party in the street: show me the money!
At the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, Andrew Gelman wrote a very gracious review of Party in the Street, but he had one criticism:
The only place it seemed weak–and this weakness occurs in many treatments of politics, including much of my own work–is in its glancing treatment of money in politics. It is perhaps no surprise that the Tea Party found ample funding from some rich people, given that one of its central goals is to keep down taxes on the rich. Raising funds for an antiwar or anti-corporate movement proved to be more of a challenge (in the words of Heaney and Rojas, “the antiwar movement had few financial resources and ran on a shoestring budget”). Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has needed to keep an eye on wealthy individuals and corporations (not just labor unions) to keep itself going. These financial imperatives formed much of the background to the individual choices that are detailed in this book.
Here are a few comments on money and social movement politics. First, unlike electoral politics, money is a bit harder to track in social movements because so many groups are informal and do not register as 501(c) groups. So there is no paper trail for us to work with, although a few groups have IRS forms you can examine. Second, compared to other types of political action, protest is relatively cheap. In my personal judgment, one only needs about one or two million dollars per year to run a nation wide movement of this sort. This is about what a single prominent lobbying group or political consulting firm might charge to a prominent client. It is also an amount that a single “angel” could donate if they really wanted to.
This leads me to believe that money is only a partial explanation for the movement’s decline. It is true that donors stopped giving to the antiwar movement, but that’s not the ultimate explanation. Protesting Obama certainly would turn off some well heeled donors, but the fact that there was not an angel, or a swell of grass roots fund raising for a relatively modest sum, indicates to me that the drop in support was wide spread and not just a function of a few party elites.