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Campaign Reform as a Civil Rights Issue

As campaign costs rise, the people who have been traditionally shut out of the political process, women, low-income voters, and people of color, will continue to find themselves at a disadvantage. When money dominates the political scene, the good-ole-boy network flourishes.

Compare just one zip code - 10021, in New York City - to 483 zip codes in the United States that are more than 90 percent people of color. 10021 has a population of 107,000 residents and contributed $9.3 million in the 1996 federal election. In that exclusive area the vast majority of the population (91 percent) is white. Compare that with the 9.5 million residents of the 483 U.S. communities that are more than 90 percent people of color in the United States. Those 9.5 million people gave $5.5 million in the same election, $3.8 million less than the 107,000 residents of 10021 in New York City.* If money (campaign contributions) equals free speech, then who can afford to be heard by our public officials?

Nelson Rivers III, NAACP Southeast Region director, explained the effect of big-money politics: "We're impacted in a negatively disproportionate way. Since African-Americans have decidedly less income, less disposable money than other people in the country, we're at a disadvantage when money is the deciding factor in whether you can participate. . . . [W]hile other folk have the luxury of picking between two people who still might represent them in some way, for us it's a matter of having representation or none..."**

What big-money politics has become is a modern day poll tax. Rather than excluding low-income voters, today's system excludes qualified candidates who don't have personal wealth and who aren't connected to big-money special interests. This system is entirely undemocratic and dilutes the idea that any qualified community member can run for public office.

*From www.publicampaign.org/ColorOfMoney
**The Crisis, Sept/Oct 1998


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[DemSouth logo]Democracy South : Improving Democracy : Campaign Reform as a Civil Rights Issue
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