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Black America's Campaign Finance Dilemma Rears Its Ugly Head


The congressional campaign race involving Rep. Cynthia McKinney is a microcosm of so many scenarios, dynamics, and trends that are manifesting themselves above and beneath the surface of Black America. One of the most striking examples of this is the manner in which the campaign fund-raising activities of both contestants - Rep. McKinney and her insurgent opponent, Ms. Denise Majette - paint a picture of a reality that was well-known among Black political observers and some professionals but which has been grossly underreported by both the mainstream and Black media.

While both Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and her opponent are Black women competing for a seat in a predominately Black voting district, it is highly likely that both candidates will receive a disproportionate amount of financial support from two "outside" communities who are primarily concerned with an issue which most physically, and directly (at the moment) affects people who live thousands of miles away from the 4th District of Georgia.

We've written about this problem for two years. On March 26, 2001, in an editorial, "Campaign Finance - A Black Choice", we wrote:

"The real issue in campaign finance is when will the Black electorate support its own candidates with its financial resources? A look at the major donors to the members of the Congressional Black Caucus reveals why the Black Caucus is not as responsive to the needs of the Black community as one may expect. Corporations, Unions and wealthy individuals are the largest financial supporters of Black elected officials. Changing that should not be a major problem. All that would be required is a little bit of energy from Black opinion leaders who, while making the pitch for Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts, call for fundraising for Black elected officials - most notably the members of the Congressional Black Caucus. And no amount would be too small. If Blacks gave what they could spare to members of the CBC, we are confident that a real Black agenda could be presented and supported right in the halls of the US Congress."

In today's Clarion Ledger there is an interesting article about the CBC political action committee's annual fundraiser in Tunica, Mississippi. Hardly anyone, nationally speaking, and especially in the Black community, is aware of the event, save a slew of lobbyists from the casino, tobacco, labor and automotive industries.

For all of the magnificent Get-Out-the-Vote (GOTV) activities spearheaded by civil rights organizations and Black opinion leaders, there is not even a vapor of similar mobilization around providing Black political candidates and incumbents with financial resources from the Black community. The result has been a Black political establishment that is almost totally dependent upon the Democratic Party's coalition and special interest constituency to suffice its financial needs; and a Black Independent and grassroots political movement that is woefully underfunded and unorganized.

The evidence of the financial impotence and lack of participation of Blacks in making campaign contributions- anecdotal, circumstantial and empirical is to many, both embarassing and stunning for a community that has come to pride itself on voter participation and mobilization efforts in support of supposedly clearly defined objectives, even, life or death matters, according to many in the civil rights establishment.

In an undereported study of the 1995-1996 election cycle, entitled, "The Color Of Money" the research told a dismal story of the dearth of Black campaign finance presence and power. The Greater Atlanta Metropolitan area was a prominent focus of the study. Among other interesting data, the study showed that out of the 100 zip codes areas in the United States with the highest percentage of 'People Of Color', 2 Georgia zipcodes made the list. The study found the following regarding the Atlanta area and the campaign finance-related lack of participation of its Black population:

"In Atlanta (the sixth highest-giving city), the single highest-giving zip code area within the city (30305) supplied 33 percent more political money than the 18 zip code areas in which people of color comprise 50 percent or more of the population ($1,567,509 compared to $1,182, 491) - even though the combined population of these 18 zip code areas is 23 times greater than the population of 30305 (433,578 compared to 18,908)."

Atlanta, despite being viewed by many Blacks (for the last decade) as a land of economic opportunity, is only a microcosm of Black America, as a whole, where campaign finance is concerned.

The report also found:

In Washington, DC (the highest-giving city), the two highest-giving zip code areas within the city (20008 and 20007) supplied 10 percent more political money than the 14 DC zip code areas in which people of color comprise 50 percent or more of the population ($5,572,387 compared to $5,040,954) - even though the combined population of these 14 zip code areas is nine times greater than the combined population of 20008 and 20007 (484,469 compared to 53,741).

In Los Angeles (the third highest-giving city), the single highest-giving zip code area within the city (90067) supplied 27 percent more political money than the 46 Los Angeles zip code areas in which people of color comprise 50 percent or more of the population ($2,349,623 compared to $1,849,601) - even though the combined population of these 46 zip code areas is 718 times greater than the population of 90067 (1,888,596 compared to 2,631).

In Chicago, (the fourth highest-giving city), the single highest-giving zip code area within the city (60611) supplied 43 percent more political money than the 28 Chicago zip code areas in which people of color comprise 50 percent or more of the population ($2,117,614 compared to $1,481,017) - even though the combined population of these 28 zip code areas is 81 times greater than the population of 60611 (1,800,052 compared to 22,264).

In Houston (the eighth highest-giving city), the two highest-giving zip code areas within the city (77002 and 77019) supplied 13 percent more political money than the 46 zip code areas in which people of color comprise 50 percent or more of the population ($3,610,682 compared to $3,200,076) - even though the combined population of these 46 zip code areas is 48 times greater than the combined population of 77002 and 77019 (1,096,426 compared to 22,798)


Despite such statistics, many political observers reject the notion that campaign finance activity must be a part of a progressive and politically healthy Black electorate. They make a compelling principle and value-centered argument. Mr. John Moyers, editor and publisher of TomPaine.com told us: " Why do public servants have to depend upon private money? They shouldn't have to kow-tow to private interests just to win an election."

Mr. Moyers sees the issue in the larger context of economics. He explained,

" The entire political system is a class issue. And you really have two groups: 1)those who fund campaigns who represent less than half of 1% of the population and 2) those who don't fund campaigns but represent 99% of the country. There is an upper political class and a lower one. People should not have to pony up money in order to participate in the political system of this country. Regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or wealth, people have a right to have equally meaningful participation in the political life of this country. The fact that Cynthia McKinney or anybody else for that matter has to go out and raise money from 'interested parties' just in order to compete in a political race, is degrading to the American political process, and we can only go down from there."

Many Blacks, although a conscience minority, share Mr. Moyers' reasonable opinion, and have decided to not participate in a drive to raise campaign contributions for politicians. The majority of Blacks have simply not considered the matter and are ignorant of the process and potential influence of Black campaign contributions. The former group are content with exercising the option of using the sole power of the ballot to block the path of Black political candidates who don't represent their interests, or to vote out of power the same.

But important questions must be placed before these individuals within the Black community and others: how can Black politicians be really accountable to the community under the current scenario where the need for campaign finance causes them to spend more time away from their base constituency, out-of-district, and raising funds from communities and 'interested parties' with a single line item agenda? Is the best answer and solution serious campaign finance reform or is it votes and dollars supporting an enlightened self-interest?

We think that while both options are important, the latter is the more urgent for a community that is dependent upon coalition partners and a single political party for most of its electoral thinking (talking points and position papers), its political financing (soft and hard money) and identifying its informal agenda (under the influence of private partisan polls and the intensity of the special interest lobby ). It is hard to deny that the Black electorate has the power to immediately change this situation, with its votes and its dollars, and reap the benefits of generating accountable elected officials. If Black America continues with its business-as-usual and symbol-without-substance approach to politics, it will increasingly produce elected officials who represent them only in name and skin complexion - with everyone of its supposedly benevolent coalition partners benefitting more from the power of the Black vote than those who produce it.

Yes, the McKinney-Majette race is a microcosm of all of this.

Read The Color Of Money" report on campaign contributions and race and reflect over the true power of the Black electorate and its political leaders.


Wednesday, August 14, 2002

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