Big Hope for Small Donors

New Orleans      Money in politics, boo!  For years under the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision money has flooded into politics like water, as the superrich, corporations, and others try to buy their way through an ostensibly democratic system.  Billionaires and bigtime millionaires, whether Trump or Daddy Starbucks or Bloomberg on the national level or others supposedly “giving back” at the state or local level, try to buy their way into office.

The so-called “money primary” in presidential contests until recently was all about the ability of a candidate to get support from big donors. Obama’s success at small dollar fundraising was a game changer in the 2008 contest against Hillary Clinton, except that she continued to operate as if the game was still the same and a pile of cash could anoint a candidate when she ran in 2016.  Bernie Sanders took the Obama playbook and ramped it up even higher with small donor contributions to the point he was virtually neck and neck with Clinton.  His ability to move the needle allowed him to amass such a pile of money that he was able to continue his campaign almost to the point of the convention.

Much of this has to do with the magically low barriers of the internet and modern payment systems which allow a sudden impulse to seamlessly travel from an itch to phone or computer into a personal bank account and voila on to the candidate’s coffers.  That doesn’t mean there’s a level playing field by any means, or at least not yet, but there’s hope.

Finally, this may be a lesson that won’t be ignored in 2020 this time. Fingers crossed.

Elizabeth Warren has said she will not solicit from big donors.  Sanders raised $5.9 million in the first 24-hours he announced he was taking another grab at the brass ring.  Amazingly, Beto O’Rourke, the three-term local Congressman from El Paso who came within a hair of unseating Texas Senator Ted Cruz, raised over $6.1 million from small contributions in the first 24-hours after his recent announcement that he was throwing his hat in as well.

Even if the potential for corruption and transactional politics that is ever present in big time campaign fundraising is not dead candidates from Corey Booker to Joe Biden and the rest have to be worried that the mass appeal represented by millions of small mom-and-pop donors will force them to curtail their usual fundraising circuit and well-worn rolodex.  Skin in the game also motivates citizens to work as volunteers in the campaign, which has to be as scary to the candidates from the old school as well.

The money primary is alive and well, but if its based on small donors, it might actually be a good thing.


Good News for Mexican Workers on the Other Side of the Wall

Striking workers

New Orleans    How about some good news for a change?  Yes, I’m with you.  I found some in a surprising place on the other side of the proposed wall between Mexico and the Untied States and in all places in Matamoros, right across the river from Brownsville, Texas.

If you’ve ever been to Matamoros, you already know that they are desperate for some good news down there on the other side of the Rio Grande Valley.  The city has a special place for me because a million years ago it offered my first experiences in that great country.  I was driving down there in one of my old junkers with a dog and a tent curious about the valley and came across the bridge from Brownsville for several hours into another world.  More recently in another century, we drove through the city after Katrina headed toward the central high plains of Mexico, but I’m still shocked to read that Brownsville reportedly has 500,000 residents now.

What doesn’t shock me is the fact that a key driver of the city’s economy is its proximity to the United States and the maquila plants that fabricate all manner of things for export back to the US.  It almost goes without saying, but I’ll be Mr. Obvious, that the attraction for foreign manufactures is cheap labor.  The good news though is that something is being done about all of this partly due to the election of the left leaning new president, universally called AMLO, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has created the climate for more worker justice and fair labor laws.  He has proposed raising the minimum wage national by 16% to around $5,30 a day and on the border to $9.20 a day.  Maquiladoras earn about $2.40 per hour compared to US manufacturing workers make more than $20 per hour by comparison.

Mostly though it has to do with a wave of strikes by over 55,000 maquiladoras in the 115 plants around Matamoras demanding 20/32:  a 20% wage increase and a one-time bonus of 32,000 pesos or $1655.   This has become a movement and according to many including Susana Prieto, a lawyer and one of the strike’s primary backers and organizers, 85 companies have settled while five are still on strike, including Coca-Cola.  Prieto, an advocate of an independent labor movement given the past record of the traditional, party-connected union federation, is hoping to push the movement to expand to other border cities, including Juarez where she has practiced labor law and led successful strikes in recent years.

According to the Wall Street Journal these strikes are spreading.   Walmart, the largest private sector employer and a determinedly anti-union force globally, recently “reached an agreement with a union representing some 6,500 workers to grant a 5.5% wage rise and a productivity bonus, the company said. Workers had recently demanded a 20% rise among other benefits.”

Let’s hope this movement comes north!