Explaining the Endorsement Process

We have a had a few questions about the process MainPAC—the MainStream Coalition’s political action committee—uses to determine endorsements for political races. While we’ve published this information before, in various places, we thought we’d put it all together in one spot, so the community can reference it more easily. It’s a little long, but we want to be as thorough and transparent as we can.

Here’s a short summary:

Endorsements are a critical function of MainPAC, and one we take very seriously. The process is thorough and inclusive, and discussions are careful and considered. MainPAC feels a duty to guide our members and supporters who are looking for advice on where to cast their vote. We appreciate that trust, and work hard to earn it. A committee takes input from survey questions, candidate filings, campaign activity, voting record (if available), and interviews when necessary to produce a list of endorsements for each election. Endorsement in one election does not imply or guarantee endorsement in subsequent or future elections. While we understand the desire of voters to see candidate answers and peer into our process, we strongly believe that disclosing those would impact the trust candidates have with the committee, and the deliberations of the committee itself.

Here’s a much more detailed treatment:

Why do we endorse candidates?

The MainStream Coalition created MainPAC on November 24, 1997 to be able to give our members and supporters guidance on the best candidate(s) to receive their votes in an election. Many people are too busy to follow politics closely, and many are not interested in the myriad details and sudden turns the political process can take. We are very aware of the trust placed in us, and work hard to earn it every election cycle. For that reason, we have always been transparent about our endorsement process, and will continue to be. We are not aware of another organization that lists their questions, process, and the membership of their decision-making committee alongside their endorsements.

What is MainPAC?

The MainStream Coalition is a political advocacy organization. We have three distinct tax-status organizations within our structure, which allow us to work in different political arenas. The MainStream Education Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charity that concentrates on educating voters about issues, about voting, and encourages their active participation in our representative government. The MainStream Coalition is a 501(c)(4) charity that advocates for our positions on issues, and informs voters about where public officials stand on those issues. And our political action committee (officially registered as “MAINstream PAC” because that used to be our name) works in elections on behalf of candidates and campaigns that support our values.

How is MainPAC funded?

MainPAC receives funding from individual donations. As a PAC, our funding is public, and filings can be found on the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission website, as “MAINstream PAC” under “Political Action Committees” here: https://ethics.kansas.gov/campaign-finance/view-submitted-forms-and-reports/#committees (Please don't confuse us with MAINstreet PAC, set up by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce expressly to confuse voters on postcards.)

Who makes endorsement decisions for MainPAC?

The decisions are arrived at by the MainPAC endorsement committee. The current committee members are listed at mainpac.org. Every two years, committee chairs are appointed by the Coalition Board President (who also changes every two years). Those chairs then set about recruiting individuals to serve on the committee, drawn from the MainStream community at large. There is intentionality on making this a bipartisan group. Before the endorsement process begins, the MainStream Coalition’s Strategy/Communications Committee has already discussed our legislative priorities for the year, and helped determine the issue areas from which questions are drawn for candidates. But the endorsement decisions are ultimately made by the MainPAC committee, which recommends them to the Board of Directors, who vote to accept or reject those recommendations.

Wait, what’s the Strategy/Communications Committee?

The Board of Directors of the MainStream Coalition (see here: https://www.mainstreamcoalition.org/board_of_directors), the parent organization for MainPAC, has several working committees. One of those is Strategy/Communications. This committee makes recommendations to the MainStream Board on matters of strategy and, well, communications. They help determine our policy decisions each year, they discuss the Coalition’s advocacy activities, and they help determine the strategic direction of the organization, subject to the approval of the full Board. Membership is made up of a combination of Board members, PAC committee members, and other MainStream members, and is reviewed and may change every two years.

How do you decide where you will endorse?

As a strategic decision, this is actually determined by the Strategy/Communications committee, outlined above. This will depend partly on the election in question. The MainStream Coalition is headquartered in Johnson County, Kansas, and most of our members and supporters live here. More importantly, the legislative, organizational, and community contacts we have are also mostly in Northeast Kansas. When making endorsements, it is critical that we understand the region, the community, and the political field. Without a presence in other communities, it is difficult for MainPAC to make informed, responsible choices in races in those areas. That is why, historically, we have endorsed in races in Johnson, Wyandotte, and Douglas Counties in Kansas. While there are many Kansans making critical voting decisions in Topeka, Wichita, and the many cities and counties in Western Kansas, we often cannot in good conscience make a recommendation in those races. This also applies to races at the very local level. Municipal, school, and county races are some of the most important races in any given cycle. But to make a responsible recommendation, we need to have an understanding of those races and those communities. Even in the three county area, there are some races that are so local, we often feel at a loss to make a considered decision. We could send survey questions to every candidate in every local race (actually, we don’t have the staff to do that, but if we did, we could) but survey answers alone are not enough to make an endorsement, as we explain below. Ultimately, decisions about what races we look at are made by the MainStream Coalition’s Strategy/Communications Committee.

What is the process for making endorsements?

It is actually quite simple. Questions are sent to candidates along with an explanation of the process and a deadline for survey completion. Follow-up contact is made, to ensure candidates have received the surveys. Returned surveys are evaluated by the endorsement committee, along with other factors, and after much careful deliberation, endorsements are determined. Those endorsement recommendations are presented to the Board of Directors of the MainStream Coalition, who vote to accept them or not. Then they are published.

What information goes into making an endorsement decision?

Surveys are required. A candidate who chooses not to return a survey will not be endorsed. In addition to survey answers, the committee looks at campaign filings, campaign activity, voting record if available, and they may interview candidates if needed.

How are the questions created? Can I see them?

The survey questions are initially created by staff, with the advice and input of the MainStream Coalition’s Strategy/Communications Committee (see above). They are designed to cover the wide breadth of issues MainStream is concerned with, while trying to generate meaningful answers that help distinguish both outlier positions, and the nuances between similar positions. As well, we try to keep the number of questions to a minimum, cognizant of each candidate’s limited time. It’s not an easy process, and there have been times when questions have not been as successful as we might have hoped. You can see the questions on our website, here: https://www.mainstreamcoalition.org/candidate_surveys

Can I see how candidates answered the questions?

Unfortunately, no. The candidates are assured that their answers will be kept confidential. We have found that candidates will answer questions more candidly under these circumstances, and candid answers allow the endorsement committee to make better determinations.

Why do you/do you not endorse multiple candidates in a race?

We have no hard and fast rule about endorsing multiple candidates in one race. We do believe that presenting one choice for voters is the best approach, if possible, as many voters are just looking for who to vote for. But there are many circumstances where we might endorse, or seem to endorse, more than one person for the same position. Here are a few examples:

  • Primaries. Easily the most common case, MainPAC will often endorse on both sides of the ticket in a Primary election. This is because, with closed primaries in Kansas, voters are limited to voting for candidates of the party they are registered with. (Unless, they are registered as Unaffiliated, in which case they can declare a party at the polls on election day, and vote in that party’s primary.) So MainPAC will sometimes endorse a candidate for Republican voters, and also endorse a candidate for Democratic voters. But only if they meet our endorsement requirements.
  • After primaries. Sometimes, if both endorsed candidates win their party primaries and face off in the general election, MainPAC will maintain those endorsements, as both have fulfilled the requirements for endorsement. But it is important to remember MainPAC’s policy on this: endorsement in a race does not imply or guarantee endorsement in subsequent or future races.
  • Run-off elections. In some races, especially for non-partisan local positions, a primary may actually just be an election to whittle down a large number of candidates to two, for the general election. In this case, MainPAC may endorse more than one candidate.
  • Multiple candidate elections. Similarly, in some races, usually local municipal or county elections, voters may be asked to choose 2, or choose 4 from a collection of candidates. In these cases, MainPAC may endorse more than one candidate.

Why do you endorse some candidates who do not support your stated positions?

This is a tricky one, and one that bears careful discussion, but simply put, it is because they consistently support most of our positions, and they are much better than their immediate opponents. In a given race, they may be the best candidate.

Doesn’t this amount to compromising your values for political expediency?

Of course not. It is, rather, the practical application of a quarter century of experience in politics. The MainStream Coalition is concerned with a breadth of issues, including education, health care, taxes, government accountability, gun safety, reproductive rights, civil rights, and more. MainStream is not able to narrow our focus to any one issue.

It is nearly impossible, in Kansas, to find more than a handful of politicians who agree with us all the time on every issue. There are Democrats who vote against gun safety. There are Republicans who vote for reproductive rights. In 2017, there were 43 members of the Topeka Statehouse who had voted with us on every issue. Ten were in the Senate, where it takes 21 votes to pass legislation. 33 were in the House, where it takes 63 votes to pass legislation. If we refused to work with legislators who supported only some of our positions, we would never advance any of those positions.

We believe that a moderate majority of progressives and conservatives wish to see functional government that looks out for ALL people, and are willing to work together to achieve it.

Will you ever consider un-endorsing a candidate?

Of course. If a candidate were to act in a way that reflects poorly on their positions or character, the endorsement committee would confer and make this determination. Please note that an endorsement in one election, followed by no endorsement in a subsequent election does not constitute an “un-endorsement,” as each opportunity to vote is treated as a new endorsement independent of previous elections.

You endorsed a candidate two years ago. Do you still endorse them today?

Not necessarily. An endorsement is made in a particular election, either a primary or a general election. This endorsement does not imply or guarantee endorsement in the next election, and in fact, actions or votes taken by a former endorsee are always taken into account if that person comes up for endorsement again.

Why did you support/not support my candidate?

MainPAC endorses candidates based on a number of factors. Any of those factors could play a role in a decision to endorse or not. But it is important to note that if a candidate does not return a survey, MainPAC will not be able to endorse that candidate.

For reasons of confidentiality and to protect the honest process of the committee’s deliberations, we have chosen not to disclose those deliberations. In short, a candidate is endorsed because MainPAC believes them to be the best choice for voters, in line with the positions of the MainStream Coalition. If a candidate is not endorsed, however, it could simply mean that they declined to fill out our survey. We rarely get surveys from ultra-conservative candidates, for example.

Questions? Comments?

If you have any questions or comments about our endorsement process, please don't hesitate to email us at admin@mainstreamcoalition.org, or call (913) 649-3326. We look forward to making this document even more complete. Thank you for being an engaged voter.

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