Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=110265
Story Retrieval Date: 3/26/2015 2:10:59 PM CST
Your vote may keep your congressman in office, but it’s usually someone else’s dollars.
The typical congressional campaign spends about $1 million -- usually more if there is no incumbent and less if the seat is "safe" -- however, Chicago-area representatives raised only a fraction of that money from those who could vote for them.
More than three-quarters of the money raised by and donated to Chicago's congressmen comes from donors outside their congressional districts, according to campaign finance reports the officials are required to file.
Why outside-district money matters is an interesting question to many, and stems from the more basic question about whether elections should be publicly funded.
A report released in October by MAPLight.org found that donations to congressmen between January 2005 and December 2007 followed distinct patterns.
The report analyzed the street addresses of the donors to ascertain the congressional district in which they lived.
Nationwide, 79 percent of the total money raised came from outside a representative’s district.
“Most of the money that is raised in federal politics in the United States comes from New York and Los Angeles and urban centers,” said Paul Ryan, who works with the Federal Elections Commission’s Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C.
In MAPLight’s report, New York and California were ranked in the top five for contributions, but Washington, D.C. was ranked first, comprising 21 percent of campaign contributions. Virginia ranked second, in large part due to the suburbs of Washington.
Each of Chicago’s six representatives -- Rahm Emanuel, Danny Davis, Luis Gutierrez, Jesse Jackson Jr., Bobby Rush, Jan Schakowsky -- raised at least three-quarters of their money outside of their congressional district.
Of these six, all Democrats, Emanuel raised the most, $2.7 million, and he has held his position for the shortest amount of time, having just taken office in 2003. His high numbers reflect his increasingly influential role on the national political scene.
Because of that, he raised 98.6 percent of his money outside of his district; he is expected to resign his seat soon to take over as chief of staff once Barack Obama is sworn in as president.
Gutierrez raised the least money of any representative in the Chicago area and nationwide, accruing $222,124. Of the six, he has held his position the longest -- tied with Rush, who both took office in 1993.
The cost of running a successful campaign can be limitless.
Even though Chicago-area representatives rarely see a close race—Democratic candidates for congress rarely receive less than 70 percent of the vote—politicians still raise as much as possible, since, among other reasons, they can give the money to someone else in their party.
Even when a race is not competitive, money is still an influence, said Daniel Newman, co-founder and executive director of MAPLight.
Newman compared campaign fundraising to an arms race.
Candidates are constantly trying to raise more money than their opponent, even after they have saturated the television and radio stations with advertisements.
Fundraising and campaigning efforts can detract from time that elected officials can spend with their constituents, especially for members of the House of Representatives, all of whom are elected every other year.
“It’s clear that they don’t have an undivided allegiance to the voters, and instead a large part of their time, attention and effort are going to interest groups instead of the voters,” Newman said.
In September, the Illinois state house and senate unanimously passed a so-called pay-to-play ban, which bars state contractors with contracts of $50,000 or more from making any campaign contribution to a statewide officeholder.
That law will go into effect on Jan. 1, which is why Gov. Rod Blagojevich was allegedly racing the clock to raise money from firms who do business with the state before the year’s end.
Public financing programs have been growing in popularity across the country, but they are often met with powerful opposition.
“That’s because the big-money donors that benefit from the current system don’t want their influence to be reduced,” Newman said.
Ryan says that the way the programs are portrayed is part of the problem.
“When an opponent of public financing is attempting to fight the enactment of a public financing system program,” Ryan said, “they label it ‘Welfare for Politicians,’ which is a catchphrase that resonates with voters.”
Many voters balk at the idea of their tax dollars going toward politicians’ campaigns, but Ryan said limits on spending and the removal of private contributions are popular viewpoints.
All six congressional offices were contacted; all six did not comment.