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Exposing the Harmful Effects of Increased Contribution Limits in GA on Minorities

NVRI also challenges barriers to political participation through quasi-judicial procedures such as the pre-clearance process outlined by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In adopting the Voting Rights Act, Congress sought to prevent certain localities which had demonstrated a history of antagonism towards African Americans’ exercise of political rights from devising new electoral schemes or procedures that adversely affect the franchise. Under Section 5, certain states and localities must receive ‘pre-clearance’ from the U.S. Department of Justice or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia before instigating any changes to their electoral processes.

Georgia is one of the states covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. In May 2000, the Georgia Legislature moved counter to the tide of campaign reform sweeping other states, and decided to double the amount of money that candidates for state office could accept from donors. The new limits would permit a single donor to contribute up to $16,000 to a candidate for statewide office, making Georgia’s limits among the highest in the country. Representing the NAACP, the Southern Regional Council, the Georgia Rural-Urban Summit, and the Fannie Lou Hamer Project, NVRI urged the Justice Department to block this change, arguing that a radical increase in the amount that well-off donors may contribute to candidates would have a profound adverse effect on the ability of African Americans across the state to participate equally in the political process. Because African American communities generally have less disposable income than their white counterparts, and African American candidates are far less likely than white candidates to receive the largest donations, they are particularly disadvantaged by any campaign finance regime that allows larger sums of money to be pumped into politics. NVRI presented to the Justice Department detailed statistical information documenting the adverse effect of money-driven campaigns on African American candidates and voters. For more on the exclusionary effects of money in politics, see our Wealth Primary page.

After receiving NVRI’s submission, the Justice Department delayed pre-clearance and demanded more information on this topic from the state, marking the first time, to our knowledge, that the Department has required a covered jurisdiction to address the potentially discriminatory effect of campaign finance provisions on the rights of persons of color. Though the Attorney General did eventually grant Georgia pre-clearance for raising its contribution limits in December 2000, NVRI’s comment letter marked an important first step to bring attention to the discriminatory operation of private campaign financing as a distinct and verifiable electoral barrier in communities of color.

NVRI's comment letter to the Justice Department
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Challenging Barriers: