It’s really difficult to pinpoint the exact moment money became such a crucial factor in political campaigns, but measuring cash stacks has been part of our election process long before any of us even existed.
If you raise a lot of money, then you must have a lot of support, right? To a certain extent, yes. But having donors with deep pockets can show support in ways the rest of us cannot.
That’s why the city’s matching funds program is so important, and why it should expand not just to the state level, but federal as well. For every $1 city candidates raise from individuals who live in New York City, a candidate gets $8 to match it, up to specific amounts.
To get that money, candidates have to agree to certain limits in how much they can raise, and how much they can spend. But it turns campaigns not into who can raise and spend the most cash, but instead campaigns about who candidates are, what they bring to the table, and what they can accomplish for the people they want to represent.
It strikes a balance between those who wish to express their support by opening their checkbooks, and still ensuring that candidates are being considered based not on their ability to raise money, but instead on the soapbox they’re speaking from.
The courts have found spending money to advance not just causes, but actual candidates, is a form of free speech. And that’s odd, because that would then imply that some people have more free speech than others.
A study last year by the Economic Policy Institute says membership in New York’s top 1 percent requires you to make more than $550,000 per year. But to really be considered part of the club, you’d have to be making closer to the average of $2.2 million.
That’s a lot of free speech. And far more than the average New Yorker, who makes just under $58,000 a year. That’s literally just 10 percent of what’s needed to join the 1 percent.
Average New Yorkers have to worry about bills, buying groceries, keeping the lights on, maybe the luxury of a window air-conditioner. The 1 percent? None of those concerns. And they have a lot of money left over, coupled with a desire to hold onto it. That means making investments — like in political candidates — to ensure that happens.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Giving to a candidate you support is the American thing to do. But no one’s dollar should be stronger than anyone else’s dollar. That 1 percenter shouldn’t have more leverage with his $1 than the average New Yorker has with hers.
Money talks. But actions speak louder. And at least in New York City, those actions aren’t being drowned out by excessive amounts of cash.
Something our country can learn from.