Our Diverse America Deserves a More Representative Democracy

When Congress narrowly missed another government shutdown in December by passing the “cromnibus” bill, much of the press coverage focused on Capitol Hill’s ongoing dysfunction. However, buried inside the bill was yet another blow to campaign finance regulations, dramatically increasing the amount of money donors can give to political parties. A single couple can now give up to $3.1 million to a political party over a two-year election cycle, a six-fold increase.

Less than 1 percent of 1 percent of people have the means to take advantage of these eased rules, and therein lies the danger. This disparity means that most Americans lack the political capital to influence the policy decisions that affect their lives. As Demos’ foundational report Stacked Deck has shown, the priorities of those who can afford to write these large checks do not line up with the policy views and basic economic needs of the majority of Americans, such as restoring a strong minimum wage floor and adequately funding education. Indeed, wealthy interests are keenly focused on concerns, like keeping taxes low on capital gains, that are not shared by the rest of the American public and hinder broadly-shared prosperity.

Our latest investigation into the price we all pay for big donor dominance of elections reveals that people of color are vastly underrepresented in the donor class. This imbalance makes it easier for candidates for public office — of whatever race — to neglect the issues that matter to communities of color. It also means that people of color (who often lack access to donor networks) are less likely to run. When they do run, candidates of color raise just over half as much as their white counterparts. Ultimately, 90 percent of our elected leaders are white in a country where 37 percent of us are people of color. More than 1.2 million African Americans in 175 communities across the country have councils that do not descriptively represent them. The very real effects of this can be seen in Ferguson, Missouri, where African Americans make up about two-thirds of Ferguson’s population but hold just one of the six seats on its City Council.