Tectonic shift: On U.S. political funding

A key primary race in the U.S. presents a new demographic and campaign finance model.

A quiet but accelerating movement protesting the savage effects of corporate funding in politics appears to be under way within the broad swathe of the U.S. Democratic Party. This week it claimed its latest victim in the form of Congressman Joe Crowley of the House of Representatives, whose re-election campaign primary in New York bit the dust when 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez swept to victory. It was telling that, in sealing her win she spent a mere $200,000 compared to his $3.4 million war chest and won despite this being the first time in 14 years that Mr. Crowley, who is 56, faced a primary challenger. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s win will likely reverberate through the Democratic Party, and possibly put the Republicans on notice as well, for it was built on an entirely different ethos from the unfettered rein given to corporate America by the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court in 2010. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez rejected corporate donations throughout her campaign for the Democratic nomination to the House seat, arguing, “You can’t really beat big money with more money… You have to beat them with a totally different game.” She made it a different game regarding campaign finance, where she contrasted her strategy of connecting with communities to Mr. Crowley’s considerable donations from corporate Political Action Committees, and also seized the momentum on immigration.

President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” approach towards undocumented migrants on the southern border has resulted in the unconscionable separation of at least 2,300 children from their parents. While the separations are being vigorously challenged in court, energised progressives such as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez have gone on to call for the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, and to join protests at the child migrant detention facilities. When she emerged as the embodiment of these multiple strands of progressive politics, she gained tremendously from campaign endorsements by Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, PACs linked to socialist-Democrat candidate Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid. Firm in their rejection of dark pools of corporate money, Justice Democrats has officially endorsed 58 other candidates, some of whom have registered early victories in primaries, for the House and in one case for a gubernatorial race. However, there appear to be more forces at play than simply this eschewing of Wall Street bucks. In constituencies such as Queens and Bronx in New York, and innumerable such neighbourhoods across the U.S., a multi-racial, gender-balanced social fabric has taken hold, replacing an older white-centric, male-dominated space that threw up the political representatives demanded by the system. The Democratic Party would do well to look closely at these insurgencies and shifts occurring beneath its feet, and adapt to accommodate sparky leaders such as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. Their opponents across the aisle are anyway in a different mood.

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Printable version | May 25, 2020 6:52:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/tectonic-shift/article24282019.ece

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