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Hispanics Lag In Donating To Campaigns
Hispanics pivotal in winning races: candidates
covet their votes, money
by Rafael Lorente
October 3, 1999
Copyright © 1999 SUN-SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.
WASHINGTON -- Candidates from the presidential race down to the
local level are making a pitch for Hispanic voters, especially
in key states such as Florida and California.
But the rush to court voters masks a cold political fact: Hispanics
are practically invisible when it comes to raising the cash that
finances campaigns and sometimes enhances access to elected officials.
A study of campaign-finance records by the Sun-Sentinel shows
that Hispanics, who make up almost 12 percent of the overall population,
accounted for less than 2 percent of individual campaign contributions
to federal candidates and political committees during the 1998
elections. That amounts to less than $10 million out of the more
than $640 million given by individuals to federal candidates and
other political committees in 1997-98.
The consequences of not participating in the financing of elections,
according to political observers and campaign experts, is that
Hispanics have less access to elected officials, less of an ability
to push the issues of importance to them and more trouble getting
Hispanics elected to public office.
"If you're not giving campaign contributions and you're not
being vocal through other means, such as membership organizations
or lobbying, you're invisible," said Larry Makinson, executive
director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan
One of the few exceptions to the national rule is the Sunshine
State, where Hispanics contributed almost 5 percent, or almost
$1.5 million of the $31 million given by Floridians to federal
candidates during the 1998 elections. More than $960,000 of the
Hispanic money came from Miami-Dade County.
Florida's Hispanics, who account for 15 percent of the state's
15 million people, gave more money to federal candidates for the
1998 elections than their brethren from any other state or territory.
That is the case even though Florida's Hispanic population ranks
fourth in the country behind California, Texas and New York. In
terms of Hispanic campaign contributions, Florida was followed
by California, Texas, Puerto Rico, New York and New Jersey.
Don't take part? Don't complain
"The Hispanic community needs to get off its duff and become
a player," said Al Cardenas, the Cuban-born chairman of the
Florida Republican Party.
Cardenas said Hispanics need to participate more if they expect
their concerns to be taken seriously. Communities that do not
participate cannot complain if things do not go their way, he
Not giving to political campaigns is not unique to Hispanics.
But the lack of Hispanic participation in the financing of campaigns
stands in stark contrast to the importance Hispanic voters have
gained in the eyes of politicians in the last year. Hispanics
turned out in record numbers around the country last November,
influencing key races in Florida, New York and California. That
kind of turnout, which helped Republicans in some places and Democrats
in others, has candidates and political parties openly courting
Hispanic voters in hopes of getting them permanently in their
"Whoever can organize the Hispanic vote is going to change
politics in this country," said Dane Strother, a Democratic
political consultant in Washington, D.C. "I think it's really
up for grabs."
Hispanic political power is only going to grow. By 2010, Hispanics
are expected to make up 14 percent of the country's population.
That number will jump to 25 percent by 2050. Hispanics are concentrated
in California, Florida, New York, Texas and Illinois, which represent
166 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.
Last November, Hispanics accounted for 5.2 percent of all ballots
cast, up from 3.7 percent in 1992, according to exit polls. Although
most Hispanics, with the exception of South Florida's Cuban-Americans,
tend to favor Democrats at the polls, both parties had success
with Hispanics at the polls in November.
Money means access and influence
But candidates who speak Spanish have not turned Hispanics into
huge political donors. Even George W. Bush, who has brought in
record amounts of cash from individuals across the country, has
not made major inroads with Hispanics. Through the first six months
of 1999, Hispanics had given the Texas governor and presidential
candidate about 2 percent, or $735,000 of the $35 million in individual
contributions analyzed by the Sun-Sentinel.
Democrat Gore has not fared better, with Hispanics giving him
less than 3 percent, or $455,000 of the $16 million in contributions
the newspaper analyzed. Other presidential candidates have done
Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute,
a California think tank that explores Hispanic issues, says Hispanics
need to participate at every level of the political process. He
points to groups such as the Cuban American National Foundation
in Miami, which raises and contributes money and therefore has
access in Washington.
"A mark of influence in Washington or Sacramento or Tallahassee
is who returns your calls," Pachon said.
Pachon said the lack of money often hurts Hispanic candidates
who come from predominantly Hispanic areas. Many are forced to
go outside their districts to finance their campaigns, which can
cost upwards of $1 million in a California congressional race.
While outside money can be gravy to a candidate who is well financed
locally, it may be the only way a candidate from a Hispanic area
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, who benefits from a strong
fund-raising base in Miami's Hispanic community, insists local
financial support is the reason he is in Congress. "People
from other areas of the country support you, but never to the
extent that your community supports you," he said.
The importance of contributing
Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., is chairwoman of Hispanic Unity USA,
a political action committee that has raised $500,000 since May
and hopes to raise $2 million to $4 million by November 2000.
The money will go to Hispanic candidates and candidates who support
issues important to Hispanics.
Sanchez said part of the PAC's job is to help educate Hispanics
about the importance of contributing to campaigns. So far, the
PAC and its pleas for money have been received well by Hispanics
and non-Hispanics, she said. She said she tries to talk to people
about issues important to Hispanics. She tries to explain the
connection between contributions and electing candidates who are
sensitive to Hispanic concerns.
Divisive issues like the anti-immigrant propositions of a few
years ago in California usually draw more Hispanic money into
campaigns, Sanchez said. She hopes a PAC that gives money based
on issues Hispanics care about might do the same and also get
the attention of candidates.
"When you have a PAC that can raise $2 million or $4 million
in an election cycle, people have to worry about more than our
vote," Sanchez said.
Pat Harrison, the Republican National Committee co-chairman, is
actively trying to get women and minorities involved. The challenge
is to convince people to write the first check, even if it's small,
so they will see that getting involved has it benefits. "You
can get involved for such a minimal level," Harrison said.
"You start feeling connected. And you know what? If you don't
like it, don't write another check."