While much attention is on the conservative side, we cannot lose sight of the fact that money makes moves in politics on both sides of the aisle. There are Democrats who profit from the corporatization of American politics, just like some Republicans.
Now, not all of these corporate Democrats are black, but the ones who happen to be have recently come into plain view. It’s not just Newark Mayor Cory Booker or political commentator Harold Ford, both of whom angered liberals by suggesting the Obama campaign was unfairly targeting the work of Bain Capital, the firm Mitt Romney led for years. A brief roll call of emerging political leaders will produce a list of folks who are slightly to the right of President Obama and for whom funding from private equity firms and other corporate sources is absolutely vital.
If you are from Newark or follow Northeast municipal politics closely, then Mayor Booker’s alignment with private equity firms should come as no surprise. In fact, that partnership may benefit the city of Newark as much as it has Mr. Booker’s political career. Harold Ford, who stood behind Mayor Booker’s original controversial remark about Bain Capital, actually works for a private equity firm that is being scrutinized right now for its role in the Facebook IPO. You might also remember Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s huge donation to the Newark public school system.
I suppose there is nothing inherently wrong with private equity, but surely it cannot serve as a model for politics. Do we really want a handful of millionaires and billionaires acquiring political leaders and “restructuring” them to best fit their interests?
The contributions from Wall Street and private equity to Mayor Booker’s political career do not erase all of the good that he has done for the city of Newark. But it does, once again, bring to the foreground all of the questions that we need to be asking about the role of money in politics and, more importantly here, the role of money in politics for those who may need it most. Much like in the regular world, very few black politicians have the personal or network wealth of their white counterparts. This puts aspiring black politicians especially at the mercy of the role that private money plays in public politics.
James Braxton Peterson is the Director of Africana Studies and Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University. He is also the founder of Hip Hop Scholars LLC, an association of hip-hop generation scholars dedicated to researching and developing the cultural and educational potential of hip-hop, urban and youth cultures. You can follow him on Twitter @DrJamesPeterson.