On Donating Money to Political Campaigns

I am a middle class American.

I am a strong supporter of President Obama and follow the beliefs of the Democratic Party almost exclusively. I voted for Obama in the last election and was proud when I watched him take the oath of office on that cold January day. This year I decided that it was time I stopped talking and put my beliefs into action. So, at the age of 43 I went to work on my first political campaign. I signed up to make calls for the Obama campaign and was happy to be of use. I am the first person in my family to work on a political campaign, just as I was the first to go to college. I believe that working on a political campaign is an essential part of our civic duty in a free society. Yet, all of this has now changed.

It was not long after the last election that I started to receive a deluge of emails from the Obama camp and the Democratic Party asking for donations. I never gave to political parties for the simple fact that I had no money to spare. I teach at a small, private university in New Hampshire, and my wife is a sixth grade teacher at our local middle school. Together we manage a mortgage, owe an enormous amount of money in student loans, and have two small children; so any extra money we have is a luxury. Don’t get me wrong: we live a very nice life compared to the many less unfortunate families struggling to make ends meet. However, when the big bailouts were distributed I was not one to receive help for my student loan. In fact I cannot even claim bankruptcy on account of my student loans. I did, however, this year make a $35 donation to the Obama campaign since they emailed so many times and stated that on a certain date the fundraising would be over. I donated the night before this date and the soliciting for donations continues. This week alone I’ve received at least five emails at day begging for money. My conservative friends inform me that it’s the same with the Republican Party.

The simple fact of the matter is that many of us, regardless of education and job security, cannot afford to give over and over to political campaigns. The emails I have received from the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party have become harassment. When I receive emails from “Barack Obama,” “Joe Biden,” or “Bill Clinton” asking to me “have their backs” by making a donation, however small, to the campaign, I get a sick feeling in my gut. I am part of the middle class that lives from paycheck to paycheck, and for any political party to play the heavy hand informs me that politicians are part of a ruthless, borderline unethical group. Okay, no big surprise there. But I refused for many years to allow myself to become that cynical. But cynicism is like a small leak: if you don’t fix it right away it becomes a big leak.

I plan on voting for President Obama in the upcoming election because I believe he is the better candidate and I don’t believe that this election is about the economy, but believe it’s about ideology. I will never, however, give money to the Democratic Party, or any political party again. I cannot now advise my students to help with political campaigns without warning them of the dangers of getting taken by donating money they don’t have. For me personally, I’ve become disappointed and disillusioned by the Obama campaign. Perhaps this is due to my own naïveté; perhaps it’s due to the bitterness I feel at having to pay my student loans until I’m into my 70s with the fear that I will pass this enormous debt onto my children while very rich political parties continue to beg for money. I understand that the costs of running for president are astronomical today and I am not sure whose fault that is. What I do know is that if we continue to give monetary support to political parties and campaigns nothing will change. So I offer the following challenge to every voter in the United States regardless of political affiliation: give your time, your ideas, your sweat, but don’t give your money.

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