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Gabriel Lerner

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Semana Latina: Political Campaign Money Eroding The American Dream

Posted: 06/09/2012 2:58 am

Those of us who drove in horrific freeway traffic on the westside of Los Angeles this week were involuntary participants in an agglomeration of cars, unusual even to the long-suffering, prematurely aging people of this city, the proud home to the most congested roads in the country. And those who tried to escape the inescapable by leaving the Santa Monica Freeway and taking side streets in one of the most affluent areas of southern California, did no better, facing long lines of cars stuck in a giant parking lot, stopped by some divine providence unknown by most, yet powerful and real...President Obama's visit to Los Angeles.

At any moment his motorcade would appear out of nowhere, preceded by a cavalcade of LAPD motorcycles, blaring sirens, blue lights and black SUV's. You know. I could sense how a horrid thought emanated from the drivers who knew the reason for the delay in their commute:

"¡*&#*@(! Obama!"

Somehow I know that the expletives would persist even louder once the main purpose of his visit was revealed: Fundraising for the re-election campaign. This is accepted as a growing part of the president's activities until election day...and, who knows, maybe beyond. After all, there is a growing consensus that this election will be defined by unprecedented amounts of money in a historic attempt to win the vote.

Additionally, this week, the organization Obama For America sent an e-mail signed by Jim Messina, campaign manager, recognizing that: "For the first time in this campaign, we got beat in fundraising..." "The Romney campaign and the Republican Party raised more than $76 million last month, compared to our $60 million." Sixty million in one month, and not enough! Not counting independent PACs and super-PACs??

And so, Messina, asked, brother, can you spare $3 or more?

The amount collected and spent in our political life are staggering.

In last week's vote in Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker deftly rejected a recall effort by adding to the support of grassroot conservative groups a whopping $63-$80 million, compared to about $4 million for his opponent, Democrat Tom Barrett.

The Walker war chest included $500,000, each, from Wisconsin billionaire Diane Hendricks and Texan Bob Perry. According to CNN, "Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Michigan millionaire Dick DeVos each donated $250,000." And the list of donors goes on and on.

For the November elections, the new super-PACs that can collect and spend unlimited amounts under certain conditions, are a main reason why this campaign will easily shatter all previous records in campaign contributions.

This money can now certainly tilt election results and counterbalance the most important political change in our generation: The Demographic Shift. Last month, the census bureau reported that, "for the first time, racial and ethnic minorities make up more than half the children born in the U.S.", with minorities now totalling 36.6 percent of the U.S. population.

In 2008, 93% of African-American and 67% of Latinos voted for Obama. Democrats enjoy the political consequences of the shift.

After years of posing as the "sleeping giant," Latinos finally emerged as a powerful voting bloc. Political wisdom dictates this is not to be ignored. But as money reigns, Hispanics may lose their relatively new, demographic advantage. Because on the donation front, where dollars count, the power of Hispanics is much smaller than their rise in population.

Propelled by the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions, the Super-PAC is the ubiquitous elephant in the room that cannot be ignored, the new kid on the block. Thanks to "Citizens United," the political muscle of big money has increased exponentially.

So, where is the Latino money? Here and there. In mid-May, only days after he voiced his support of same-sex marriage, the President met with a large contingent of Latino and gay donors at a New York fundraiser organized by singer Ricky Martin. Another group of donors include Hispanic film executives in Los Angeles.

Last January, when some new Latino super-PACs emerged, the congressional publication The Hill rushed to call it "the rise of the Hispanic Super-PAC," of groups that aim "to give political voice to the nation's fastest-growing demographic."

But an analysis of the quarterly report of these, and other Latino PACs as submitted to FEC show that the hype was premature. One of these groups is the conservative Hispanic Vote PAC, formed on January 18. 2012.

It features an attractive website (http://hispanicvote.com/) and was founded by Laura Ramirez Drain and Dennis Garcia. Hispanic Vote quarterly report shows an initial amount of cash on hand of just $2,500 and a quarterly expense of just $125... hardly enough to influence voters.

Joe Velasquez' American Latino Alliance PAC was described as one of the young, independent and emerging new Super-PACs, lending hope that money from Hispanic donors will demonstrate a presence in this election cycle.

But as of last month, it failed to file its report, according to a letter by the Federal Elections Commission. And most PACs who were defined as belonging to or aiming at Latinos either ceased operations already or are too small to have any impact.

And so, while huge donations pay for TV ads, mass mailings, banners, paid staff, phone banks and get-out-the vote drives on election day, mobilizations of ordinary citizens, educational campaigns and traditional outreach designed to educate voters about issues and raise public awareness, conventional but tested tools behind electoral victories, will decrease.

Those who are already held back from political power are bound to lose even more ground, and be even further marginalized from having any influence on and obtaining new opportunities as they continue to chase the ever-elusive American dream.

 

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