Money Can’t Buy Me Votes
How Anita Malik’s campaign is rebuking the race to raise in a red Arizona district and why it matters for our democracy.
Meet Sandy. She’s a 48-year-old mother of three who works in hospital administration.
When polled about her voting decisions, Sandy said she reviews the candidates and then votes for the person who raised the most money.
Ok, actually… Sandy never said that. Sandy isn’t real because no voter said that ever.
Money does not win elections, connections do.
Richard Lau, professor of political science at Rutgers told FiveThirtyEight that “where you have to change your thinking is that money causes winning.” He continued, “I think it’s more that winning attracts money.”
And that measure of “winning” is often subjective.
Not only does money not win elections, the spending spree of the last decade under the Citizens United ruling shows how dangerous money is to our democracy.
OpenSecrets.org reports that in the last decade, election spending from outside, independent groups increased to $4.5 billion. It totaled just $750 million for the two decades prior. Even more troubling, $963 million of that came from groups that don’t disclose their donors.
But the curse isn’t just corporate PAC and super PAC money, it is the capitalistic principle behind our elections as a whole.
There are the “wealth primaries,” where wealthy donors act as ballot gatekeepers before a single vote is cast. And with millionaires and billionaires still dominating the donor class, only those at the top are setting the agenda in Washington.
The donor class in America is, in fact, smaller than many imagine. Only 0.48% of Americans contributed more than $200 to a candidate or PAC in the 2018 elections.
In the decade since Citizens United, 10 donors and their spouses accounted for $1.2 billion in donations into federal elections.
The wealth gap is everywhere, including in our elections.
This is why I’m a strong proponent of publicly funded elections. I support the bold initiatives of small-donor matching and a democracy voucher pilot program as detailed in HR1, the historic For The People Act passed by the House in 2019.
We must take the first step.
We must develop a level playing field to ensure our country is truly represented by the people. But it is not enough to simply believe in this vision, we must also model it and put it to the test.
In 2018, my campaign did just that.
We were outspent 4 to 1 in a competitive 3-way primary only to deliver a “minor upset” in the media’s eyes. It was no upset to us though. It was the planned result of a well-executed strategy including grassroots coalitions, engagement at the doors and listening first.
In the general election against an incumbent fueled overwhelmingly by special interests and dirty money, we closed the gap by a historic 14 points. More money, as proved in races across the country and in neighboring conservative districts, would not have meant a win.
Our downfall was not money, it was time. With late Arizona primaries, we lacked the hours necessary to build name ID in a red district. Still, we built a heck of a foundation for 2020.
Yet despite our own proof-of-concept and the voice of the voters, the measure of our worth in the eyes of the DC establishment is once again, for 2020, solely focused on money.
Since the early days of this cycle, my team has faced the reality of closed-door deals and “chosen one” politics. We learned quickly that the establishment would rather bring in a candidate without knowledge of or residency in the district and without a grassroots foundation, one who would satisfy their money requirements and play by their rules to maintain a for-profit model in our elections.
It didn’t matter that compared to their candidate we had a much more efficient cost per vote, higher turnout, and ultimately, a better result in the November 2018 elections.
For them, it is about money totals, not campaign track records. This is dangerous, against the will of the voters, and it is not about electability.
So here we are again, in a race to raise.
Unless, of course, you decide to walk — and knock — instead.
And I do.
It doesn’t mean I disregard the importance of money to fuel a message. It doesn’t mean I’m “bad at fundraising.” It means my priorities are rooted in winning with real engagement rather than relying on the expensive yet repeatedly proven ineffectiveness of television ads.
Consider this: If dirty money will continue to flow in to support our under-investigation incumbent, as we expect it will, a win can only happen on the ground.
That’s why I value community building via much less expensive and more efficient means than campaigns have traditionally employed. Businesses are doing this to build their brands, campaigns can too. We must rethink how we campaign and how we spend in order to solve the money problem threatening our country.
I also value a truly democratic approach — one that recognizes money’s place as the means not the end, as second to a strategy for organic, scalable emotional connections. One where the size of your wallet doesn’t determine your role in our democracy. One that is truly grassroots and where every $5 donation matters.
This is our path to victory, and my agenda is to prioritize the following:
- A movement of local voices and relational organizing over out-of-touch, expensive consultants.
- A strategic plan that generates funds in concert with new voter outreach and scales on its own.
- The budget and not the fundraising headline.
- Coffee with constituents and engagement at the doors over call time.
- A win against Congressman David Schweikert in 2020 without compromising on protecting our democracy.
And, most importantly, I will always prioritize the real mom of three in our district who wants money out of politics and wants to know I will work for her, not for donors who set the agenda.
Money will be Team Anita’s fuel not our folly.