The Pork Report

Philly Politics

$$$ Cash Report $$$: Obama, Street Money, and A Revolution in Philly Politics? I don’t think so.

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In Pennsylvania as Primary Day 2008 approached and pols began to allocate Election Day resources, a common story of the election was whether or not there would be street money given to election day workers. Everyone knows that street money is the oil that keeps the ward machine grinding the pork in Philadelphia politics, so there was some concern/optimism (depending who you were) that the lack of street money would fundamentally change the nature of the political process in Philadelphia. Ward leaders argued that thousands of competent workers, most of whom took the day off of their dayjobs to work the polls or depended on such usual money as a quick source of living income, would not be compensated for their 13+ hours of hard work in the hot sun. Opponents argued that half the street money goes in the pockets of the ward leaders anyway, and that eliminating street money would eliminate the status quo in Philadelphia elections that to compete seriously a candidate either needs to purchase the entrenched machine or to fight against the entrenched machine.

So what happened? Nothing, for several reasons:

  1. Street money DID exist on Election Day in Philadelphia in several forms: while the campaigns themselves did not distribute it, money was distributed to some election day workers through unions, PACs, and other intermediaries that are able to fund workers without the campaign’s consent. Furthermore, there was the usual money on the street from the local races, which depend on street money on Election Day since their races usually have less volunteer pulling power than the national races. Basically, there WAS money available to those that sought it out on April 22.

  2. The reason why the Obama campaign, and to a lesser extent the Clinton campaign, were able to avoid explicitly giving out street money was because of a successful out of state volunteer recruitment operation. Hundreds of volunteers poured into Philadelphia from New York City, Washington D.C., and all over the region for GOTV and Election Day, compensating for the lack of willing nonpaid volunteers from Philadelphia. Simply put, the Eday operation run by Obama’s campaign would not be possible on a volunteer basis if Philadelphia was the only pool of volunteers that the campaign was drawing from. The only situation in which volunteers from out of state are coming into Philadelphia to knock on doors is in a fiercely contested Presidential primary election that makes it all the way to April 22nd in Pennsylvania. This volunteer situation is not the new norm – rather, it is an extremely rare exception that we may not see again for many many years.

  3. The controversy was overblown in the first place because the underprivileged people who the ward leaders claimed would most suffer just happened to also be Obama’s political base of support in Philadelphia. Among Afrian American voters, those that would have been most upset about no street money were most likely still voting for Obama anyway and would not have worked for Clinton instead if she had street money. Among white voters, those that would have been most upset about no street money were most likely not voting for Obama anyway, and probably would not work for him anyway even if he had it.

  4. Pork runs this city, and until we see real evidence of a tilt, it seems it always will.


Written by theporkreport

May 7, 2008 at 7:18 pm

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