Larry Hott and Michael Kane: Money can’t buy votes, but it can turn out voters

  • Larry Hott, a volunteer with Movement Voter Project, talks about the work the organization does. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 11/24/2020 12:27:37 PM

What’s the most effective way to win an election? Michael Bloomberg spent $500 million on his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, most of it on television advertising. What did he get? Bupkis. Jaime Harrison raised more money than any other senatorial candidate in history in his bid to unseat Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. Late-breaking news — he lost. Same goes for Sara Gideon in her quest to unseat Susan Collins of Maine. In Kentucky, Amy McGrath lost to Mitch McConnell, notwithstanding her $88 million war chest. What’s the lesson we should take away from this? To paraphrase Paul McCartney, “I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me votes.”

Money may not be able to buy votes, but when it’s spent in a highly focused way, it can turn out the voters. Just listen to Jennifer Epps-Addison, president of the Center for Popular Democracy, who was interviewed by Audie Cornish on NPR on Nov. 6 about what made the difference in the two years building up to the election:

“Black and Indigenous and Latinx and Asian Pacific Islander voters defeated one of the greatest threats to our democracy and civil rights in modern history. And they didn’t do it overnight, and they didn’t do it just because they, you know, woke up and decided to vote. They did it because of organizations and community organizing groups, like The New Georgia Project in Georgia, like Black Leaders Organizing [for] Communities in Wisconsin, like Detroit Action in Michigan. You know, the youngest and the Blackest cities in America, ultimately, when this is all said and done, will have delivered the presidency to Joe Biden.”

All the groups Epps-Addison mentioned are supported by  Movement Voter Project (MVP), as well as five hundred more across the country.

The MVP model is simple. The organization raises money to support the best and most promising local community-based organizations in key states, with a focus on youth and communities of color. The goal is twofold. Most important is to turn out unlikely voters and build a strong, committed voting base. The second goal is to organize communities to grow their power and create transformation for the long term, not just one election. MVP’s core belief is that the most effective strategy to transform our country is to support movement groups. So, we’re investing in these groups and helping provide the staff and resources they need to get voters registered and to the polls.

MVP analysts knew that the battle for the swing states that the Democrats lost in 2016 would be won in the big cities, where Black voter turnout was low due to voter suppression, limited outreach and strategic failures. In 2020, MVP funneled millions of dollars into grassroots groups in metropolitan areas that could turn a state from rosy red to navy blue. Not a penny went to television ads.

Did the strategy work? This is what Cliff Albright, a co-founder of the Georgia-based Black Voters Matter Fund, had to say about it in The Guardian on Nov. 10:

“Let’s talk about the Black turnout in the race. Many analysts have understandably put a spotlight on Black voters in key cities including Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Atlanta. Biden won the city of Detroit with 94% of the vote while Trump received only 5%. In Pennsylvania, where Black voters made up 8% of the electorate, 93% voted for Joe Biden, including the critical vote-by-mail turnout that ultimately decided the election. Nationally, it’s estimated that 87% of Black voters supported Biden/Harris, while 12% backed Trump/Pence.”

MVP doesn’t take all the credit for the Democratic win in the presidential race, but its grassroots organizations played a huge part. By partnering with Fair Fight, Swing Left, Way to Win and others, MVP multiplied its impact many times over.

Since the 2018 midterms, MVP has raised over $100 million for grassroots organizations. Ten million of that came from house parties in every part of the nation, organized by people like us. Right here in western Massachusetts, we raised over $1 million from 2,000 donors who attended 80 in-person and online house parties and benefit concerts. There are 14 of us in the Western Mass core group, meeting weekly to plan events and strategy. We work closely with the national office of MVP, which is based in Northampton, but whose staff of more than 35 organizers, accountants, lawyers and strategists are spread out all over the country.

MVP now, like many others, is laser-focused on Georgia’s runoff elections for two Senate seats — Democrat Jon Ossoff versus Republican Sen. Frank Perdue, and Democrat Raphael Warnock versus Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler. How can we get out the vote for the Democrats? We know now that throwing money at television ads is as worthwhile as handing out paper towels after a hurricane. The only way to challenge Republican candidates in purple Georgia is growing your base and getting everyone on your side to the polls.

MVP is helping to do this by moving funds to the 13 grassroots organizations it supports in Georgia. Groups like Georgia Equality, In Defense of Black Lives Atlanta, the New Georgia Project, Action Fund and Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight Action. You can see a complete list by going to and scrolling down to the Georgia Fund.

What does contributing to the Georgia Fund get you? Consider this — in Georgia, grassroots groups increased voter turnout by a whopping 142% since 2016, with mail-in ballots up 640%. So, winning those two Senate seats will give Democrats control of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the White House. Then maybe we could pass some legislation to make America a nice and equitable place to live again.

Larry Hott and Michael Kane are members of the Western Massachusetts Movement Voter Project.

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