The Star-Ledger

Group: Campaign System Hurts Minorities

The Star-Ledger — Thursday, February 5, 2004

Star-Ledger Staff

The influence of campaign contributions is keeping New Jersey's black and Latino residents from having the same influence with elected officials as whites, according to a report released by an advocacy group yesterday.

New Jersey Citizen Action concluded that 90 percent of the money given by individuals to candidates in last year's primary and general legislative elections came from ZIP codes where the majority of residents are white.

The $410,894 contributed by predominantly white residents in one ZIP code of Morristown, for example, was more than the total given by the 29 ZIP codes with the highest African-American populations.

During the 2003 election cycle, white areas contributed 85 times more money than black areas, although the population ratio is less than 8 to 1, according to Staci Berger, Citizen Action program director. Major contributors such as big law firms and lobbying groups were not included in the survey.

The group said the disparity denies minorities the attention elected officials give white campaign contributors. The leaders used the survey to pitch public financing for legislative races, saying this would enable more average citizens to seek election. The state has had public financing for gubernatorial elections since 1977.

"These results clearly show how the idea of democratic equality is subverted by the unequal distribution, by color, of the money that controls the outcome of most elections," said Lionel Leach of Newark, head of the NAACP's New Jersey Voter Fund.

John Weingart, associate director of Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute of Politics, questioned the survey's findings, saying that minorities most likely to contribute to political campaigns would have a higher income and not reside in poorer areas.

"I do not think it is fair to assume that politicians only respond to the people who give them money," Weingart said. "There are certainly cases where they do that, but they (the activists) just should not assert that."

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