Walking Around Money: Buying Inner-City Votes
Jeffrey Smith’s June 12, 2013 article in The Atlantic, “‘Walking-Around Money’: How Machine Politics Works in America Today,” takes a look at the long history of paying for votes in U.S. elections. Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts often labeled as public service are always politically-driven GOTV-FOP (For Our Party) campaigns. These GOTV efforts range from targeted voter-registration (targeting areas where folks are likely to be one party), to more direct payments to people for taking the time and effort to get to the polls on voting day.
Many American cities have a storied tradition of machine politics. But in recent decades, party electioneering has evolved into arrangements whereby candidates and parties pay people small amounts of cash in exchange for GOTV efforts like canvassing. … I know people who have disbursed several hundred thousand dollars on Election Day. In some cases, the process is blunter, not to mention illegal: Low-level operatives simply distribute cash in even smaller increments to individual voters.
The winners in state and national elections gain control of a variety of government programs and jobs that they can fill with people who assisted in the campaign, but also there are major post-election cash flows that can be tapped (borrowed against) before the election to pay for a variety of community services that surround a trip to the voting booth. The more money available, the more “community services” will be available, and the more people who are reminded to vote and assisted in the voting process one way or another.
The article claims that candidate Obama worked to reduce “walking around money” because his campaign expected the votes of minorities and inner-city people anyway. This seems misleading because the question isn’t who would you vote for if you could vote from your living room couch or by answering the telephone, but rather, how many potential voters actually get registered and show up at the polls on voting day. And that takes some combination of volunteers, money, and organizational skill.
Republican gains in the House in 2010, Smith suggests, will lead Democrats to revive funding to get out the inner-city vote:
Given that experience, it’s reasonable to expect Democrats to return to the street-money regime in 2014, as operatives grapple with the difficulty of replicating the Obama’s turnout operation without additional funds for ground-level efforts.
Smith concludes that Republicans are getting into the “street money” game via consultants, but the key issue is to what degree people are being paid to vote.
Politics is a business and each Senator, Representative, and President is running a business that has income and expenses as well as opportunities and responsibilities. This 2012 Congressional Research Service report reviews “Congressional Salaries and Allowances.” But most Congressional income is from campaign supporters and is spent on campaigning. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for example, has $12 million set aside for future campaigns, and can raise more if needed.
Businesses, business associations, government workers, unions, and others who donate to federal campaigns often have specific narrow interests and expect their donations to promote those interests. Super-PACs, national political parties, and other advocacy groups can spend money on elections as well.
How much of these funds find their way into pockets for “walking around money” is unclear. But now that journalists can drag Republicans as well as urban Democratic into the story, perhaps there will be more reporting of abuses.
The much larger story though is the steady increase of funds flowing to the federal government and to lobbying and campaigns, and the many ways this flows of funds pushes federal policy toward increased spending and economic intervention.
The lobbyist-industrial complex in Washington has been growing for four or more decades, turning it into a recession-proof city. Over 3,000 national trade associations are headquartered in D.C. In 1970, five state governments had Washington offices; today, almost all of them do.
All of this lobbying has been translated into higher federal spending in the form of transfer payments, subsidies, government contracts, and loans. Regulations are often perverted to eliminate or hobble the competitors of favored businesses, and the tax code has been transformed into a piggybank of social engineering.