fundraising. We encourage you to move forward quickly, as the timeline is tight given your recent filing on Jan. 28.
We also recommend setting up a clear management structure with clear lines of communications and accountability between the two of us once a contract is signed. We can work with you to discuss such a plan and MTCIA can finalize the arrangement.
At M+R Strategic Services (M+R), our mission is to deliver highly tailored campaign strategy and services to organizations working on behalf of the public interest. Our teams specialize in campaign planning and execution, online advocacy, online fundraising, government affairs, communications, field organizing and activist training. Our staff of over 120 located throughout the U.S. integrates these advocacy tools within a single firm, providing our clients with a pioneering approach to full-service campaign planning and management. We unite and assist coalitions to overcome political and organizing challenges.
The Montana office is in its 16th year of operation and has a six-person staff of advanced campaign experts with a combined experience of nearly 100 years. The Montana office is led by C.B. Pearson who opened the Montana office in 1999 and has been affiliated with M+R since 1995. Pearson is a thought leader on the initiative process and has been involved in ballot issues since 1981 beginning in Colorado. In 2012, Pearson was named one of the top 100 political advocates in the U.S. and one of the top 10 in Montana by Elections and Campaigns.
About Our Initiative Work
No other firm in the region has more direct democracy campaign experience than M+R. Our Montana division director, C.B. Pearson, is an expert on petitioning and the direct democracy process. He has led numerous effective campaigns over the last two decades against very difficult odds. He has provided expert opinions for the Montana ACLU and has testified at three court hearings on initiatives, petitioning, and campaign finance issues for the State of Montana. He also has provided consulting services to a wide variety of initiative campaigns.
Initiative and referendum campaigns require a specific type of campaign discipline and structure, demanding specialized skills not found in most consulting firms. Because of M+R’s extensive experience with the initiative process, we offer the skills, resources and credibility required for success. We are experts in all aspects of an initiative campaign including drafting the legislation, signature gathering and running the “Vote YES” campaign.
The Montana office has been involved in 13 different ballot issue campaigns, and we run campaigns to win. We believe in the initiative process to gain both important policy goals and build political power. We are not just a signature-gathering shop; we are a full-service campaign firm, and we bring a full set of talents and expertise to bear on campaigns. We have found that we do our best work for our clients when we are involved in all phases of a campaign, offering strategic and technical advice, field services, and full campaign management expertise.
The value of working with M+R is that we have the capacity to manage staff, make payroll and provide liability insurance – all logistics and operations that can burden a campaign if there is no infrastructure. Since we have experience on this issue, we can quickly come up to speed with the current situation and re-establish prior relationships throughout the state.
Our Three-Phase Approach to Initiative Campaigns
M+R excels in managing ballot issue campaigns, providing high quality consulting services throughout all phases of the campaign. We hire field staff and lead the field operations, direct the signature-gathering effort and manage all aspects of the “Vote YES” campaign. We also work with pollsters, legal counsel and paid media consultants to build a team of committed professionals all working toward one goal – winning at the ballot.
To develop and pass a ballot measure, based upon our years of experience, the campaign must proceed through three critical phases:
Phase I: Petition Drafting, Campaign Planning, & Building Support, including language development, campaign and coalition development, fundraising, polling, and earned media;
Phase II: Qualifying the Measure, including signature gathering, earned media, addressing opponents, campaign reporting and
Phase III: Campaigning to Pass the Measure, including voter contact, earned media, paid media, mobilization of supporters, addressing opponents, warding off possible legal challenges, and campaign reporting.
It is our experience that each phase builds upon the success of the previous phase. Any weaknesses in one phase will be revealed in the next phase and ultimately at the ballot box or in subsequent legal and legislative challenges.
The first phase of the campaign will be formative and lay the groundwork for future success. Shortchanging or neglecting these components could make the signature-gathering stage and the campaign stage more difficult or even cause failure. Many groups’ pre-election campaign difficulties can be traced to errors that occur in this early stage, such as incomplete procedure or poor campaign development. We realize you have completed some of this work already.
• Polling – In the first phase, we work with a pollster to conduct a statewide poll to test messaging, gauge the likelihood of the measure’s passage, and get a sense of the contours of possible opposition. Polling will also provide insight into the budget necessary to pass the measure. We work with the pollster throughout the campaign to provide strategic guidance on messaging, targeting and identifying the best voter contact strategies.
• Language Drafting – We work with legal counsel to develop the measure language. In addition, gaining input from coalition members will ensure their buy-in. The language also must be reviewed by experts to guarantee its efficacy.
• Strategic Messages, Messengers and Issue Framing – Early in the campaign, issue-framing is critical, especially with a potentially “hot” political issue. Using the guidance provided by the pollster, we develop a frame that will help the issue appeal to everyday Montanans. We develop a clear message of “why” and “what” early on that will help supporters recognize the problem and the proposed solution, and identify the best messengers for the campaign. We conduct outreach to recruit and train strategic messengers and ensure that all communications are using the right messengers delivering our strategic messages.
• Brand, Logo and Image Development – We develop an image (or brand) with a logo for use on all campaign materials, including the website, voter contact pieces, fact sheets and media. This may include a campaign tagline.
• Campaign Materials – We produce campaign materials such a fact sheet and FAQs to ensure message and factual consistency.
• Earned Media Strategy – We develop a plan to gain traditional and non-traditional earned media placement that will serve to shape the whole campaign.
• Social Media/Website/Email Program – We establish and manage the campaign’s online presence, producing content and executing an online outreach strategy to identify supporters, recruit volunteers, communicate with and mobilize supporters, raise money and generate earned media coverage.
• Campaign Reporting – We set up and register the ballot committee and work with legal counsel to set up a system for campaign finance reporting. The committee’s name and its
key partners should be selected in order to achieve maximum impact with media and organizing, as well as to counter any potential opponents in these early stages.
• Coalition Development – We conduct an initial survey of existing and potential coalition members to create campaign buy-in, determine the strengths of the organizations, discover the ways groups want to become involved (fundraising, volunteer recruitment, etc.), and ensure that coalition members intend to be active participants in victory. This assessment can help determine how the campaign can be run most effectively at various stages.
• Campaign Management – How the campaign will be managed must be determined. We recommend a leadership team of no more than five key people and the designation of adjunct teams or task forces to accomplish key tasks. We also recommend a regularly scheduled coalition phone call to communicate campaign needs, challenges, and planning to the larger group.
• Voter File/Votes-To-Win – Looking at participation rates for past elections, we estimate turnout for this election and develop a votes-to-win number that is incorporated into all campaign strategies including the signature program. We acquire the voter file and establish systems for identifying supporters through all voter contact strategies (signature gathering, community outreach, online communications, etc.).
• Petitioning Plan – Prior to the launch of the petition drive, we develop a week-by-week and day-by-day schedule.
Phase II moves the campaign into the operations stage. Many of the activities from Phase I continue into this phase. Phase II includes filing the petition, hiring staff and designating leads for collecting signatures in specific communities.
The length of time it takes to bring an initiative from the writing stage to the approval stage can vary depending on the response time of the sponsoring committee to Legislative Services. It is critical to control this process and be very active. We would assist and promote a rigorous process to achieve a strong result.
According to data from the Secretary of State’s Elections Bureau, the total time required for filing and review is typically between 44 and 60 days. Once the initiative is approved, signature gathering can begin. To maintain a reasonable schedule for the gathering of signatures, MTCIA must get the petition approved as near to April 1 as possible.
Signature gathering is critical to the success of the ballot initiative. If the campaign cannot collect enough valid signatures, the initiative will not move forward and the time and effort put into the campaign during Phase I will have been wasted, political capital lost and coalition morale undermined.
According to the Montana State Law, signatures must be obtained from 5 percent of the total number of qualified voters in Montana, including 5 percent of the voters in each of 34 Montana
House districts (a total of 24,175 signatures for the 2016 ballot). The signatures must be gathered and submitted to county election administrators for certification by 5 p.m., Friday, June 17, 2016.
Given that a percentage of signatures will be invalid for a number of reasons (wrong address, not a voter, illegible last name, etc.), the campaign must set a signature goal that will provide enough of a cushion to ensure that the threshold is met. Based upon our experience with initiatives in Montana and taking into account the more stringent review process, we set a goal for signatures that would allow for an invalid signature rate of approximately 35 percent.
In 2012, seven initiatives (including statutory initiatives, constitutional initiatives, and an initiative referendum) were proposed. M+R managed the I-166 campaign and advised the petitioning phase of IR-124. Those two measures were the only initiatives to qualify for the November 2012 ballot. The rejection rate for I-166 was under 20 percent – demonstrating the effectiveness of the systems and procedures we have developed for signature gathering in Montana.
Petition drives are hard work and require strict discipline. Conducting initiative petition drives has become more difficult and demanding in recent years. M+R has developed a rigorous process to ensure success that includes a training program for all signature gatherers (both paid and volunteer), detailed planning, a daily tracking system, quality control systems and progress tracking at the county and state levels as signatures are verified.
An all-volunteer signature-gathering program would be ideal in terms of budget, field, and coalition capacity-building. To ensure the best possible results, however, M+R recommends a hybrid of the all-volunteer model, in which the campaign pays organizers to train, oversee, and help recruit volunteers, and to work with coalition partners where appropriate. The organizers would also be responsible for reaching agreed-upon signature and House District goals.
After successfully qualifying for the ballot, the campaign transitions to the next phase. In addition to activities initiated in Phase I, this includes all traditional aspects of a campaign, including:
• Field Operations – We run a field campaign, potentially with field staff located around the state, that involves grass-tops organizing, community outreach (such as tabling at events), volunteer recruitment, and direct voter contact through doors and phones (for both voter identification and Get Out the Vote).
• Paid Media and Direct Mail – Depending on the polling results and the voter contact strategies determined for the campaign, we work with paid media and direct mail consultants to execute paid media and direct programs that reach our targeted voters with our strategic messages.
• Earned Media – While we work to generate earned media throughout the campaign, after qualification we conduct increased media outreach (including editorial board visits, letters to the editor, releases and media events) to deliver our messages on opinion pages, generate positive stories and pick up newspaper endorsements.
Proposed 2016 Ballot Campaign – Timeline and Budget
Stage One: Campaign Start-up – February 15 to April 1
Key Activities: Poll, Campaign Infrastructure Set-up, Campaign Kick-off, Campaign Operations
1. Estimated Cost of Campaign Poll $30,000
(600 person, 15-minutes poll to define message,
messengers, and the fall campaign)
2. M+R Retainer $18,000
(1.5 months at $12,000 per month – C.B. Pearson,
Matt Leow & field director)
3. Materials, logo, website, banner, etc. $3,000
4. Travel, overhead $500
Total Estimated Budget Stage One: $51,500
Stage Two: Petition Drive – April 1 to June 30
Key Activities: Petitioning, Volunteer Management, Earned Media, Community PODS (local community advocates) Online Activity
1. M+R Retainer $36,000
(3 months at $12,000 per month – C.B. Pearson,
Matt Leow & field director)
2. Field Staff (14 staff across the state; an average of $110,000
$15 per hour; 40 hours per week for 11 weeks)
3. Operations/Petition Quality Control Support Staff $8,000
4. Travel $6,000
5. Printing, Materials, etc. $4,000
Total Estimated Budget Stage Two $164,000
Stage Three: Fall Campaign July 1 to November 30
Key Activities: Voter Contact, Earned Media, Paid Media.
Budget for stage three to be assessed after signature gathering completion.