The Trentonian

Whites Outspending Minorities

The Trentonian — Monday, February 9, 2004

By Charles Webster
Staff Writer

Most people that look at money see green.

Politicians in New Jersey see white — Caucasian White.

According to the "Color of Money" study released by New Jersey Citizen Action, whites in the Garden State outspent blacks and Latinos by huge margins in the 2003 elections.

For every dollar a member of the black community donated to a political cause a white person donated $85. Latinos were outspent 50-to-1, by their white counterparts, according to the study.

"Obviously, this is a problem," said Sen. Ron Rice, D-Newark, head of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus. "It’s a problem, not just because New Jersey citizens do not have equal pull with their elected officials. It is a problem because New Jersey’s elected officials were elected to serve the people – not the people with all the money."

Political candidates in New Jersey raised more than $75 million last year. A figure many politicians view as obscene, but necessary.

"It is an obscene amount of money being raised," Turner said. "And its not being contributed out of some sense of altruism. That money is being donated because they expect something in return."

Turner believes that’s how minorities get locked out of the debate in Garden State politics. Whites are far more likely to live above the poverty line, but conversely blacks and Latinos are more likely to live below the poverty line.
"It’s a fact of political life that you have to raise money to get elected," said Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Lawrence. "Money talks."

But it is accepted in political circles that big lobbying firms, millionaires, businessmen and anyone else with a fat wallet get the ears of politicians who benefit from big donations.

The New Jersey Citizen Action study showed that 90 percent of that money came from predominantly white communities, while only 1.8 percent came from primarily Latino communities and only 1.1 percent from the black community.

The study argues that, "most people of color have less wealth and lower incomes than white people. As a result, they have less money available to contribute to candidates."

That does not surprise Turner.

"The ones that have the money contribute the money," she said. "Working people are trying to eke out a living."

In nine of the 10 largely Latino communities, and the top 24 mostly black communities in New Jersey, the average state election contribution was less than $1.

But up in Oldwick, which is 99 percent white, the average donation was nearly $77 per person.

"Considering the power of money to influence the decisions of those candidates it helps to elect, communities of color and poverty are virtually left out of the legislative process due to their inability to pay the price of admission," said Staci Berger, New Jersey Citizen Action program director.

According to the study, Trenton residents in the mostly black 08608 zip code contributed $41,470 to political campaigns last year, compared to the $341,396.89 doled out by the largely white 08540 zip code in Princeton.

But the study concluded that three areas in the state – including Trenton’s 08608 zip code – were skewed by activity that occurs within the area. The study eliminated the data from those skewed areas, because donations in the by large West State Street lobbying firms were responsible for nearly all the contributions emanating out of 08608.

"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 study concluded that there is a "viable solution to the problem," recommending the state follow the lead of Maine and Arizona, where candidates are financed by public funds.

For the past six years since Turner took her seat in the state senate, she has introduced a bill that would bring New Jersey elections in line with the public funding mechanisms already in place in Arizona and Maine.

But each session, the bill is introduced, sent to committee and never emerges for a debate.

"It would go a long way in terms of leveling the playing field," Turner said. "It would make a difference for the people who might want to challenge an incumbent, but don’t have the funds. They’re not the Jon Corzines or others of the world who use their own money to get elected."

Top Top | NJCA Homepage | NJCA in the News