It’s the campaign finance scandal nobody talks about: In a political system where credibility and influence flow from cash, poor neighborhoods don’t even register.
While Upper East Siders forked over nearly 6,000 campaign contributions to federal candidates last year, an analysis by zip code shows there is virtually no cash at all flowing out of the city’s poor neighborhoods. According to the records, Morrisania residents made only two campaign contributions last year, and one was from one politician to another (Assemblywoman Gloria Davis to Hillary Clinton).
Longwood and Highbridge, some of the most depressed areas in the Bronx, each showed only one campaign contribution last year.
In Brooklyn’s poor neighborhoods, it’s much the same story: The main ZIP in Bushwick generated only eight campaign contributions, and people in 11221 (Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant) made only four federal contributions. (This data is courtesy of Bronx watchdog Matthew Lee. See his website at www.innercitypress.org for more details.)
Local elections are a little less lopsided, although most of the money still comes from Manhattan. According to the New York City Campaign Finance Board, Highbridge has so far handed over $6,935 from 22 contributors for the 2001 local election cycle. By comparison, the Upper East Side has provided $1,072,485 for the next local election from 1,154 contributors–a whopping 350 times as much cash as from Bushwick, where a mere 15 donors gave a total of $3,135.
Obviously, poor people have less cash to throw around for electioneering. But, points out ACORN’s Bertha Lewis, that’s not the whole story. Part of the reason for this glaring gap is that politicians rarely ask poor people for donations. “Those [Upper East Side] people write checks because somebody’s asking them,” said Lewis, who was involved in last year’s Clean Money/Clean Elections campaign. “It’s also part of their culture. It’s part of what they learn as kids.”
For Lewis, these stats reveal that campaign finance reform should be directed toward getting average people involved in campaigns. “The religious right understood that,” she adds. “Stop focusing on huge corporations, let’s focus on average folks.”