Sunday, January 28, 2007

Diverse Democratic Presidential Field Draws Minority Campaign Contributors

This weekend's Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on the rise of ethnic minority contibutors in the fundraising sweeps for this presidential election. The new ethnic donors are apparently drawn in by the diversity of the emerging field of Democratic candidates, as well as by their increasing affluence as a new fundraising constituency:

The emergence of viable black, Hispanic and female presidential candidates -- combined with unprecedented pressure for campaign donations -- is drawing a new generation of female and minority donors to the intensifying contest for cash among 2008 Democratic aspirants.

Illinois' Barack Obama, the only African-American currently in the U.S. Senate, is courting a network of rising African-Americans in law firms, at high-tech companies and on Wall Street. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, whose mother is Mexican, is mobilizing Latino business owners. And New York Sen. Hillary Clinton is tapping into email lists of individual women across the country.

A survey of political donors to the 2000 presidential campaign found that 68% were men and 96% were white. Blacks and Hispanics each accounted for 1% of the givers, according to John C. Green, director of the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron. That's the most recent campaign he has analyzed by those categories.

But this year, "the diversity of the Democratic pool may well expand the donor universe" for the party, Mr. Green said.

Bursts in ethnic, racial and gender giving inspired by a particular candidate have happened before. In 1988, blacks and women rallied around the Democratic candidacies of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and former Colorado Rep. Patricia Schroeder -- while the party's eventual nominee, Michael Dukakis, was energizing the Greek community.

But the political coming of age of today's candidates coincides with growing economic clout and political savvy among constituencies new to the fund-raising game. In 1988, 485,000 black households and 340,000 Hispanic households had earnings of more than $100,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year, that number exceeded 1.1 million apiece for blacks and Hispanics. And today, the largest political-action committee in the country is Emily's List, an organization of women that directed more than $45 million last year to female Democrats who support abortion rights. In 1988, Emily's List raised just under a million dollars.
Read the whole piece. I must admit being surprised at the degree of exclusion of minorities in the fundraising system in earlier years (they accounted for less than 5 percent of campaign contributions in 2000). The flipside, though, is that the newfound clout of minorities might provide a new burst of vitality for the parties in their efforts at increasing political inclusion among previously disadvantaged groups.

One other point strikes me, though. The piece mentions how Kate Michelman -- the former head of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) -- intends to work with John Edwards as an advisor, rather than Hillary Clinton, which goes against the natural feminist pull of a woman supporting a woman candidate for president. Michelman's clearly working on the basis of rational self-interest, rather than gender solidarity. On the other hand, Henry Cisneros, a Hispanic former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and former Bill Clinton administration cabinet member, has rejected assisting the Hillary Clinton campaign, despite his previous affiliation's with the Clinton political machine. Cisneros instead intends to work on behalf of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's presidential campaign. Richardson's Hispanic, and I consider him to be one of the most qualified hopefuls in the emerging Democratic field. Yet, Cisneros' decision to support Richardson on the basis of ethnic ties is troubling, I think, as it reflects an in-group solidarity that goes against the civil rights movement's foundational goals of seeking multiracial integration. While the election of Richardson to the White House as the nation's first Latino president would be a historical first, such an outcome would be even more monumental should it reflect the efforts of a cross-racial coalition intent on putting the best possible candidate into the Oval Office.

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