By Valerie D. Lockhart
SUN EXECUTIVE EDITOR
Show me the money!
It’s not only a popular phrase out of the Jerry Maguire film, but what some political candidates are asking their supporters to do to ensure their success in the primary race. So, who’s really holding the purse strings?
“Today’s elections seems to be geared around who can raise the most money to spend on elaborate ads,” said Deidre Watkins, of Detroit. “By keeping their names and faces in the public eye, it diverts attention from the issues at hand. People are still prone to vote based on name recognition, instead of what their candidate actually stands for.”
Although a recent congressional debate among Democrats for the 14th District seat sponsored by the League of Women Voters at Oakland Community College’s Farmington Hills campus gave attendees a brief glimpse at the candidates, it is their elaborate fundraisers and contributions that some candidates and their supporters are banking on to move them beyond the primary and general elections and into the House of Representatives.
“I’m proud of the fact that I have made personal calls and the majority of my money, 80 percent, has come from individuals who support me,” said Southfield Mayor and Congressional candidate Brenda Lawrence during the debate. “I’ve out fundraised all of the people who are sitting here, since I’ve been in the elections and that comes from the people who support you. Campaigning and fundraising should be about the voters wanting to support you to get you elected.”
According to the Federal Election Commission, Lawrence raised $225,089 from Oct 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014. The report also revealed that State Rep. Rudy Hobbs raised $371,402 and former Congressman Hansen Clarke raised $4,630. Financial reports for Burgess Foster were not available.
While two candidates lead the race in fundraising, they all agreed that caps should be placed on campaign fundraising and hope their individual messages will lead them in the polls.
“I believe that we should have caps,” said Hobbs. “It does cost money to communicate with voters. We have to make sure we have transparency. Everyone should be able to look at a campaign finance report and see where your money is coming from.”
Clarke used a biblical reference to express his views about campaign fundraising.
“It’s not money itself that is the evil. It’s love of money that’s the problem,” he explained. “It’s politicians’ obsession with raising money. They believe that’s the only way they can get their message out to win the election. As a citizen, we pay the price of a Congress that is not engaged at committee hearings. They have to go and raise money. They may talk a good game about the issues we need. They talk the game, but they won’t actually work on anything that will alienate their big funders.”
Candidate Foster, a teacher who says he’s in the race “to teach the Republicans a lesson”, wants to level the playing field by getting rid of funders and posed a challenge to his opponents.
“Who can get their message out to the people without one dollar being spent,” he asked, while admitting that he’s likely raised the least amount of funds out of all the candidates. “Try talking to people, knocking on doors, going to schools talking to people, and going to public forums. Then, you will see who is really a message leader or a money conduit who owes favors to people.”
But, not all political favors should be viewed negatively. The National Institute on Money in State Politics does the public a favor by offering a free nonpartisan listing of contributions to political campaigns in all 50 states at www.followthemoney.org.
Names of individuals and businesses offering financial support to a candidate and the amount given is listed.
“The Institute’s massive database is intended to inform public debate on state policy issues. Our perceptive researchers help people make sense of the numbers. The Institute publishes studies and provides technical assistance and training to reporters, academic researchers and public interest groups that work on state policy issues. The result today is substantive profiles on candidates and issues, insightful reports and reliable data for all 50 states,” notes members in their mission statement.
The report revealed that Lawrence’s campaign supporters include Roger S. Penske, Michael J. Morse, Tom Moran of Art Moran Buick GMC, Joumana Kayrouz, Pamela Rodgers of Rodgers Chevrolet and Lee Turner of Turner and Turner PC.
Hobbs’ supporters include Ozie Pye of Pye Funeral Home Florine Mark of Weight Watchers, Quicken Loans PAC, DTE Energy Co. PAC, Us Postal Service, Delta Airlines and Communication Workers of America.
Although the limit for donating as an individual is $2,600, some supporters gave donations under both their individual and business names.
While each candidate’s ability to resolve everyday concerns such as providing affordable housing, eliminating neighborhoods of blight and crime, offering job opportunities and ensuring equal rights to all citizens is questionable, citizens wonder how much influence their financial supporters will have on them making the right decision.
If elected to serve in Congress, the representative will earn $174,000 a year for two years causing some to question their motives for seeking this position and whose interests will they really serve.
“If you follow the money, it will likely lead you to whose interests they really serve,” added Watkins. “Instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on elaborate TV and radio commercials, why not invest that money into a community project to help the people that you’re serving. Pay a homeless person or someone who is unemployed to pick up all the litter in some of these neighborhoods. Pay them to board up abandoned homes and cut weed filled lots. If you can raise money to support your campaign, try raising it to support someone in need. Are you being controlled by the one holding the purse strings? Your actions will show who you’re really supporting.”
So, who’s following the leader?