Op-Ed: Making Your Political Contribution Count
WASHINGTON, DC — The following Op-Ed by AHI Executive Director Nick Larigakis was published in The National Herald 1-15-10, The Hellenic Voice 1-20-10, and the Greek News 1-18-10.
Making Your Political Contribution Count
January 11, 2010
As we begin 2010 and the beginning of the new decade, it also happens to be the mid-term presidential election year. Come this November, all 435 members of the House of Representatives and one third of the Senate will be up for re-election. Additionally, early estimates have approximately 39 House Members and 5 Senators who will be retiring. These numbers are expected to rise as we move forward into the year.
As is the case, the feeding frenzy that is political fundraising will begin in earnest. Already, I have been inundated with emails announcing one fundraiser after another. Like it or not, this is just the reality of our political system.
So what does this all mean for the Greek American community?
It means that the Greek Americans and those who identify with the community in Congress will be reaching out to the Greek American community for support of their campaigns. All of them deserve and will need our financial support. Running a campaign in today’s environment can cost millions of dollars.
The Greek American Members up for re-election in 2010 are: Representatives Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Zack Space (D-OH), Dina Titus (D-NV), and Niki Tsongas (D-MA). Senator Olympia Snowe (R-MD) will be up for re-election in 2012.
There are also a number of other Greek Americans who are running for Congress as first time candidates. Of the more well known, there is Governor Charlie Crist (R-FL) who is running for the Senate, Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D-IL) who is also running for the Senate, and George Demos (D-NY) who is running for the 1st Congressional District of New York.
Contributions to campaigns for election to federal office are strictly regulated by law. There are legal restrictions on who can contribute and how much each person can contribute. Information on these matters is available on the website of the Federal Election Commission (www.fec.gov) which is the federal agency that administers and enforces the federal elections laws.
Generally speaking, however, assuming a candidate makes it to the general election, the maximum that an individual can contribute to a candidate in one political cycle is $4,800. While this is not an insignificant amount of money, there are many in our community who will “max out” to a number of candidates. There will be many more who will give the customary $250, $500, etc.
I have noticed over the years, that Greek Americans are inclined to participate in political fundraising. A number of others, including myself, have hosted political fundraisers—being it in our homes or local Greek restaurants, and will continue to do so. This is a good thing. For make no doubt about it, while it might be regarded as taboo to speak of it openly, no one is naïve enough not to know that this too is part of the lobbying process and is very important to influencing the policy discussion. At minimum, it provides you with one of the most important and basic elements of lobbying--Access! So, like it or not, this too is part of our political system.
Many of us will give to the Greek American candidates, as we should, to make sure they retain their seats. I also believe that many of us will also support those who are seeking to win seats for the first time. However, when it comes to the Greek American Members of Congress, we can all feel comfortable enough in knowing that they will support our causes in Congress. Causes, that I might add are American in nature and serve to protect the interests of the United States. After all, we should never be asking ANY Member of Congress to support anything regarding foreign policy, which does not serve the interests of our nation. We are all Americans and they are elected to uphold the national interests of the United States of America and to defend the Constitution. We should never lose sight of this.
Which brings us to all the others who will be reaching out to us for funding and support, and there are many out there. There are those who have tangibly supported our issues by adding their name to a Resolution or a Bill. There are those who have signed onto letters that have been sent to the Administration for a specific action of support, and there are others who have signed onto the Hellenic Caucus, but have done nothing more. And there is the overwhelming number who have done absolutely nothing. I would venture to say that number approaches two thirds of the entire Congress!! Yet most, if not all, will be seeking to get financial support from their specific Greek American constituencies. As I said, this is our political system at work.
However, we have an option that we can exercise with our hard earned money and how we spend it in support of Congressional candidates. In a year with the economy still reaching for recovery and where unemployment numbers nationally are at over 10%, candidates will be having a much more difficult time raising money. Therefore, we need to make our political contributions count!
We can do this by asking these candidates in advance of hosting any fundraisers or responding to any mailed solicitations some very poignant questions. For example—“will you support legislation that calls for the removal of Turkish troops from Cyprus?” “Will you support our government taking action by calling on Turkey to stop violating Greece’s territorial integrity on a daily basis which threatens stability in the southeastern Mediterranean and therefore U.S. interests there?” “Are you willing to recommend to the Administration to invoke the International Religious Freedom Act in pressuring Turkey to safeguard the Ecumenical Patriarchate and for the re-opening of the Halki Seminary School of Theology?” “Will you support conditioning U.S. foreign assistance to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) until such time as FYROM displays a willingness to negotiate in good faith with our most important ally in the region, Greece, to come to a resolution on the Macedonia name issue?”
While I understand as Americans we also support candidates, as we should, based on our domestic needs as Americans and we like to hear what they have to say about that agenda. The truth is, that there isn’t one political fundraiser that I have attended that was hosted by a Greek American entity that the main message did not revolve around our core foreign policy issues. The candidates understand this. Let us also understand it.
Therefore, in a year where political fundraising will be at a premium and every candidate will be looking to reach out to as many ethnic groups as possible to be able to get that edge—let’s all be smart with our contributions. Let us all make sure that we get a commitment from the candidates that we are supporting so that we can make our contribution count. If we don’t like what we hear, let’s support the candidate that will. Of course, then the other challenge is to hold their feet to the fire once they are elected and remind them of what they promised. But that’s a story for another day.
For additional information, please contact C. Franciscos Economides at (202) 785-8430 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at https://www.ahiworld.org.
Op-Ed: Making Your Political Contribution Count