The cost of doing business by @BloggersRUs

The cost of doing business

by Tom Sullivan

Image via OpenSecrets, Center for Responsive Politics.

Matthew 7:14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
The gospel might as well have been speaking about getting into the House of Representatives. The New York Times traced the paths by which every member of the 116th Congress got there and found that even though the U.S. officially has no royalty,
... Congress is made up of people who have credentials and experiences vastly different from those of most citizens. Unofficially, considering education, career, family background and personal wealth, it seems that America has a ruling class — or at least a limited number of ways to enter the halls of power.
But you knew that. Still, the interactive graphic is eye-opening. It tracks the few key waypoints through which congresscritters pass on their way to Capitol Hill. College to law school to lobbying or activism to local government, etc. Lawyers are "staggeringly overrepresented," naturally (or unnaturally). There are a few others paths to power, but few mirror the lives of the common people whom federal lawmakers will represent. Much like the framers, really — mostly successful, white-collar professionals.
“The rosy notion that lawmakers from business and professional backgrounds want what is best for everyone is seriously out of line with the realities of legislative decision-making in the United States,” wrote Nicholas Carnes, a Duke professor of public policy, in his book “White-Collar Government.”
There's something else one notices about the types of people able to run for office at the state level. For the most part, they can afford to serve:
But drawing politicians from local governments and state legislatures also gives an edge to people who can afford to take those jobs. In some states, those positions don’t pay enough to live on. New Hampshire’s legislature, for example, pays just $200 per two-year term. As a result, state politicians are often “local economic elites and corporate titans,” said Jake Grumbach, a researcher at Princeton.
We speak often about getting money out of politics, yet if we want legislating to be less of a hobby for the rich, it's not just campaigning where the field needs leveling. Few can afford to be away from homes and jobs to set up apartments in the state capitol and live there all week without plenty of cash of their own. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the rare case, for example, of someone who got there without a well-padded bank account. It can cost money to take these gigs, at the state level anyway.

One more thing about running for federal office that favors the already well-connected is the cost of running and the need for a network of connections able to fund a race. Lawyers have an advantage in early fundraising, the Times notes, having access to ready-made networks of affluent acquaintances the less elite do not. Small-dollar online fundraising can offset that advantage, but requires a team with specialized skills to launch early enough for a candidate to be competitive.

At a conference I attended a year ago, a campaign veteran schooling first-time candidates bluntly told them it would cost a minimum of $3 million dollars to flip a House seat. One candidate balked, insisting that's not the way democracy is supposed to work. On principle, he insisted he would do it on a shoestring.

The non-lawyer lost on a $238,000 shoestring. It sucks. But for now, this is the reality. In rough numbers and no particular order, this is what a selection of successful Democrats spent to flip seats in 2018 (via Open Secrets):
Jennifer Wexton (D) spent $6 million to turn out Barbara Comstock in Virginia
Jared Golden (D) spent $5.6 million flip a House seat in Maine
Lucy McBath (D) spent $2.5 million in Georgia (to defeat less-than-a-term GA-6 incumbent Karen Handel)
Harley Rouda raised $8 million to turn out Dana Rohrabacher in California
Abigail Spanberger (D) spent $7 million to unseat Dave Brat in Virginia
Sharice Davids (D) spent $4.7 million to win in Kansas
Jason Crow (D) spent $5.6 million to win in Colorado
Dean Phillips (D) spent $6.1 million to win in Minnesota
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her NY-14 seat in the primary against an entrenched incumbent Democrat and still spent $1.6 million through the cycle (via Open Secrets again). J. D. Scholten ran for Congress in 2018 against Rep. Steve King of Iowa and outspent him by $2.2 million and still lost. But by only 3.4 percent. Pretty good for a Democrat in northwest Iowa. The last Democrat lost by 23 points.