The Real Question is Why an Alvin Greene

The Real Question is Why an Alvin Greene

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Democrats, political pundits, and much of the media have snooped and pried around trying to get the goods on Alvin Greene, an unemployed Army veteran who surprised the nation by winning the Democratic nomination for US Senator in South Carolina.

But the right question is not who is and who put up Greene. The question is why an Alvin Greene? This shouldn’t take any head scratching. Voters aren’t dumb. They sniff the horrid stench of the dollar taint that’s transformed American elections into a billionaire’s derby. They want no part of it and stay home. On occasion, they thumb their nose at the Republican and Democratic Party’s and the special-interest-anointed picks and vote for a political nobody such as Greene. But let’s say he is a plant, and GOP dirty trick operatives funneled money to him to run. Despite prodigious efforts neither has been proven. But let’s just suppose. He still got the votes, lots of them, and he didn’t arm them to vote for him. The votes he got cut across racial lines (no race card here since Greene was unknown and there were no pictures on the ballot).

If South Carolina and national Democrats had been smart, instead of screeching for federal investigations, ranting about a GOP plant, and threatening to void the election, they could have spun Greene from a political laughingstock (or rather the Democrat’s political laughingstock) to a Don King-like parody: “Only in the Democratic Party could a nonentity emerge as a real people’s choice.” This would require imagination. And that’s nowhere to be found in the tight-knit, set in stone, money and influence controlled elections. Greene is a total foreign concept to the way politics is done.

This past election hundreds of incumbents for state, local and even Congressional offices ran unopposed. Barely two out of ten eligible voters bothered to vote. Tens of millions more eligible voters have thrown in the towel on voting. The money taint is solely to blame. The US Public Interest Research Group looked at election outcomes for incumbent, challenger, and open seat candidates for US House from 1992-2006. Non-incumbent candidates needed a minimum of $700,000 to $1 million to be competitive. Less than one percent of the candidates who failed to hit the minimum money mark won and only five percent of the underfinanced candidates won in open seat elections. Overall, 75 percent of non-incumbents raised less, in most cases, far less, than the threshold $700,000. All lost.

Money in all cases made the crucial difference, not just in who wound up in the electoral win column, but who even chose to run. According to Federal Elections Commission data, major party Congressional candidates who raised the most money won 90 percent of their primary races in 2002. Winning candidates out-raised their opponents by a margin of more than 4-to-1, with the winners raising an average of $464,000 and losers raising $99,000. The numbers haven’t changed in the past decade.

The FEC data showed that less than one percent of voting age Americans made a contribution to a candidate of $500 or more, these large donations accounted for about 90 percent of itemized individual contributions received by primary candidates. More than 70 percent of contributions came at or above the $1,000 level, while less than one percent of voting age Americans made a $1000 contribution.

President Obama’s winning presidential campaign fed the notion that a candidate for top office can win with the nickels and dimes of many small donors. Obama did a phenomenal job raising money from small donors, but according to the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, slightly more than one-quarter of his contributions came from people whose total donations added up to less than $200. The rest were from the usual suspects, Wall Street, banking, and corporate PACs, wealthy donors, labor unions, and associations.

Their high-priced lobbyists and political consultants craft public policy and broker thousands of deals that shape, mold, kill, and enact laws favorable or unfavorable to their industries. Greene’s GOP Senate rival, Jim DeMint, is a textbook example of the confluence of money and political influence. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, from 2001 to 2006, DeMint raised over $10 million from major banking, communications, transportation health, real estate, and legal firms.

The payoff and expectation is direct and transparent. DeMint sits on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and Environment and Public Works, and the Special Aging committees. Greene may be the stooge that everyone thinks, but in an interview he told this writer, “In the end, it’s not about the money in the bank. It’s the votes that count and the issues.”

Greene proved that, and the Democrats loath it, and will do everything to make sure a nomination like his doesn’t happen again.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).

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