What's wrong with this picture?

"Today, President George W. Bush held a $2,000 per plate fundraiser with local Harlem residents at the venerable jazz institution the Lenox Lounge. Harlemites forked over the money for the opportunity to mingle with the leader of the free world where Bush talked about how his tax cuts aimed at the wealthy Americans were getting the economy moving again. The Bush fundraiser comes on the heels of a high-dollar Howard Dean fundraiser in Washington Heights where Dean ate empanadas and..."

OK, what's wrong with this picture? Bush getting $2,000 per person from African-Americans in Harlem. The leading Democratic nominee getting folks in the largely Hispanic upper New York City area to give max donations to his campaign. Is it so hard to believe that minority communities can and would contribute some of the millions that Bush and Dean are picking up across the country? Well, yes, and none of the "news report" above is true.

If you think this is an exaggeration, you should read a new must-read report produced by Public Campaign, along with the Fannie Lou Hamer Project, and the William C. Velasquez Institute. "The Color of Money 2003" highlights the dramatic disparity between America's diverse population and the small number of people who finance political campaigns. Examining federal contribution data for the 2000 and 2002 election cycles, the report draws the unfortunate conclusion that "in a political system in which you have to pay to play, people of color are largely excluded from the game."

Now, of course people of color know they've been excluded from the political system but it is nice to have 34-page report to factually back up those feelings of exclusion. Whether it's the blatant ignoring of African-Americans denied their Constitutional right to vote in the 2000 presidential election, President Bush attempting to end affirmative action or Hillary Clinton, who, after receiving 90 percent of the minority votes in New York City, first thanked the voters from upstate New York for her Senate victory.

Even though one out of three adult Americans is a person of color, nine out of ten federal contributions -- nearly $2 billion in 2000 and 2002 -- came from individuals living in non-Hispanic white neighborhoods. Billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg's neighborhood on New York's Upper East Side, where 40 percent of households have incomes of over $100,000 or more, led the nation with $28.4 million in federal contributions in 2000 and 2002. Although the local zip code has only 91,000 people of voting age, the amount of money contributed from there dwarfed contributions made by over 1200 zip codes nationwide containing over 20 million African, Latino and Asian Pacific American people of voting age.

"Beverly Hills 90210"greatly influenced a generation with fashion, hairstyles and plastic surgery options. The Color of Money report also clearly points out that the wealthy zip code is also greatly influencing the political system. The report breaks out the contribution data on a statewide level and the results are far from surprising: High-dollar contributions are concentrated in communities of wealth where people of color are less likely to live.

California supplied more individual campaign contributions to federal campaigns than any other state, giving $273 million in 2000 and 2002. But even though California is diverse, with nearly one out of two residents being a person of color, 85 percent of the campaign contributions come from predominately non-Hispanic White households from zip codes like 90210. In second-ranking New York, the story remains the same, with 94 percent of campaign cash coming from non-Hispanic white households even though only 71 percent of the population lives in these neighborhoods.

With Dallas and Houston leading the way, the President's home state of Texas ranks third, giving $152 million in individual contributions in 2000 and 2002. Texas, like California, is diverse with 56 percent of the population being non-Hispanic White. However, 77 percent of federal campaign contributions don't come from communities of color. Instead the power is concentrated in wealthy communities that barely 10 percent of the state's population calls home.

Metropolitan areas offer more of the same evidence that we have to change the way this country finances elections or we'll continue to degrade the integrity of 'one person, one vote' even further. New York's Upper East Side, Nassau County on New York's Long Island, the Chicago suburb of Lincoln Park, Westwood, Malibu and Beverly Hills in California, and Palm Beach, Florida all dominate in the amount of money given to federal candidates. The funk band Parliament might have deemed Washington, D.C. "Chocolate City," but it is the green flowing out of communities like Georgetown that is deciding who enters the hallowed halls of Congress and who takes up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Crime and unemployment, even though sometimes evident in these communities, are not the societal plagues they are in other places. Yet, with the money they give federal candidates, these communities can be assured that when they talk, politicians will listen. Whether the call is for tax cuts, pork barrel spending, more education dollars, these communities normally get what they want because they hold what politicians desire most: money.

Can a system where less than one-tenth of one percent of the U.S. population gives 83 percent of all campaign contributions of $200 or more -- as data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows -- truly represent the will of all the people? Outside of race, the overwhelming theme of this report is a reminder of the ever-growing power the almighty dollar has over our electoral process. Money wins political races. The communities with the most money get better representation because it is their money that elects politicians.

It used to be that the 'Have and the Have Not's were largely defined by material possessions: cars, homes, vacation destinations. Today, the haves still have those superior material possessions but they now they have representation while persons of color do not. If public financing of elections is an issue that has largely been off the radar screen of minority communities, perhaps the Color of Money 2003 report will highlight to these communities that taking money out of politics is the worthiest fight of them all.

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