Express-Times

Blacks' Political Voices Stifled

Whites Out-Donate Blacks, Report Finds

The Express-Times — Friday, February 6, 2004

By TERRENCE DOPP
The Express-Times

TRENTON — Race and class have conspired to deny New Jersey's minorities a voice in politics, according to a political watchdog group.

New Jersey's blacks are shut out of the political process because whites outspend them 85-to-1 in political donations, according to "Color of Money," a report issued by New Jersey Citizen Action.

Group organizers said race and class are interrelated across the nation, with minority-dominated communities often poorer than those with mostly white residents.

"The bottom line is that money is the name of the game," said Steve Bonime, campaign finance organizer with Citizen Action. "If you accept the premise that it takes money to win an election, that's why $48 million was spent in the last general. Whoever has the most money on their side wins."

Bonime and the group have called for publicly funded elections, which are currently found only in Maine and Arizona.

"You're either wealthy or you have someone investing in you that expects a return on their investment," he said. "Whether it's class or culture, the rules of the game should be changed."

Among the report's findings:

"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, head of the NAACP New Jersey Voter Fund.

The public financing system works by requiring candidates to raise a set amount of campaign seed money. After that, they can then share in a pool of state funding.

Under the proposal being advanced by Bonime, candidates would be able to opt out of public financing.

Assemblyman Michael Doherty, R-Hunterdon/Warren, said he would need to see any public financing legislation before commenting on it. Doherty said he spent approximately $20,000 in the last primary – only about half of that spent by opponent Chuck Haytaian.

In the Republican-dominated 23rd District, the primary election is often the true contest, leaving the November run-off as little more than a formality.

"You do not need a great amount of money," Doherty said. "Hard work is the equalizer."

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