Voter turnout and the whirl of high finance

 (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

(Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

Tuesday is Primary Election Day, and it’s a big one in Philadelphia where voters will nominate candidates for mayor, City Council and a host of lesser-known offices. Candidates will be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to get voters to the polls and put little pieces of paper in their hands.

What most voters don’t realize, political consultants say, is getting out the vote isn’t cheap.

“Most people, if they knew the back end of campaigns, probably wouldn’t vote again in their lives,” said  Democratic consultant Joe Corrigan who is a senior adviser to Paul Steinke’s campaign in the crowded race for at-large seats on City Council.

Volunteers need to be fed. They need T-shirts and “bullet ballots” highlighting their candidate and his or her button number to hand out at the polls. 

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Even an endorsement from the city’s Democratic Party comes with a price. Judicial candidates, for example, pay a $35,000 “assessment fee.” City Council at-large candidates shell out $25,000. That money trickles down to ward leaders, the feudal barons of city politics who pay their committeepeople to help get out the vote.

“That’s not specific to Philadelphia, and that’s not specific to urban areas at all – these things cost money,” said Democratic political consultant Dan Siegel who is managing 2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s re-election campaign. 

This is how Election Day works in big cities and small towns that have strong party machines, Siegel said. 

Some campaigns, especially those not endorsed by the city’s Democratic Party, will write checks directly to ward leaders to boost turnout and to get what’s called “coverage” – people standing at every polling place distributing their literature.

That practice is scorned by some ward leaders who are loyal to the party. 

Edgar “Sonny” Campbell, head of the United Ward Leaders of Color, said he has turned down offers as high as $50,000 from some campaigns.

“These elections are up for sale,” Campbell said, “There’s no other way to put it.”


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