A substantial percentage of my junk email comes in the form of political fundraising appeals — from both sides. This is not because I am a plutocrat looking to buy office-seekers right and left (alas), but rather because I was once in the trade and find the appeals interesting as they reflect larger arguments. Smart children seeking favors from adults don’t say “Give me this because I want it”; rather, they tie their appeals to bigger things. “If you buy me this ice cream, I will ensure peace in the back seat.”

One of my favorites asserts that democracy is in peril, but if you give us money now, together we can defend it. It follows a basic model. First, whip up anxiety, preferably by linking your appeal to newsy concerns. Then intensify the urgency (this is our last chance!). And finally, offer your now frantic target with a path to action that involves their credit or debit card. The late Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov would be proud to see his classical conditioning at work.

Another common appeal is “They’re after me.” Both sides use this one liberally. Former President Donald Trump doesn’t have to waste many words making this point. But plenty of others use it as well, trotting out examples of where they’ve been wronged, misunderstood or maligned. It speaks to our national appreciation of the underdog and Americans’ basic sense of fair play.

I had a friend at Rockport Elementary School back in the day who would regularly come home and tell his mother the other kids were picking on him for being overweight, which usually prompted her to give him a Twinkie as compensation (he’d then look at me and wink). We want to salve the wound, even if our remedy is counter-intuitive.

There’s a guy running for Senate against Chuck Grassley out in Iowa whose campaign is clearly being run by someone in D.C. who has probably never been in a cornfield. How do I know this? Because Admiral Mike Franken (note use of military title) keeps sending me emails about what Steve Bannon is doing. What this has to do with Grassley, Iowans or the price of eggs is unclear. But the message is: We hate this guy so give me money. The folks running against Marjorie Taylor-Green and Laurie Boebert really need say nothing about themselves, rather just remind us who we hate. We’ll just take it on faith they’re better.

My least favorite is, by happy coincidence, the one most commonly employed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who, like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, has the most to lose this November. Rather imperiously, this appeal comes disguised as an instruction: “I need you to understand,” or, occasionally the less didactic but equally tiresome “Let me explain.”

By some psychological construct this must make sense — I am the sensei and you are the grasshopper — but it is so condescending that I can’t imagine why more people aren’t offended. Then again, half the country cheered when, with a smug and supercilious expression, the House speaker tore her copy of the then-president’s last State of the Union speech in two on live television.

Tell people what they need to understand or, magnanimously, explain the way things are to us. Behold, the rule-giver speaketh. She is generous in sharing her outrage and contempt with us little people so that, for a brief moment, we can all share in the commonality of how even excellent people from the Hermes-scarf-sporting uber-class succumb to the vulnerability of emotion. Provided, that is, that it supports and enhances their appeal.

Also from Pelosi comes this gem of a subject line, which left me scratching my head for a moment: “I’m done.” I suppose it was intended to convey frustration with the situation that would prompt the loyal supporters to cry: “No, Nancy, don’t throw in the towel just yet, we need you, pleeeeease!” However it could also be understood to mean that Pelosi’s tenure as speaker is indeed over, which would not necessarily be bad news to everyone.

Obviously I spend way too much time reading junk mail; these are stray minutes better spent playing Wordle or brushing my dog. But as anyone who has ever worked in fundraising or development knows, it matters how you ask. Brace yourselves, friends, because the season of asking is upon us and no number of pumpkin-spiced delights will make it any easier.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.