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Press release/statement

New Demos Report Underscores Racial Bias in American Campaign Finance System

(New York, NY) – On the heels of the nation’s most expensive mid-term election cycle, where federal political spending hit a $3.7 billion high, the national public policy organization Demos released a new report that examines the inherent racial bias in our big money political system.

A follow-up to Demos’ foundational report, Stacked Deck: How the Racial Bias in our Big Money Political System Undermines Our Democracy and Our Economy highlights how politics driven by wealthy donors holds back our nation’s struggle for racial equity.

“Our first report looked broadly at how wealthy donors use their political power to stall economic mobility for middle class and working families,” said Adam Lioz, Counsel and Senior Advisor at Demos and author of the study. “We found significant disparities between the policy preferences of the general public and the priorities of the donor class. In this report, we focus specifically on how funding political campaigns primarily with large contributions from wealthy donors harms communities of color, resulting in racially biased outcomes and policies such as discriminatory mortgage lending and the declining real value of the federal minimum wage.”

The report also finds that big money politics undermines fair representation and erects barriers to candidates of color engaging in the democratic process at the very beginning.

“Candidates of color find it more difficult to run for office because fewer have access to a broad network of donors who can afford to give $1,000 or more to help launch a campaign,” said Lioz.  “When they do run, they raise significantly less money than their white counterparts – particularly in the South.”

Key findings include:

  • The top 10 percent of wealth holders are more than 90 percent white, whereas the rest of the country is less than 70 percent white
  • More than 90 percent of $200+ federal contributions in the 2012 election cycle came from majority white neighborhoods
  • Ninety percent of our elected leaders are white, despite the fact that people of color are 37 percent of the U.S. population

The report also includes policy recommendations to help make government more inclusive, such as a constitutional amendment to reduce the role of money in politics, a wholesale change to the Supreme Court’s approach to the issue, and matching small political contributions with public funds. It features five case studies detailing the real-world impact of money in politics on people of color and examples of solutions to create a fairer system:

  • Private prisons and mass incarceration – how policies are boosting the bottom line of the growing private prison industry
  • The subprime lending crisis – how banks and other mortgage lenders used millions of dollars of political contributions and lobbying to weaken and circumvent consumer-friendly regulations, resulting in the largest loss of wealth in communities of color in American history 
  • The minimum wage – why Congress has prioritized policies favored by the wealthy over raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, which would lift more than 3.5 million workers of color out of poverty
  • Paid sick leave – why a Connecticut paid sick leave proposal was bottled up in the Connecticut legislature until the state passed a “fair elections” system, and why this policy would disproportionately benefit Latino workers
  • Voting rights in Minnesota – how TakeAction Minnesota is organizing people in communities of color to defeat restrictions on the freedom to vote and expand the franchise for formerly incarcerated people

Stacked Deck: How the Racial Bias in Our Big Money Political System Undermines Our Democracy and Our Economy is the companion piece to Demos’ foundational report, Stacked Deck: How the Dominance of Politics by the Affluent & Business Undermines Economic Mobility in America. The original report, released in 2013, revealed the connection between political inequality and economic mobility, highlighting the donor class’ outsized influence through political spending and civic participation advantages.


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