Monday, June 26, 2006

"Street Money" and Georgia Politics

There's an 800 pound gorilla that sits squarely in the middle of Democratic politics in Georgia. Virtually daily, I am hearing about who is being paid by whom to do field work for various candidates. Real field work is a legitimate, legal and necessary campaign expense. But whether it's called "Street Money", "Gas Money", or "Walking Around Money", sometimes with a wink and a nod, politicians or those who work for them sometimes put large sums of money in the hands of key political contacts to facilitate voter contact and GOTV. Too often, a great deal of that money stays in the contacts possession while little actually trickles out to the street.

Candidates sometimes get what they pay for, and other times, their signs end up in the dump and their literature never makes it out of the car. (I know of one situation where people were paid to canvass and produced tracking sheets showing contact with a recently deceased person, not yet purged from the voter file.) In any given community, locals who are plugged in politically know who the folks are who do this work and know the benefit in paying them and the price of not playing the game.

Some who do this work are really very capable and experienced. They hit the street, touch the voters and get them to the polls. This is a valuable skill at election time and not one taught in your Poly Sci 101 class. Some, however, take money and never intend to do much work, or worse, some take money and consider that payment for not taking your signs down. And sometimes it is a game, with people holding out for the highest bidder in any given race. The question is, where's the line between paying for voter contact and buying voter loyalty? And beyond what line is the candidate actually buying votes?

The idea that a person will be loyal, politically, to the candidate who is willing to put money in their hand is disgusting to me. But, I am a realist, and know that some people can be bought. When I raised this issue with a friend of mine, she said, "You can't be squeamish and stay around politics." She then informed me that when a certain Democrat ran for President, the money came into Georgia in brown paper bags. And I believe her.

Campaign finance reform can never touch the shadowy world of Street Money. While this can be done legally, and legitimately, I suggest that often, it is not. What do you think about this political tradition, and what would you do if you discovered that a candidate you supported was putting money in the bank accounts of the "right" people in order to secure loyalty? Is this an unseemly "given" of Georgia politics?

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