06/17/2014 05:07 pm ET Updated Aug 16, 2014

Flexing Our Political and Financial Muscle

On May 5, a standing room-only crowd gathered at the National Press Club for the launch of the Latino Victory Project. Its founders, Henry Muñoz III and Eva Longoria, as well as Congressman Joaquin Castro, described the urgent need to begin building the infrastructure to address the under-representation of Latinos elected to public office and develop the next generation of leaders, including the first Latina or Latino President of the United States.

Within days, our new organization was unfairly attacked. Let me set the record straight on what the Latino Victory Project is, and what we are building towards.

The 2012 presidential election marked a milestone for Latino political participation. Latinos turned out in record numbers and flexed their financial muscle. Through the Futuro Fund, Latino donors became deeply engaged in a presidential election for the first time, raising $32M from 150,000 individual Latino donors.

As a result of this dramatic increase in political participation, immigration reform is now being fiercely debated in Congress and Latino issues have been elevated in the national narrative. Yet, while a record 11.2 million Latinos voted during the 2012 Presidential election, more Latinos -- 12.1 million -- stayed home on Election Day.

And while the Latino population continues to grow, the number of Latinos elected to public office remains dangerously low. In the current Congress, only 28 members of the House are Latino when more than twice that number would be reflective of their share of the national population. The statistics are worse in many legislative bodies across the nation.

This means our voice is missing from critical policy debates. But we know from past campaigns that Latinos are more likely to vote when they see a Latino candidate on the ballot. So if we want stronger Latino voter turnout, we need to have more Latinos run for office that represent their community. And these candidates need to promote a values agenda that Latinos care about, because Latino values are American values. This vision will not only increase political participation for our community, it will ensure that we have a role in the decision-making process. That is the spirit behind the Latino Victory Project, an ambitious, non-partisan effort to build political power so that the faces and voices of Latinos are reflected at every level of government and in the policies that drive our country forward.

Our aim is threefold: the Latino Victory Project will develop a pipeline of Latino leaders; build a pipeline of Latino donors to fund the movement for political change; and ensure that the voices of Latinos are heard at the ballot box, and equally important, in the policy debates beyond Election Day.

Our political arm, the Latino Victory PAC, will support candidates that reflect
Latino values, including immigration reform, quality education, affordable healthcare, good jobs, a clean environment, and ultimately opportunity. Latino Victory PAC candidates are selected based on these American values, and without regard to party affiliation.

While this is a building year for our startup organization, we will work in partnership with the Latino community's flagship organizations -- National Council of La Raza, Mi Familia Vota, National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials, MALDEF and National Hispanic Leadership Agenda -- to increase the levels of democratic participation of our community this election cycle and create the environment for policy reform.

Our community has the numbers but we need to exercise this might: politically and financially.