Friends and Supporters,
On September 25, shortly after I suspended my campaign for Congress, I wrote an op-ed piece about money and access in politics that was published in The Baltimore Sun. The outpouring of public support has been tremendous, and it highlights the fact that people across both Maryland and the country are frustrated by the outsized role money plays in electoral politics.
You play a vital role in the national push for public financing of campaigns, and it’s an important issue we should continue to fight for so candidates can truly run on the merits of their campaign as opposed to the money in their bank accounts.
I encourage you to work in your communities and with your elected officials to ensure we can create an inclusive democracy that speaks to the needs of all citizens. Thank you for your support!
BY VALERIE ERVIN, September 25, 2015
On July 1, I announced that I was running for Congress in Maryland's 8th District. And less then three months later, I wrote to my supporters to let them know I was suspending my campaign.
My decision to run for Congress came from a desire, as a black woman, to represent the interests and needs of those whose voices are often absent in political spaces, the same reasons that spurred me to run for — and win — seats on the school board and then the county council (twice) in Montgomery County, one of the wealthiest and most diverse counties in the nation. That desire also made my decision to exit the race difficult. I wondered whether ending my campaign would mean that the voices of single moms, immigrants and working-class workers with whom I share common histories and struggles would continue to be ignored in the seats of power.
In some ways, getting out of the race was a decision made for me. During the campaign, it became abundantly clear that the viability of my candidacy wasn't really about my ideas on how to serve my constituents or my track record of public service. It wasn't even about the groundswell of grassroots support that my campaign generated. It was about the very thing that Viola Davis spoke of in her incredible acceptance speech as the first black woman to win an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama series: It was about access and opportunity. And in the world of politics, opportunity equals access to big money.
More than ever, money plays a significant and outsized role in electoral politics. Candidates running for office spend the majority of their days and nights raising money — mainly from wealthy donors. At the outset of a congressional campaign, the experience of running for elected office has little to do with engaging the citizens who will actually vote. In fact, the citizens are all but ignored to court a donor class of wealthy individuals and politicos who decide whether to endorse you by monitoring your campaign contributions. For candidates who are people of color, women or who are not of means, you can likely count on one hand the people you know you who have pockets deep enough to truly position you as a contender.
In essence, the ability or inability to raise money doesn't only influence who wins a race. It determines who gets to run in the first place. Elected leaders and candidates seek funding from a shrinking pool of donors who are making bigger and bigger contributions. This system essentially grants access to a very small population of contributors. Who loses in this scenario? We all do. But women, people of color and average working families have the most at stake. Robust civic participation is one of the most important ways for voters to gain access to the elected officials who make decisions that impact their lives every day.