If a professional analysis demonstrated that Republicans routinely pay campaign staffers who are persons of color significantly less than their white counterparts and are often given less glamorous jobs, articles on the subject would make the front page of newspapers across the country and be the lead story on many television newscasts.
Instead, a study conducted by the New Organizing Institute proves the “ugly truth” about Democrats: If you’re a person of color hoping to get hired by a political campaign, you’ll probably get paid less than your white counterparts, assuming, that is, you’re hired at all. Does anyone believe this would receive equal media coverage if the party in question was the GOP? Daily Beast reporter Tim Mak described the findings in an August 11 article entitled “Democrats Play Black Staffers 30% Less":
African-American staffers on Democratic campaigns were paid 70 cents for each dollar their white counterparts made. For Hispanic staffers in Democratic campaigns, the figure was 68 cents on the dollar.
And a recent study by PowerPAC+, funded by a major Democratic donor, revealed that less than two percent of spending by Democratic campaign committees during the past two election cycles went to firms owned by minorities.
As an example of this “race pay gap,” Mak discussed the experience of political operative Michael Gomez Daly, who worked on two congressional campaigns in 2012 with similar budgets.
On one campaign, Daly, who describes himself as “a very light-skinned Hispanic,” was brought in as a field director, primarily for his skills as a Latino operative who could reach out to the Hispanic community.
But on the second campaign, where they did not know he was Hispanic, “I just came in as ‘Michael Daly’ instead of ‘that Latino operative,’” he said. “Right off the bat, they offered me twice the amount for the same job.”
“Most of the operatives interviewed for this article, all of whom have years of experience in campaign politics,” Mak asserted, “said they had to make an early, conscious decision to avoid being pigeonholed as a specialist in minority outreach.”
“It was pretty clear to me early on that you can get put in a box pretty quickly,” stated Sujata Tejwani, an Indian-American with decades of experience on campaigns and president of Sujata Strategies, a Democratic firm. “You get offers for jobs: African-American outreach, Asian-American outreach. Oftentimes when you start doing that work, it’s hard to get out of it,”
Rodell Mollineau, a past president of the progressive tracking organization American Bridge, agreed with Tejwani. “As a person of color [at the start of your career], you’re always put in situations where a primary part of your job is communicating with or working with other people of color.”
“The NOI statistics on the campaign race pay gap compared all staffers of each race and averaged out the salaries,” Mak explained. “One of the explanations for lower minority wages could be that they tend to be represented in lower-paying campaign roles.”
“Most minority staffers get hired in campaigns in field jobs, and field jobs pay less,” explained Jamal Simmons, a Democratic political operative.
“The problem is: They don’t hire African-Americans, Latinos in the parts of the campaigns where they spend the most money,” Simmons added. “The most money in campaigns is spent in communications, polling and data. In those parts of the campaign, it’s very much mostly white.”
Conventional campaign wisdom is that voters best respond to pitches made by those who are similar to them, but this limits the roles minority campaign staffers are able to play.
The issue of race can sometimes create doubts even in the minds of the most experienced operatives. “If the swing population [in an election] is white, you do wonder if you’re going to get hired,” Tejwani added.
“The hidden prejudices present in broader American society are part of the problem,” Mak noted. “One operative compared campaigns to business startups that are constantly shutting down and restarting. With deadlines looming, top campaign staff may lean subconsciously on stereotypes about minorities.”
Meanwhile, Republicans have similar problems with a racial pay gap in campaign politics, Mak noted. Asian, Black and Latino staffers are often paid less than their white counterparts.
However, Democrats are known for attempting to bring about “equal pay for equal work” and “racial equality,” which makes the situation on their side of the political aisle all the more egregious – and therefore all the more newsworthy.