A Dem Who Can Explain that Fairness is Prosperity Will Sweep in 2016

Nov 19, 2014Richard Kirsch

The policies that will deliver economic growth also center fairness, and that's what Democrats need to emphasize to keep the presidency in 2016.

The policies that will deliver economic growth also center fairness, and that's what Democrats need to emphasize to keep the presidency in 2016.

The familiar debate within the Democratic Party – move left or right – is on. In a memo to a “limited number of Democratic leaders,” Third Way, the leading organization for corporate Democrats, lays down the gauntlet: “Democrats are offering economic fairness, but voters want economic growth and prosperity.” And for good measure, Third Way declares, “And it has to be meaningful; Democrats can’t simply stick a 'growth' label on the old bottle of 'fairness' policies.”

The folks at Third Way are right about one thing; voters do want economic growth and prosperity. Where they are wrong is in their assumption that fairness can't be a part of that growth. The policies that do the most to bolster fairness are in fact the most powerful policies to move the economy forward and create broadly shared prosperity.

Progressives and Democrats don’t always make that clear. Most of the time they talk about fairness as separate from broadly-shared prosperity. The Democrat who bases his or her campaign on that crucial link will sweep into the presidency in 2016.

Policies that increase fairness are key to driving the economy forward.

Raising the minimum wage is not just about basic fairness for low-wage workers. Raising wages is about creating economy boosting jobs, not economy busting jobs. When wages are raised, workers have more money to spend, essential when 70 percent of the economy is made up of consumer spending.

An economy boosting job pays enough to cover the basics, which is why the fight for a $15 per hour minimum wage mobilizes people to action. It is about working at that wage for enough hours, with predictable schedules, so that the wages add up to a decent paycheck. It is about getting paid when you are out sick and having paid family leave, so you can care for and support your family. It is about women getting paid as much as men. It is about being able to afford your health care, so you have money to spend on other essentials and don’t end up bankrupt because of a high-cost illness. It is about increasing Social Security benefits and bolstering retirement savings, so you can keep supporting yourself and keep the economy moving well into your retirement.

These measures reward people fairly for work and are essential to rebuilding the middle class engine of the economy, as shown by the evidence collected in the Center for American Progress’s middle-out economics project.

The flip side of creating economy boosting jobs is reversing the soaring concentration of wealth. It’s not just unfair that the rich are grabbing more and more of the wealth we all create, it’s a big reason that the economy remains sluggish. When the top 1 percent capture virtually all of the economic progress, it's impossible for them to spend much of it. When corporations sit on trillions of dollars of cash because there aren’t markets for their goods, that money doesn’t go to higher wages or investment in creating jobs or other things that would boost productivity throughout the economy.

Even Wall Street is beginning to get it. In a report that is stunning only for its source, Standard & Poor's found this summer that “Our review of the data, as well as a wealth of research on this matter, leads us to conclude that the current level of income inequality in the U.S. is dampening GDP growth, at a time when the world's biggest economy is struggling to recover from the Great Recession and the government is in need of funds to support an aging population.”

A big goal of Third Way’s memo is to justify policies that they admit “may not be the most politically popular.” While some of the Third Way proposals are worthwhile, like millions of teachers for pre-K, much of their agenda is that of corporate America and in some cases would actually be bad for the economic growth they claim to seek.

Using coded language in an attempt to dilute the political poison, Third Way pushes for cutting Social Security benefits, lowering corporate tax rates rather than stopping corporate tax evasion, and agreeing to new trade deals which would drive the race to the bottom and allow corporations to challenge environmental and health and safety laws, instead of bolstering American workers' already hard-pressed incomes.

Instead, what the country needs and what Democrats should push are bold policies which drive the economy forward and create broadly shared prosperity: fairness.

We can start by putting Americans to work with a massive investment in core productive infrastructure in three areas: transportation, from roads and bridges to high speed rail; clean, renewable energy, which will simultaneously tackle climate disruption; and high-speed Internet for every home and business in America. Everyone who does this work should be paid enough, with good benefits, to support and care for their families, and be given the flexibility needed to care for those families.  In doing so, we doubly boost the economy: through the investment in infrastructure and through the good jobs.

It is both fair and essential for our economic future to ensure that every child has a quality education and the opportunity to succeed in school, career, and life. We need to modernize and replace dilapidated schools and assure that every child has a well-prepared and supported teacher in a small enough class to learn. We need to transform schools, particularly those that teach children in low-income neighborhoods, into community centers. We should make high-quality child care and pre-K universal, employing millions more providers and teachers.

We need to provide career training for the high-skilled jobs that don’t require traditional college. We need to make college affordable, by dramatically lowering the cost of public colleges and universities, providing much more tuition assistance, and tying the payment of student loans to earnings.

And as in infrastructure, all these jobs – from day-care providers to teachers to college professors (no more adjuncts) – should be good jobs, with good pay, benefits, and the flexibility to care and support families.

The only reason that Democrats would consider an agenda that Third Way admits is politically unpopular is to please corporate campaign donors and elites. But with President Obama pushing for new trade deals, advocating revenue-neutral corporate tax reform and having supported cuts in Social Security benefits, that agenda is as alive as the billions in campaign contributions that pour into both political parties.

Americans are right about two things. One, the system is rigged to favor the wealthy and powerful. Two, unless we change course, the future will not be better for our children. Those are the core reasons we saw historically low voter turn out this month and why minimum wage hikes passed at the same time voters decided to give Republicans their turn in the continuing roller-coaster of Congressional control over the past decade.

The Democrat who champions bold policies to build an America that works for all of us, not just the wealthy, and policies that create broadly shared, sustainable prosperity, will triumph in 2016.

The key, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt did (and as great organizers do), is to tap into anger and lift up hope. FDR railed against the “economic royalists” and experimented with bold policies that reigned in financial speculation and put Americans to work building the foundations for the 20th Century economy. 

The next FDR will name the villains who are rigging the system: Wall Street speculators and corporations that cut wages and benefits and ship jobs overseas. The next FDR will reveal the truth that “we all do better when we all do better.” That when we all earn enough to care and support our families, when we can shop in our neighborhoods, give our kids a great education, afford our health care, retire with security, we drive the economy forward.

Mamby-pamby won’t cut it. Americans are crying for bold leadership, a way out of a narrowing world towards a better world for our children.

The Democrat who leads a political party that stands up against the rich and powerful and stands up for working families and the middle class, who declares that Americans have done this before and that together we can do it again, will triumph in 2016. A Democratic party that relentlessly presses that agenda into action will meet the great challenge of our time. 

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Obama Administration Defends Amazon’s Low Pay – Again

Oct 9, 2014Richard Kirsch

It's hard for workers to trust the President's support for policies that help them when the administration sides with Amazon at the Supreme Court.

Amazon’s business model is based on quick easy buying and low prices. One way it does that is to force its warehouse workers to wait a long time to leave work, without getting paid. And that’s just fine with the Obama administration, which continues to have a blind spot when it comes to decent pay and working conditions at Amazon.

It's hard for workers to trust the President's support for policies that help them when the administration sides with Amazon at the Supreme Court.

Amazon’s business model is based on quick easy buying and low prices. One way it does that is to force its warehouse workers to wait a long time to leave work, without getting paid. And that’s just fine with the Obama administration, which continues to have a blind spot when it comes to decent pay and working conditions at Amazon.

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard a case (Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk) in which workers are suing the temp firm that staff’s Amazon warehouses. The workers are in court because they don’t get paid for the time they are forced to stand on line for a security check when they leave work to be sure they haven’t stolen anything. The security screening itself reveals the poor working conditions and lack of respect that Amazon has for its workers. Workers who are well paid and have job security will not take the risk of stealing. The lack of pay adds costly insult to their injury.

The legal issues revolve around whether the security screenings, which can take 20 minutes or more, are “integral and indispensable” to the job, which would trigger pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Amazon certainly thinks so; the screenings aren’t optional. Still the firm, which pays warehouse workers around $11 or $12 an hour, cheaps out by denying the workers pay when they are waiting on line to leave.

As Jesse Busk, the lead plaintiff in the case, told The Huffington Post, "You're just standing there, and everyone wants to get home. It was not comfortable. There could be hundreds of people waiting at the end of the shift."

While President Obama has made numerous passionate speeches about giving Americans a raise, his administration is taking Amazon’s side at the Supreme Court, filing an amicus brief, alongside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbies.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing new about this from the administration. Last August, as I wrote at the time, “President Obama gave a great speech on why good jobs are the foundation for his middle-out economic strategy... from a huge Amazon warehouse where the workers do not have good jobs.”

The President told the Amazon warehouse workers who were in the audience, “we should be doing everything we can as a country to create more good jobs that pay good wages.”

Everything, it turns out, except being sure they get paid for all the time they are required to be at work.

The Obama administration may wonder why the President does not get more credit for the economic progress the nation has made coming out of the Great Recession or more recognition for his calls for raising the minimum wage. The core reason is that for too many Americans too low wages, too few hours at work, and job insecurity or no job at all remain their reality.

The President’s defense of Amazon reveals another reason. Americans see that he is unwilling to take on the powerful forces that are driving down the living standards and hopes of American workers. They see his embrace of Amazon and Wal-Mart, where he gave a speech on energy earlier this year. And too many come to the conclusion that it is only campaign contributors that matter, despairing of finding leaders who understand what really is going on in their lives – and who are willing to take their side against the powerful.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Daily Digest - September 29: Local Investing for Local Community Growth

Sep 29, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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GWU Students Tackling Income Inequality in Their Own Backyard (USA Today)

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GWU Students Tackling Income Inequality in Their Own Backyard (USA Today)

Campus Network Northeast Regional Coordinator Areeba Kamal profiles the George Washington University chapter's Bank on DC initiative, which asks the university to invest at least $250,000 in a community development bank.

Failing the Midterms (In These Times)

Chris Lehmann considers why the Democrats lack a solid midterm agenda. Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Tom Ferguson places the blame on the power of wealthy donors in finance and Silicon Valley.

Inside the New York Fed: Secret Recordings and a Culture Clash (ProPublica/This American Life)

Jake Bernstein reports on recording made by a New York Federal Reserve bank examiner embedded at Goldman Sachs, which show the Fed's reluctance to take risks and push back on the banks.

Goldman Bans Employee Stock Trading Following “This American Life” Broadcast (Buzzfeed)

Matthew Zeitlin reports on Goldman's new policies, which appear to respond to concerns about conflict of interest policies raised in the ProPublica/This American Life report.

Bad Tech Helped Banks Screw Homeowners (Medium)

By choosing not to update their technology, mortgage servicers have an easier time covering up the illegal foreclosures that boost their profits, writes Alexis Goldstein.

Obamacare’s Good News Week (MSNBC)

Suzy Khimm highlights new evidence of the Affordable Care Act's success, including hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid seeing fewer uninsured patients, which reduces costs.

New on Next New Deal

Democracy, Economic Crisis, and “Rethinking Communities”

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Sabeel Rahman looks at the Campus Network's Rethinking Communities initiative as a successor to post-Gilded Age reforms, focusing on local power and participatory democracy.

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Daily Digest - September 19: This Bus Doesn't Stop for Big Money

Sep 19, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Catholic Nuns Take On Dark Money In Politics With Nationwide Bus Tour (ThinkProgress)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Catholic Nuns Take On Dark Money In Politics With Nationwide Bus Tour (ThinkProgress)

Sister Simone Campbell, the 2013 FDR Four Freedoms Awards laureate for Freedom of Worship, is leading a new Nuns on the Bus tour, this time focused on disenfranchised voters, writes Jack Jenkins.

Tenants Facing Eviction in Era of Skyrocketing Rents Need Legal Assistance (TAP)

Martha Bergmark emphasizes the need to support legal aid programs, noting that legal representation doubles tenants' chances of staying in their homes when fighting eviction.

Workers Deserve to Benefit from Their Productivity, Too (WaPo)

Harold Meyerson says newly proposed legislation from Rep. Chris Van Hollen that ties the performance pay tax deduction to workers' wage increases is necessary to ensure a fair deal for workers.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Holmberg and Campus Network alumna Lydia Austin look at the broader problems with the performance pay provision in the tax code.

Does Silicon Valley Have a Contract-Worker Problem? (NY Mag)

Kevin Roose dives deep into the so-called "1099 Economy," in which start-ups have independent contractors galore, many of whom may legally qualify as employees.

Demonizing the Minimum Wage (New Yorker)

William Finnegan looks at the range of statements against raising the minimum wage, which consistently misrepresent minimum wage workers. They aren't just teenagers with after-school jobs.

New Republican Bill Would Paralyze National Labor Relations Board (In These Times)

Bruce Vail explains why and how the Republicans are aiming to gridlock the National Labor Relations Board, a goal that he says is primarily based in anti-union, anti-worker bias.

Tax Cuts Can Do More Harm Than Good (AJAM)

David Cay Johnston looks at a new report on tax cuts, which shows that short-term economic growth aside, badly structured tax cuts just push costs to the future and can incentivize bad investments.

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Daily Digest - September 15: Violence Against Women is Still a Threat, Abroad and at Home

Sep 15, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Hillary Clinton Seeks End to Gender Violence by Terrorist Groups (CBS News)

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Hillary Clinton Seeks End to Gender Violence by Terrorist Groups (CBS News)

Clinton also spoke about issues of violence against women in the U.S., reports Hannah Fraser-Chanpong, reiterating her stance that domestic violence requires criminal, not cultural, responses.

White House Photo Ops, Old School (NYT)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow David Woolner says the new Ken Burns film The Roosevelts: An Intimate History highlights the interconnectedness of the lives of Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor.

Shareholders Say, ‘Show Me The Money’ (In These Times)

David Sirota explains the fight over corporate political spending disclosures. A proposed Securities and Exchange Commission rule has significant public support – and plenty of corporate pushback.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Holmberg looks at the costs and benefits of mandating corporate political spending disclosure.

Workers Go on Strike at Hammond Automotive Seats Plant (Chicago Tribune)

The workers are "tired of being treated like fast-food industry employees," writes Alexandra Chachkevitch. They are asking for the elimination of a salary cap instituted during the financial crisis.

Workers in Maine Buy Out Their Jobs, Set an Example for the Nation (Truthout)

Rob Brown, Noemi Giszpenc, and Brian Van Slyke explain why the creation of the Island Employee Cooperative in Deer Isle, Maine is a particularly groundbreaking achievement.

New on Next New Deal

How Much are Local Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses Driven By the Feds? A Reply to Libertarians

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal counters libertarian arguments, showing that the profit motive is bottom-up: asset forfeiture in non-Federal cases is driven by local policy.

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Daily Digest - September 8: What Ever Happened to the Public Option?

Sep 8, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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To Improve ‘Obamacare,’ Reconsider the Original House Bill (AJAM)

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To Improve ‘Obamacare,’ Reconsider the Original House Bill (AJAM)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal argues that the House's public option for health care reform, which was missing from the Senate bill that became law, would greatly strengthen the Affordable Care Act.

SEC Faces Renewed Pressure to Consider a Corporate Disclosure Rule (The Nation)

One million comments submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission have called for requiring companies to disclose political donations to shareholders, writes Zoë Carpenter.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Holmberg finds that corporate political spending disclosure has substantial benefits.

Why the Worst Governments in America Are Local Governments (NY Mag)

Jonathan Chait looks at the problem of "Big Small Government," meaning local governments that act as oppressive forces. He says neither Democrats nor Republicans offer useful solutions.

Paid Sick Leave is Healthy for Business (SFGate)

Carl Guardino, a Silicon Valley CEO, explains the business advantages of instituting paid sick leave in California. He focuses on improvements to health, safety, and economic security.

Some Retail Workers Find Better Deals With Unions (NYT)

The retail union in New York City has secured protections for its members that other retail workers are fighting for, like plenty of advance notice on schedules, says Rachel Swarns.

Unemployment Rate Continues To Be Elevated Across the Board (Working Economics)

The combination of declining real wages and elevated unemployment rates for college graduates indicates the impossibility of a skills mismatch in today's labor market, writes Elise Gould.

Nearly a Quarter of Fortune 500 Companies Still Offer Pensions to New Hires (WaPo)

Since companies are scaling back the generosity of these pensions through hybrid plans that cost workers more, Jonnelle Marte says that number sounds deceptively good.

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Daily Digest - September 3: Soaring Inequality Isn't Inherent to the System

Sep 3, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Democracy in the Twenty-First Century (Project Syndicate)

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Democracy in the Twenty-First Century (Project Syndicate)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz says that wealth inequality, thrown into the spotlight by Thomas Piketty, is the result of government-supported distortion of the market.

A Competition to Make the City More Resilient (Tech President)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford explains how the RISE:NYC contest was structured to ensure that it sparked sustainable and innovative ideas to protect the city from future storms.

How Amazon Plans to Storm Cable's Castle (Bloomberg View)

Susan Crawford suggests that Amazon's purchase of Twitch, a live-streaming video game platform, aims to increase its negotiating power with Internet service providers.

America’s Growing Food Inequality Problem (WaPo)

Researchers have found a growing dietary quality gap that parallels income inequality, says Roberto A. Ferdman. The study says the gap is partially cost-driven, since healthy food is pricier.

New Voter Guide Follows the Money (NYT)

Derek Willis looks at Crowdpac, a site that is creating a voter guide based on campaign finance data. Crowdpac argues that the source of campaign dollars says the most about a candidate.

It's Time to Raise the Minimum Wage. If Congress Would Rather Suck Up to the Koch Brothers, We'll Raise It Anyway (The Guardian)

Sarah Jaffe says that as long as politicians see wealthy donors instead of workers as their base, organizers must continue to take the wage issue out of legislators' hands.

Fast-Food-Worker Civil Disobedience? (Philadelphia Daily News)

Will Bunch reports on the planned acts of civil disobedience, including sit-ins and marches, that will represent a major escalation of the fast-food strikes tomorrow.

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Daily Digest - August 1: Too Big to Fail vs. Too Small to Matter

Aug 1, 2014

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An In-Depth Look at Campaign Finance Reform (MSNBC)

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An In-Depth Look at Campaign Finance Reform (MSNBC)

In this extended online segment, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren speaks with Zephyr Teachout about using multiple matching funds as a tool to increase the power of small donors.

Playing the ‘Who’s the Boss?’ Game with Employees (WaPo)

The National Labor Relations Board ruling that McDonald's can be held accountable for franchise labor violations sheds light on the ways employers try to dodge responsibility, writes Catherine Rampell.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute President and CEO Felicia Wong and Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch commented on the NLRB decision earlier this week.

‘Pension Smoothing’: The Gimmick Both Parties in Congress Love (NYT)

Josh Barro says pension smoothing, which increases revenues by allowing smaller pension contributions, and other gimmicks provide funding on too-short timelines, requiring another hunt for funds soon after.

Feds Say Big Banks Are Still Too Big to Fail (MoJo)

Despite Dodd-Frank's financial regulations, a new Government Accountability Office report says investors still expect bailouts if the largest banks fail, giving those banks advantages over smaller ones, writes Erika Eichelberger.

Hope Springs Eternal, But The Data Is Actually Pretty Mixed About Whether Or Not Recovery Is Accelerating (Working Economics)

Josh Bivens cautions against excitement about GDP and job growth as signs of a speedier recovery. The data isn't actually that strong, and he sees the potential for job growth to slow.

New on Next New Deal

Let's Hope the GAO Report Ends the Too-Big-to-Fail Subsidy Distraction

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal writes that the existence of a too-big-to-fail subsidy isn't as important or potentially destructive as the systemic problems of the financial system.

Education Left Behind

Edyta Obrzut, the Campus Network's NextGen Illinois Research Fellow, examines the challenges facing education policy in Illinois today, and the potential solutions put forward by NextGen caucuses.

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Daily Digest - July 31: The IRS Can't Follow the Money When It Has None of Its Own

Jul 31, 2014

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IRS Failing to Regulate Dark-Money Political Spending (Real News Network)

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IRS Failing to Regulate Dark-Money Political Spending (Real News Network)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Thomas Ferguson explains how reduced funding for the IRS is preventing the agency from properly determining what groups need to report political spending.

3 Reasons Subsidized Jobs Should Be Part of an Economic Mobility Agenda (CAP)

Rachel West says that subsidized job programs are effective at bringing people who have been left out into the labor force, even in non-recessionary times.

It’s a Reasonable Goal: Wages That Pay the Bills (Boston Globe)

Steven Syre questions why public support is so much higher for groups fighting to maintain their hard-won living wages than it is for fast food workers seeking the same level of stability.

Obama Plans New Scrutiny for Contractors on Labor Practices (NYT)

A new executive order will require federal contractors to disclose any labor violations from the past three years, and give preference to cleaner records, report Steven Greenhouse and Michael D. Shear.

Why the House of Representatives Just Voted to Sue President Obama (Vox)

Neither legislative body has ever sued the President for failing to enforce the law, explains Andrew Prokop, so this has broad implications for who controls how policy is implemented.

New on Next New Deal

Leadership Wanted: The College Access Crisis Needs You, Mayor de Blasio

Kevin Stump, Leadership Director for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, says that Mayor de Blasio must invest in programs that increase college access alongside those that help at-risk students.

In the Artisanal Economy, Work Is What You Make of It

In his speculation for the Next American Economy project, Harvard economics professor Lawrence Katz suggests that an economy of craftsmanship could create higher wages out of low-end work.

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Money in Politics is a Local Problem, Too

Jun 30, 2014Eugenia Kim

Large donors dominate our politics even at the local level, but communities have the power to overcome them.

Large donors dominate our politics even at the local level, but communities have the power to overcome them.

Last summer, I interned for mayoral candidate Gary Holder-Winfield in New Haven, CT. New Haven is not a small town. While it’s 130,660 residents pale in comparison to New York’s 8,405,837, it is a major city in Connecticut. In New Haven, which is primarily Democratic, the real race for mayor was in the primary. In a local election with seven candidates, there are not going to be seven radically different perspectives.  Most of the candidates generally held the same values, to the point that the race was decided more on the likability of the candidates then the content of their platforms.

In trying to differentiate Gary Holder-Winfield from the field, we got in touch with voters directly. I saw him work a full day at his job and then come in to the campaign office and knock on doors for hours until after dark on weekdays, and then walk all day knocking on doors on the weekends, rain or shine. I saw him write his personal phone number on literature to give out to his community.

I also saw Holder-Winfield forced to drop out because of lack of money. He had agreed to fund his campaign through the Democracy Fund, which restricts the amount of campaign expenditures allowed, limits individual contributions to $370, and prohibits any PAC or business from donating all together. In return, the Democracy Fund matches donations up to $125,000 and provides a $19,000 grant for the primary and general elections. Ultimately, all of the candidates that ran in the mayoral election with the Democracy Fund were defeated. While the new mayor of New Haven, Toni Harp, is extremely qualified and will do well as New Haven’s next mayor, I am disappointed that the process of getting there required raising more than half a million dollars.  

Despite Holder-Winfield dropping out of the race, I was not yet completely disheartened.  But when I went to work on aldermanic campaigns, I realized that money was the largest barrier to entry in politics today. Aldermen in New Haven are the equivalent of city councilmen. They each represent particular neighborhoods in New Haven, making their concerns and constituents hyper-local. Some sitting members on the Board of Aldermen in New Haven have been there for decades without a serious challenge, in part because local interest groups have backed them financially.

By helping to run the campaigns of aldermanic candidates who wanted to run free of these local interests and maintain a campaign on very few funds, I learned what an uphill battle it was to get money out of politics even at such a local level. We backed five candidates; only one was elected. It’s sobering when paying for lawn signs is out of a campaign’s budget. It’s disheartening to see a second candidate  I worked for drop out because of funding. It’s devastating that a group of dedicated volunteers can spend weeks systematically knocking on doors and hours on phone calls with potential voters, only to have the incumbent pay for enough canvassers in the week leading up to election day to pull off the votes to win.

That summer, it became very clear to me that democracy came with a high price. This is not a call to action for my congressman or senator to advocate for campaign finance reform; I am too realistic for that request. My call to action is for people who care about their communities. Some people may not vote because they feel like their votes do not matter, and it's easy to understand why in heavily partisan national elections. However, the closest aldermanic race was won by 81 votes. Local elections are where our votes matter most, and where we are least aware of where power lies.

Money in politics has permeated the governance of local issues, so we need to start identifying the drivers of local politics. In New Haven, politics are centered on the effects of Yale University as an anchor institution. Aldermanic races are shaped by the influence of the unions partnered with Yale. We need to impress the importance of local elections and analyze the drivers of these local communities. We must identify who holds power, economically and socially in these communities, and harness that power. Locally, there is still a chance for the voices of voters over large donors.

Eugenia Kim is the Rethinking Communities Intern at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, and a member of the Rethinking Communities Brain Trust.

Image via Thinkstock

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