Money matters in politics. It’s the gross reality. It especially matters in our post-Citizens United world. You’ll recall this is the Supreme Court ruling that said that money is speech and corporations are people when it comes to political contributions. This ruling launched the era of the Super PAC.
Corporations contribute unlimited amounts of money to Super PACs that then use that corporate money to produce nasty misleading and sometimes outright false attack ads, pay for those pesky social media bots, and basically do all kinds of shady shenanigans to defeat their political target. And the reality is that these strategies work. The average person doesn’t spend enough time researching candidates or investigating every attack to determine the real truth and often times just vote for the person who’s name they saw often enough and feel they like the best.
So I get it. As someone who spent eight years getting beat over the head by my political consultants about how we were going to lose if we didn’t raise enough money to tell our story, especially when that Super PAC money came along dumping all kinds of manufactured rain on our parade, I understand fully that depending on what you’re running for, you need a decent amount of money to have a chance at winning. Are there outliers? Sure. On a rare occasion depending on the circumstances of the race, someone can win with very little money against someone with a lot of money, but by and large, the candidate with the most money is always considered the favorite to win. And if that candidate has a lot of money and the other has none, you know who’s winning. I say all of this to underscore that under no circumstance do I believe that money doesn’t matter. It does.
However, somewhere along the way, Democratic institutions that exist to support candidates lost their way. They became so focused on money that nothing else seemed to matter anymore. What has the candidate accomplished? What does the candidate stand for? Does the candidate work hard? Are they a champion for their community? These questions used to be priority. Instead, the first question now is how much money have you raised? The second question is how much money can you raise? The third question is do you look like the type of candidate we think can win (white, middle to upper class, cookie-cutter, preferably ivy league educated)?
As an aside, The Collective PAC, a PAC that is focused on increasing Black political representation, recently sent the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee a letter questioning why no Black candidates were included in a popular congressional support program. I would also like to know why out of 24 chosen candidates, diversity is made up of one Latina and one Asian. The rest, ahem, look like candidates establishment organizations think they should look like (refer to my description above).
So naturally, the candidates who are wealthy or have wealthy friends tend to get the nod of support. Values and efficacy be damned. So how has this panned out? There are so many examples it’s difficult to choose only a few, so let’s look at the most recent Texas elections which saw an unprecedented number of Texans vote in a primary.
1. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer: Despite Sen. Schumer’s best efforts to foil State Senator Sylvia Garcia’s bid for TX-29 by endorsing her opponent, Tahir Javed, #shepersisted. Javed’s mostly self-financed campaign out-raised Garcia by nearly 3 to 1. Yet Houston voters, eager to make history by electing Texas’ first Latina to Congress, voted for Garcia 4 to 1.
2. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC): The DCCC, an organization purportedly charged with electing more Democrats to Congress, decided to spend it’s limited resources by actively campaigning against progressive Democrat Laura Moser for, get this, being too liberal. Notorious for choosing money over substance, Emily’s List also followed the money by coming in heavy for Laura’s corporate opponent who is backed by a mega-donor. Not surprisingly, Houstonians knew better, and in a seven candidate race, Laura clinched one of the top two spots to move onto TX-7’s democratic runoff.
3. Building Our Leadership Diversity PAC (BOLD PAC): BOLD PAC is the political action arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus which works to increase Latino democratic representation. Though it may have to replace the “D” for an “M” if it continues to make money-driven decisions. Much like its decision to endorse lottery winner and democratic donor Gil Cisneros over progressive candidate and community advocate Sam Jammal in CA-39, BOLD PAC joined the Castro brothers and endorsed well-connected Harvard Graduate Jay Hulings over three Latinas and a Latino in TX-23, which is a majority Latino district. Embarrassingly, Hulings came in fourth place and BOLD PAC missed an opportunity to endorse democratic front runner Gina Ortiz Jones.
These most recent examples demonstrate a very important fact about the current state of elections: voters want real. They want authentic. They want people they can relate to and who they believe will courageously fight for them. No amount of money can buy authenticity, which is why it’s so important to get back to the basics. Does a candidate need to have the ability to raise a decent amount of money in order to be able to win? Unfortunately, yes. Does a candidate need to raise the most amount of money to win? Fortunately, no.
So the next time an establishment organization calls you asking for your hard earned dollars, let them know you’re not interested in having your money wasted and instead donate directly to the candidate of your choice in your district. Trust me, it’s money better spent.