Federal Politics

Published — September 15, 2000 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Black candidates see little of the millions their parties raise

Introduction

The Second Congressional District cuts a swath about 275 miles long and 180 miles wide through the deepest, most rural counties of Mississippi.

Here, the median household income is $15,500, and nearly 40 percent of the population lives in poverty.

When the districts representative, Bennie Thompson, raises money for re-election, he usually goes elsewhere. Few in the district can afford to give $1,000, the maximum allowable under federal law.

Thompson raised $229,774 as of June, according to Federal Election Commission data analyzed by the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Most of it came from outside his congressional district.

Thompson’s plight is not unique. Black legislators and candidates across the country face similar fund-raising challenges. Experts say the financial challenges faced by black candidates point out the need for campaign finance reforms. But the challenges facing minority politicians have been largely forgotten where this heavily debated public policy issue is concerned.

An examination of hundreds of financial disclosure records, and interviews with politicians, political scientists, voters and others from minority communities around the country leads to stark findings:

  • Blacks in Congress and challengers for House seats have raised a combined total of slightly more than $11.7 million as of June, less than 1 percent of the more than $1.2 billion that has been raised for the 2000 election. Blacks make up about 7 percent of the members of Congress; 39 of the 535.
  • Of the more than one million individual and political action committee contributions made to political parties, congressional and presidential candidates, blacks received slightly more than 15,000 contributions, about 1.5 percent of the total.
  • Only six of the 30 ZIP codes that gave 20 contributions or more to black candidates were majority black, according to a review of FEC and census data. Residents of ZIP code 30311 in Atlanta, which had the highest percentage black population, gave $20,700. The area is in a part of the city that, after years of neglect, is beginning to flourish with affordable housing and retail businesses.
  • Political parties’ political action committees provided a tiny portion of the funding to black candidates, just $29,006. Despite its outreach to African Americans, the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee had given just $477 in total to the three black GOP congressional candidates, according to the latest data from the FEC. Thirty-eight black Democrats did somewhat better, getting $28,529 from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
  • Labor unions provided the bulk of the contributions from political action committees.

Under growing public pressure, the nation’s political leaders have embraced campaign finance reforms, ranging from strict limits on contributions to raising the limits and demanding more disclosure about those who give. The pressure is mounting for good reason. Fund-raising scandals that surfaced after the 1996 elections continue to plague Vice President Al Gore. This year, Gore and Bush are expected to spend at least a combined $200 million in the money race for the White House. When contributions from the political parties, political action committees and lesser-known advocacy groups are totaled along with spending by the candidates, the 2000 congressional elections are likely to surpass the record $2.7 billion spent in 1996.

Driving many out of the race

For black officeholders, challengers and voters, changing the way political money is raised might, in fact, be the most critical issue of modern day politics. Some experts predict that the average House race in this election will cost $5 million, effectively driving many black candidates out of the race for political office.

“The implications are vast for most African American candidates,” said Hillary Shelton, the NAACP’s Washington lobbyist and a longtime observer of national politics. “Most (black candidates) don’t get the big contributions from major corporations and the wealthy individuals. That perfectly illustrates why we need reform, and why reform has to take into account the impact on minority candidates.”

Little research on contributions from minorities

To begin to understand the effects of campaign finance reforms on black voters and candidates, one must understand the place of predominantly poor and minority communities in the political fund-raising landscape.

Simply put, the role those communities play is minor. People of color have been — and continue to be — largely absent as factors in campaign giving. Except for the landmark 1996 study, “The Color of Money,” by the Washington-based nonprofit group Public Campaign, there has been little research on the trends in campaign contributions from minority communities.

Public Campaign documented what has been known intuitively for years. “A disproportionately small amount of the money that fuels federal elections comes from people of color. In fact, the disparities are shocking . . . our system of privately financed elections is profoundly unrepresentative and anti-democratic,” the widely cited report found. “Over and over, in city after city we found that the vast majority of contributions came from areas that are primarily white and wealthy. . . .”

“The Color of Money” paints a portrait of the people who give and, by extension, those who do not and are therefore shut out of the political process. “

Our analysis of campaign and census data shows that the disparities pointed out by Public Campaign continue to exist. For example, the ZIP code 30327 gave the largest amount to black candidates so far in the 2000 election. That ZIP code lies in the monied suburbs north of Atlanta and is home to workers at numerous high-tech, white-collar and international businesses that have relocated from Atlanta’s urban center. Planned communities, many with million-dollar homes, are peppered throughout hundreds of acres of untouched open space.

Donors here made 62 contributions for a total of $50,650. Blacks make up only 1 percent of the population in the area.

A review of black candidates’ financial disclosure forms shows that few are capable of funding their own campaigns.

Most are only slightly better off than their constituents. For example, on her financial report to the FEC, Representative Eva M. Clayton, who represents a mostly rural district in eastern and north-central North Carolina, listed assets between $65,000 and $150,000, hardly enough to finance a campaign for Congress.

Most black candidates say that in the absences of party and PAC backing they have to rely on small contributions and grassroots support mainly churches to get out the vote.

“The fact is that you just have to raise enough money to get your message out. That is a successful campaign,” said Gretchen Hitches, a spokeswoman for Representative Corrine Brown, D-Fla.

“As it is, a candidate that has wealth, or has access to wealth, has a tremendous advantage,” said Norman Hill, president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a Washington-based non-profit civil rights and labor support organization. “Generally speaking, that candidate is not a minority candidate. We have to encourage reforms, or at least encourage discussion about reforms that are in the interest of fairness for all candidates and voters.”

Both parties say that while they spread financial support for candidates based on innumerable factors, race is not one of them. They say that such matters as how competitive the race is, how politically attractive the candidate is, and how much money the party has to spend more often determine who gets financial support, and how much.

“Our goal is to find and support challengers regardless of race and ethnicity,” said Erik Smith, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s fund-raising arm for House and Senate races.

Added Marit Babin, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee: “We didn’t go out to recruit these candidates because of their race or ethnic background. We don’t support these candidates financially [on the basis] of their race or the race of their opponents.”

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SOUTH JERSEYTed SiroisMark SullivanTom LarkinAnonymous Recent comment authors
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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
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David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.