Even though I’m from Kansas, it’s not often that I find myself inspired by a quote from Bob Dole.
But, on page 148 of the really fascinating book So Damn Much Money, about the role of money in the distortion of the political process, Dole is quoted decrying the ways in which Political Action Committees (in 1982, a relatively new innovation) were influencing policy decisions:
“Poor people don’t make campaign contributions.”
Now, I grant that that’s a rather obvious statement by then-Senator Dole.
But it makes me wonder:
What I mean is, at the same time that advocates for social justice take on the current judicial and regulatory structures that allow for such a significant infusion of money into the political process (which, of course, should absolutely be a critical advocacy issue for those who are committed to legislation that reflects the needs of now-marginalized communities), should we find a way to work within the “world as it is”, and start a “Poor People PAC”?
I know…it’s immoral to think about diverting money that could be spent on direct assistance for low-income people to campaigning for policymakers sympathetic to their needs.
Except we do it all the time when we hire fundraisers or organize special events–there we think of it as investing, spending money so we can make money.
And most of us social workers don’t object to the organization of a PAC by the National Association of Social Workers (except that it focuses more on issues of social work professional licensure and reimbursement, although there is arguably considerable overlap between those sympathetic to our profession and those committed to the issues we address).
So why not?
It doesn’t require denying the inherent problems in the system as it’s organized today, any more than registering as a lobbyist requires pretending that all lobbyists are committed to the public good.
It just says that, while the system works this way, we want it to work for the very people who need it most.
It wouldn’t take that much money, I don’t think, to begin to change the way that elected officials viewed the concerns of people in poverty and those who work with them: a few fundraisers, some well-placed $1,000 contributions, and a focus on accountability to the constituencies and the issues of those in need.
It might reinvigorate the democratic process for those who are understandably disenamored of its exclusion of those without the money to pay the “access fee”–if people in poverty interviewed candidates to decide who would get their endorsement (and their contributions), they might see themselves more legitimately as stakeholders in the process who deserve authentic representation.
What do you think? Is this an area where nonparticipation is the only ethical option? Or is a PAC for the poor an idea worth exploring?