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Barack Obama - in trouble for not paying "street money"?

 
 
nimh
 
Reply Fri 18 Apr, 2008 08:36 pm
Short version: the Obama campaign is refusing to hand out so-called "street money" (or "walk-about money") to local residents in places like Philadelphia to leaflet or canvas for it; it's a volunteer-only campaign.

The "street money" practice is one that goes way back, and local politicians and experienced organisers say that Obama's decision to not give any will offend the locals and diminish his chances. Plus, they add, it takes away a source of a little extra money that's gratefully anticipated in poor black neighbourhoods.

The Obama campaign, however, has been consistently principled about not handing out street money in other states as well. In general, it has relied on whole new organisational structures, newly built parallel to the old machine-style politics that dominate the local field operations of political campaigns. Plus, it has no lack of volunteers in any case.

This is the story that plays out now in Pennsylvania - see:

Barack Obama may lose support in Philadelphia over 'street money'

That's the short version; long version will follow in the post below Smile

What do you think?
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blueflame1
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Apr, 2008 08:40 pm
Change.
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nimh
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Apr, 2008 08:43 pm
Back when the Democratic candidates were building their campaigns in South Carolina, the Wall Street Journal, of all papers, published an in-depth, revealing portrait of the grassroots dynamics developing on neighbourhood and town level.

It's still online on a conservative site: In South, Democrats' Tactics May Change Political Game. Fascinating stuff.

Partly out of necessity, the Obama campaign basically reinvented campaigning in the state. Hillary Clinton's network reached far and wide, and could call on a generation of black politicians and community leaders firmly tied in with the Clinton presidency of the 90s. The local councillors, the reverends - they were massively for Clinton, and traditionally, their recommendations steered the vote.

Obama, on his side, had only volunteers. Loads of them -- but many without any political experience, and mostly without access to the traditional levers of community power. Obama's top campaign coordinator in the state was a 29-year old, white, Midwestern labor organiser.

The WSJ reporter went on the road with one 22-year old Obama volunteer, fresh out of university, no political experience, who was assigned the expansive Lower Richland County district that was the constituency of Bernice Scott, the first black woman to head the Richland County Council, and a Hillary backer:

Quote:

Seems hopeless? Yet Obama overwhelmingly won the black vote in the state, his biggest margin of victory was in Richland County, and in Eastover, he got 605 votes against 282 for Hillary. (link).

It was, in short, a true culture clash.

One of the features of that culture clash, little remarked upon at the time, was the Obama campaign's refusal to pay so-called "street money":

Quote:


This issue, it appears, now returns to the forefront in Philadelphia, with an eye on the upcoming primary. See the news report below.

Obama vs Old Machine Politics - it's an attractive storyline.

Will his army of motivated volunteers, enthused about a new era of "clean politics", tide over the area like in SC, and make the whole "street money" thing instantly seem like redundant "old politics"?

What if not - if he falls short, and doesnt get the massive majority he needs in Philly to come close to Hillary's numbers state-wide? Will the decision to shun practices like street money seem like a hill it was worth dying on, or will it look a little reckless in retrospect?

What about the decision to not hand out street money itself? It seems like a great example of his new, clean, conscientious approach to politics. Sure feels like that to me! That sentiment also comes through clearly in the WSJ report.

But the article below also throws light on the other side of the story. Makes it even, at times, seem somewhat heartless of the Obama campaign; and indirectly perhaps hints at the class gap that exists even among blacks when it comes to support for Obama (a subject analysed in, again, the WSJ). Made me think in a more nuanced way about it.

What do you think?

Quote:
Barack Obama may lose support in Philadelphia over 'street money'

Candidates traditionally get out the money to get out the vote. That sets up a culture clash for the April 22 primary.

Los Angeles Times
April 11, 2008

Fourteen months into a campaign that has the feel of a movement, Sen. Barack Obama has collided with the gritty political traditions of Philadelphia, where ward bosses love their candidates, but also expect them to pay up.

The dispute centers on the dispensing of "street money," a long-standing Philadelphia ritual in which candidates deliver cash to the city's Democratic operatives in return for getting out the vote.

Flush with payments from well-funded campaigns, the ward leaders and Democratic Party bosses typically spread out the cash in the days before the election, handing $10, $20 and $50 bills to the foot soldiers and loyalists who make up the party's workforce.

It is all legal -- but Obama's people are telling the local bosses he won't pay.

That sets up a culture clash, pitting a candidate who promises to transform American politics against the realities of a local political system important to his presidential hopes. Pennsylvania holds its primary April 22.

Obama's posture confounds neighborhood political leaders sympathetic to his cause. They caution that if the senator from Illinois withholds money that gubernatorial, mayoral and presidential candidates have willingly paid out for decades, there could be defections to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. And the Clinton campaign, in contrast, will oblige in forking over the money, these ward leaders predict.

"We've heard directly from the Obama organizer who organizes our ward, and he told us it's an entirely volunteer organization and that I should not expect to see anything from the Obama campaign other than ads on TV and the support that volunteers are giving us," said Greg Paulmier, a ward leader in the northwest part of the city.

Neither the Clinton nor the Obama campaign would say publicly whether it would comply with Philadelphia's street money customs. But an Obama aide said Thursday that it had never been the campaign's practice to make such payments. Rather, the campaign's focus is to recruit new people drawn to Obama's message, the aide said.

The field operation "hasn't been about tapping long-standing political machinery," the aide said.

Carol Ann Campbell, a ward leader and Democratic superdelegate who supports Obama, estimated that the amount of street money Obama would need to lay out for election day is $400,000 to $500,000.

"This is a machine city, and ward leaders have to pay their committee people," Campbell said. "Barack Obama's campaign doesn't pay workers, and I guarantee you if they don't put up some money for those street workers, those leaders will most likely take Clinton money. It won't stop him from winning Philadelphia, but he won't come out with the numbers that he needs" to win the state.

A neutral observer, state Rep. Dwight Evans, whose district is in northwest Philadelphia, said there might be a racial subtext to the dispute. Ward leaders, he said, see Obama airing millions of dollars worth of television ads in the city -- money that benefits largely white station owners, feeding resentment. People wonder why Obama isn't sharing the largesse with the largely African American field workers trying to get him elected, Evans said.

"They view it that the white people are getting all the money for TV," said Evans, an African American and former ward leader. "And they're the ones who are the foot soldiers on the street. They're predominantly African Americans, and they're not the ones who are getting that TV money."

Hardscrabble neighborhoods across the city have come to depend on street money as a welcome payday for knocking on doors, handing out leaflets and speaking to voters as they arrive at polling places.

Peter Wilson, a ward leader from West Philadelphia, said: "Most of the ward leaders, we live in a very poor area, and people look forward to election days ... People are astute. They know the Obama campaign has raised millions of dollars."

Street money is an enduring political practice in Philadelphia and cities including Chicago, Baltimore, Newark and Los Angeles.

In Jon Corzine's successful race in 2000 for the U.S. Senate, people from out of state poured into New Jersey to be part of a huge get-out-the-vote operation. Some were paid $75 apiece in street money, as part of the well-funded Corzine campaign's election day efforts.

In the 2004 presidential race, John F. Kerry's campaign paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in street money to Philadelphia's Democratic apparatus, according to city party veterans. [..]

Before the 2002 state elections, a reporter watched two practitioners of the street-money arts in action: Campbell and U.S. Rep. Robert A. Brady, a ward leader and chair of Philadelphia's Democratic committee.

Brady was sitting in his campaign office with two of his political lieutenants. He reached into a desk drawer at one point and pulled out a $50 bill -- street money. Brady tore it in two and gave each man a half. Then the men made a bet: Whoever pulled in the most Democratic votes that day from his precincts would get both halves.

The night before that vote, Campbell, sitting at a kitchen table in a retirement community in West Philadelphia, spent hours passing out street money to various Democratic committee people. She kept receipts, working with stacks of cash. Campbell would give $10 to local teenagers assigned to put leaflets in doorways. And she paid out $100 to each of the committee people in her jurisdiction.

Ward leaders say such payments defray expenses such as food and gasoline, and compensate people for a grueling election day.

It is unclear to what extent Obama may suffer at the polls if any part of the city's Democratic apparatus jumps to Clinton.

Obama's strategy in Pennsylvania depends on a strong turnout in the city's black precincts. That way, he can cut into the advantage Clinton has among older and blue-collar voters elsewhere in the state.

Campbell said she could not in good conscience ask people to work for Obama for free.

"I'm not going to do that," said Campbell, who heads a coalition of black ward leaders. "There are a lot of poor people here."

Paulmier said that of his ward's 48 committee people, the vast majority supported Obama. Though he doesn't expect a wholesale exodus to the Clinton campaign if no street money is paid, a handful of those key people might bolt, he said.

"If word gets out that the Clinton campaign is going to make . . . more support available to committee people, maybe five of the 48 might defect," he said.

With a week and a half left before the election, political leaders hope that Obama will relent.

Garry Williams, a ward leader based in north-central Philadelphia, said that he had not heard directly that the Obama campaign was withholding money. But he said payment would be needed. Workers who are in the field for Obama on April 22 will put in days stretching from 12 to 16 hours, he said.

"It's our tradition," Williams said. "You don't come to someone's house and change the rules of someone's house. That's just respect."
0 Replies
 
fishin
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Apr, 2008 08:44 pm
I'm inclined to say "Good for him!".

I've seen a few ads loooking for people to work the streets for candidates in the past on Craigslist and have always found it a little distasteful that the person handing out flyers and canvassing neighborhoods is doing it because they're getting paid $15/hr to do it and they may not even be a supporter of the candidate they are working for.
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snood
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Apr, 2008 08:45 pm
Well, I'm just a brainwashed drone of the unthinking and lemming-like Obama worshipping out-of-touch elitist crowd so my opinion doesn't count.

But, I think its indicative of some of the same integrity that attracted me to him as a candidate.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Apr, 2008 08:56 pm
fishin wrote:
I'm inclined to say "Good for him!".

I've seen a few ads loooking for people to work the streets for candidates in the past on Craigslist and have always found it a little distasteful that the person handing out flyers and canvassing neighborhoods is doing it because they're getting paid $15/hr to do it and they may not even be a supporter of the candidate they are working for.

Totally. I've put in enough hours distributing leaflets door to door for my party to believe that you shouldnt have to pay people for it. That's part of what helps parties with strong roots and passionate support, right - that they have the people willing to pound the pavement. I think it's good that such differences have an effect!

If the party just hires people to leaflet or canvas for it, well.. it feels like circumverting the rules of democracy or something?

But then, considering the amount of money that does the rounds in a modern political campaign anyway, "street money" is just peanuts. So I can also kinda see how locals would say, look it - if the media fat cats get to have loads of money shoved their way during a campaign, if money plays such a big role in a campaign now anyway, why should we, of all people, the grunts at the bottom, do it all for free?

Well, I can see it, kinda, but I could never see myself saying it... I mean, it's kind of like when I read, last year, about a union hiring people to picket a factory during a strike. That's just such a total subversion of the whole meaning of it all in the first place...

But then, easy for me to say, maybe... But yes, definitely lean the same way.
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nimh
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Apr, 2008 08:57 pm
snood wrote:
Well, I'm just a brainwashed drone of the unthinking and lemming-like Obama worshipping out-of-touch elitist crowd so my opinion doesn't count.

Shocked

Did that refer to anything I wrote, or did that just come totally out of nowhere?
0 Replies
 
snood
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Apr, 2008 05:50 am
nimh wrote:
snood wrote:
Well, I'm just a brainwashed drone of the unthinking and lemming-like Obama worshipping out-of-touch elitist crowd so my opinion doesn't count.

Shocked

Did that refer to anything I wrote, or did that just come totally out of nowhere?


Has nothing to do with anything you wrote... why would you think that? It has everything to do with a sarcastic aside to those who characterize Obama supporters like that, while still answering the launch post question, "what do you think?"
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Apr, 2008 06:01 am
Hey, good issue.

I read about the Philly stuff but didn't know that it was also an issue in South Carolina... interesting!

Because yeah, I've been worried about what the effect would be on Obama's campaign in PA. So it's reassuring that it wasn't disastrous in SC.

I've approached Hillary people before (people standing around with placards) with intention to talk to them and have been brushed off with "We're just paid, ma'am." (Maybe it's just a line, keep away the cranks. :-))

When it comes to people who support Obama anyway AND could use the money, I do waver a bit. (The stuff about "giving the money to rich white cable owners instead of spreading it around in the 'hood," or however it was phrased.) But it does seem like a fundamentally corrupt practice, and one that rewards the campaign with the most money. Obama's campaign is currently the one with the most money, but he doesn't have to further the system.

I think what it comes down to is whether he actually loses votes over this, or if the people who would want to be paid will grumble but ultimately prefer to vote for him anyway.

(I'm still volunteering in OH btw, I thought that once the primaries were over that was pretty much that until/ unless he got the nomination and general election stuff starts, but there is all sorts of stuff going on re: PA and IN still.)
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Bi-Polar Bear
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Apr, 2008 06:06 am
It sure doesn't say much for those individuals living there... change, give me change.... but not if I have to give up my "street money"....
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Apr, 2008 06:11 am
From the Philadelphia Inquirer (April 17, pages B1/B16

Quote:
Daniel Rubin: A little lesson in WAM 101

What's all this talk about walking-around money? And, more important, where's mine?
First, the Los Angeles Times reports that the Barack Obama campaign says it won't pass out street cash for primary day, and Philadelphia ward leaders warn that their foot soldiers could defect to Hillary Rodham Clinton. The story is picked up nationwide.

Then the Clinton people say they, too, aren't reaching into their wallets. To every reporter who will listen, and there are many, ward leaders and committee people use this as an occasion to ask for money. They're not dumb.

But I'm confused. This is a presidential primary. When have there ever been wheelbarrows of street money to get out the vote for a presidential primary? The national media were looking for another of those Throwing Snowballs at Santa stories. And in the process, Philadelphia pols managed to get their pictures taken sticking their hands out.

I needed to know what to think. So I called a local expert for guidance.

... ... ...
0 Replies
 
snood
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Apr, 2008 07:32 am
Bi-Polar Bear wrote:
It sure doesn't say much for those individuals living there... change, give me change.... but not if I have to give up my "street money"....


For someone who "stopped giving a shyt long ago" about this race, you sure don't stfu about it.
0 Replies
 
Bi-Polar Bear
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Apr, 2008 07:38 am
snood wrote:
Bi-Polar Bear wrote:
It sure doesn't say much for those individuals living there... change, give me change.... but not if I have to give up my "street money"....


For someone who "stopped giving a shyt long ago" about this race, you sure don't stfu about it.


I rarely comment anymore... largely due to you and a few others and the giant chip on your shoulder....... but as you are so fond of saying.... you don't tell me what to do and not do and I'll post anytime I like.... although not about or to you.
0 Replies
 
revel
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Apr, 2008 08:16 am
nimh; wish there was an option in the poll of not caring either way. I didn't even know there was such a thing to get all worked up about.
0 Replies
 
Finn dAbuzz
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Apr, 2008 12:20 pm
I find nothing, fundamentally, wrong with a campaign employing people. I'm quite sure that all of the people working on the campaigns of all three major candidates are not doing so gratis.

There is sense to the argument that paying folks to distribute leaflets is not that distinguishable from paying television networks to run political ads.

Nevertheless, there is, quite clearly, something about paying so-called "street money," that doesn't sit right, or Obama would not have decided against the practice.

I'm afraid I didn't read all of the linked articles in detail and so perhaps one of them addresses this, but I would guess there is more to the practice than simply hiring temp workers to distribute leaflets.

It smacks a bit of buying votes, paying for crowd members at a rally, and even, in some way, extortion.

If the primary goal of the campaign practice is the distribution of leaflets, then the qualifications of the distribution source focus, primarily, on reliability and geographic or demographic coverage.

If the goal of the campaign practice is not only the distribution of the leaflets, but "marketing" the candidate as each leaflet is passed out, the qualifications of the distribution source have expanded.

I would think that in either case, volunteers who believe in the candidate would perform significantly better than temp employees, and with far less of a need for supervisory monitoring.

If you've ever been to Vegas you will have seen an army of individuals handing out a wide assortment of leaflets on the street. Obviously they are paid workers and not volunteers, and their marketing effort for their employers consists entirely of sticking out a hand as pedestrians pass them. I don't know this for a fact, but there must be some effort made by the employers to monitor these folks or else they would simply dump the leaflets in the trash and collect their money.

I tend to believe that, in most places, the Obama campaign doesn't have a shortage of campaign volunteers for even the most mundane of jobs. Is this not the case in Philadelphia?

Although in many places in the world it is an accepted practice to grease the palms of officials and government employees (as distinguished from tipping service workers), this is not something that sits right with Americans. So too does that sense of discomfort apply in a case where a political campaign might "have to pay" for support within a community which, at least ostensibly, stands to gain from the candidate's policies.
0 Replies
 
okie
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Apr, 2008 01:27 pm
Re: Barack Obama - in trouble for not paying "street mo
nimh wrote:
Short version: the Obama campaign is refusing to hand out so-called "street money" (or "walk-about money") to local residents in places like Philadelphia to leaflet or canvas for it; it's a volunteer-only campaign.

Maybe we need the long version, nimh. First question, how come the media brings this up now? How come they haven't piled on the corrupt inner city Democrat machines before now? I think the real story within the story is why hasn't this been exposed more openly in the press before now?

And if paying street money isn't endorsed, how come the Super Delegates are being paid for their votes?

http://www.boston.com/news/politics/politicalintelligence/2008/02/superdelegates.html
0 Replies
 
jasonrest
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Apr, 2008 01:32 pm
"President" Obama continues to amaze me.
His deterrence from politics as usual is comforting in everything from debates to unnecessary traditions in cities that are obviously not sincere about this election if a 20 spot can influence their decision.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Apr, 2008 02:03 pm
Walter Hinteler wrote:
From the Philadelphia Inquirer (April 17, pages B1/B16

Thats a weird little story ... it seems to hinge on two opposite thoughts.

First it makes it seem like there's nothing to the story in the first place:

Quote:
I'm confused. This is a presidential primary. When have there ever been wheelbarrows of street money to get out the vote for a presidential primary? The national media were looking for another of those Throwing Snowballs at Santa stories. And in the process, Philadelphia pols managed to get their pictures taken sticking their hands out.

Then it turns out that hey, it is actually a pretty real and long-standing thing:

Quote:
Carol Ann Campbell is a West Philadelphia ward leader. [..] "I find this despicable," she said by phone the other day.

What, the lack of folding money?

No, the attention she and other Philadelphia politicians are getting for a time-honored local custom.

"We are a machine town and all this [coverage] puts an ominous thing over it, like it's something dirty." Walking-around money, she insisted, isn't dirty; it's about feeding the hungry. [..]

It would take a good $400,000 to $500,000 to properly arm the 14,000 people the machine can put on the street, she says.


But then the author concludes the article like it's all a chimera in the first place:

Quote:
If there are no wheelbarrows of walking-around money this time of year, why the stories?

Zack Stalberg, CEO of the Committee of Seventy, answered that one: "I happen to view the stories and the quotes as blatant advertisements for people to be paid."

What's also happening, he said, is that out-of-town media expect dirty tricks here. "They are happy to have finally arrived in Philadelphia, where they feel like they might find some nasty old practices they couldn't find in places like Iowa or New Hampshire."

Not that Philly elections are clean, he said. "Candidates drive around with tens of thousands of dollars in the trunks of their cars, but that is for a local race."
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Apr, 2008 02:05 pm
Sozobe - yeah that's pretty much how I look at it too.

Finn d'Abuzz - good points there.
0 Replies
 
fishin
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Apr, 2008 02:29 pm
nimh wrote:
Anyway, I think it's Ms. Campbell's remarks that are the most telling ones. The whole cognitive dissonance between recognizing the practice as "a time-honored local custom" in "a machine town", and then complaining that "all this [coverage] puts an ominous thing over it, like it's something dirty."

She's not helping her cause, in my view, with her other arguments either. She says, "The committee people and the ward leaders have to buy lunch for hundreds of people, otherwise they won't have good workers. They have to buy coffee, orange juice and doughnuts. That's just the way it is."

But thats not the question, is it? I'm sure that a campaign worker would be able to get bills like that reimbursed in any case; it's just handing out cash thats the issue.


*nods* Exactly. When I read that article the mental image that came into my head was her saying "Hey, we're corrupt! Everyone knows that. What's the problem?"
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