What Is a Vote Worth?

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Republican presidential candidates are turning down invitations to participate in debates sponsored by black and Hispanic organizations and and institutions leading critics to questions whether the party is interested in courting votes from those constituencies. The candidates say they're not ignoring minorities, they're just too busy fundraising. Which, as it happens, means largely ignoring minorities.

All GOP candidates except John McCain turned down an invitation to a debate on Univision, the largest Hispanic broadcast network in the country. McCain, Mitt Romney, Rudy Guiliani, and Fred Thompson have all said they'll turn down the invitation by Tavis Smiley to debate at Morgan State University, an historically black institution. The candidates claim they're just too busy raising money to make the debate:


In passing on invitations to the Morgan State forum, the Republicans cited hectic schedules, noting in particular that September is a critical month for fundraising after a traditional summer slowdown. With fundraising closely scrutinized as a measure of their strength, all are eager to report a showing that reflects enthusiasm for their candidacies.

As our Color of Money report in 2004 showed, big donors to presidential campaigns are overwhelmingly from majority white neighborhoods -- only 10% of donations over $200 came from neighborhoods with a non-white majority, despite the fact that one in three Americans is a person of color. How are candidates supposed to get a balanced perspective on the needs of American voters -- and set their policy priorities accordingly -- if the need to fundraise is superceding the need to talk to voters who have been traditionally under-represented?

It's a sad commentary on the reality of modern campaigns, and one that we must address with full public financing of elections. Candidates should wage campaigns the public square by talking to voters of all backgrounds and selling a vision for the country, not by locking themselves in rooms with only the wealthiest sliver of the population while the majority of the country wonders why they're not worth your time.