Fighting over the Trump demo: Why liberals need to stop grandstanding over PAC money
Recently Joe Biden’s campaign finally gave the green light for Super PACs that might support his candidacy.
That’s good, and not just because Trump and the Republicans are already targeting Biden with millions of dollars in fake social media ads.
Individual donations - the numbers, the amount, the frequency - have become not just a qualifying factor but a litmus test in the Democratic primary race for president over the last couple of cycles. The litmus test is being pushed this cycle generally by the top “progressive” white Democrats in the race, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (except it doesn’t count when a super PAC supports one of them). With the impression created that anyone who doesn’t rely on individual donations alone must be compromised, other candidates are being squeezed and bullied into limiting the base for their resources.
It’s silly, it’s racist, and it needs to stop.
Joe Biden is accepting the support of outside PACs, and I am glad about that. Other candidates should be doing that too, especially Kamala Harris.
Here’s why: the universe of individual political contributors in the United States is tiny, it highly skews toward men, and systematically disadvantages candidates with the highest support among communities of color. It particularly disadvantages black women, the base, soul, and backbone of the Democratic party.
Individual donor demographics data released by OpenSecrets.org shows that a very small percentage of Americans give to politics in the first place. Just six-tenths of one percent of adults in the US make trackable political contributions at all (and they make up more than 70% of all political contributions). But when the numbers are separated by gender, a harsher reality emerges. Just four in every 1,000 adult women make political contributions. About twice as many adult men do.
Even though more women are contributing, they still make up a much smaller percentage of donors than men. In the 2018 cycle - when a historic number of Democratic women were elected to the House, not only were 62% of the donors men, men contributed 71% of the dollars.
Another key statistic among the tiny universe of individual donors is that donors to Democrats and Democratic causes donate in higher proportion to PACs. About 8.5% of Republican individual donations go to PACs. One-and-a-half times as much, 13.2%, of Democratic donations are collected by PACs. Democratic women are slightly more likely to donate to PACs even than Democrats overall, without about 14.1% of their donations going to PACs.
This would make sense, because Democrats tend to be more likely to organize around causes than personalities compared with Republicans, a party that is proving to be all but a personality cult at this point. All in all, in 2018 Democratic PACs raised more than twice as much as Republican ones. By contrast, in 2016, Democratic and Republicans PACs raised roughly the same amount. Only one of those elections brought a landslide victory for Democrats at all levels.
Women’s contributions tend to gravitate and give more to Democratic candidates and causes than men, as expected.
However, it appears that women donors tend to be highly skewed to white women. As of the second quarter of this year, despite the fact that more women had given to Democratic candidates than to Trump, Donald Trump had about 2.5 times the number of female donors than Elizabeth Warren, who leads in the number of women donors among Democratic primary candidates. And in the Democratic race, two white candidates, Sanders and Warren, are leading among the number of women donors, although Kamala Harris alone held the distinction in the Democratic field of having more than half of her donors be women.
It’s also more likely that a much greater proportion of Harris’s donors are women of color.
While in the 2018 cycle, women and people of color made strides in fundraising, particularly from women and in competitive races, black women candidates were consistently at a disadvantage. According to a study on how race and gender of a candidate affected their fundraising numbers, the Center for Responsive Politics found that Black women candidates raised half as much their white and Asian counterparts. While white women raised more than white men (this is largely because Democrats ran more women in more competitive races), black women had the weakest fundraising numbers.
The CRP study also finds that white Democratic women tend to raise more from women. Take this, along with the facts of Trump’s fundraising numbers among women (it’s a safe assumption that they are almost exclusively white) and the fact that top tier Democratic candidates with limited appeal among people of color are attracting more female donors. The evidence points in one direction: candidates whose major base of support consists of people of color, and especially black women - are at a systemic fundraising disadvantage not because of their message but because of the high degree of favoritism built in for candidates focused on attracting white support.
It naturally begs the question, why should Democrats limit themselves to collecting money from a universe that is both sparingly small and essentially the Trump demo?
Instead, we should focus on advocating for full public financing of elections, and focus on getting elected in large enough numbers to make that happen.
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