The Philly Cash Flash?

posted at 7:19 am on April 11, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Democrats in Philadelphia have a tradition in elections called street money.  Candidates who want to get out the vote give cash to ward bosses, who then distribute the cash — well, most of it, anyway — to foot soldiers in the days before the election, paying them to bring people to the polls.  This system goes back decades or more; John Kennedy and John Kerry both paid the machine bosses.

Barack Obama, however, does not pay poll workers anywhere, and says he won’t do it in Philadelphia.  That may give an opening to Hillary Clinton in the one area Obama needs to win big in eleven days:

Fourteen months into a campaign that has the feel of a movement, Sen. Barack Obama has collided with the gritty political traditions of Philadelphia, where ward bosses love their candidates, but also expect them to pay up.

The dispute centers on the dispensing of “street money,” a long-standing Philadelphia ritual in which candidates deliver cash to the city’s Democratic operatives in return for getting out the vote. …

It is all legal — but Obama’s people are telling the local bosses he won’t pay.

That sets up a culture clash, pitting a candidate who promises to transform American politics against the realities of a local political system important to his presidential hopes. Pennsylvania holds its primary April 22.

Obama’s posture confounds neighborhood political leaders sympathetic to his cause. They caution that if the senator from Illinois withholds money that gubernatorial, mayoral and presidential candidates have willingly paid out for decades, there could be defections to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. And the Clinton campaign, in contrast, will oblige in forking over the money, these ward leaders predict.

This could turn into a fiasco for Obama.  The demographics in Philadelphia are as favorable as any he will see in Pennsylvania.  The city has a heavy African-American presence, and Obama counts on a lopsided victory in Philly to win in the primary as well as to carry the state in a general election, which right now appears to tip in McCain’s favor.  If he alienates his constituency with a failure to play the corrupt Democratic game, he may still win the nomination but lose the general election in November.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, some of these ward bosses see this in racial terms, and not to Obama’s benefit.  They see Obama spending millions of dollars on advertising: television, radio, and the Internet.  As state Rep. Dwight Evans puts it, the money has gone to white people.  Why won’t Obama give street money to the African-Americans who are doing the ground work for his campaign in Philadelphia?  One ward boss says that a lot of poor people live in his neighborhood, and he’s not about to ask them to work for free while the campaign spends that kind of money elsewhere.

The Hillary Clinton campaign will almost certainly pony up the cash.  The bill is expected to reach between $400K – $500K in street money, and if Hillary can make significant inroads in Philadelphia, it will be worth the price.  Even if she doesn’t win the city, a close race there will make the overall state contest a landslide — which she desperately needs at the moment.  If she pulls that off, she can continue to make her argument that Obama has lost momentum coming into the convention.

Let’s be clear: street money is nothing more than a payoff racket.  If the Democratic candidates want to hire GOTV street soldiers,  they should do so directly, not send bagmen to ward bosses.  Obama has the high ground here, but it will likely cost him.


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Oy vey

Mortis on April 11, 2008 at 7:35 AM

Vote early, vote often.

So if the Dems use bagmen, does that finally make Hillary a bag lady?

Hening on April 11, 2008 at 7:40 AM

Okay besides dirty tricks,voter fraud,changeing the rules
mid stream,now their arguing about paying voters to vote!

I thought thats how the Mafia operated!

canopfor on April 11, 2008 at 7:43 AM

Let’s be clear: street money is nothing more than a payoff racket.

Yes, Captain. Clear and correct.

Blackacre on April 11, 2008 at 7:44 AM

It’s buy or bye!

richardcamera on April 11, 2008 at 7:47 AM

Good for Obama!! Maybe there’s more to him than I thought?

jeanie on April 11, 2008 at 7:49 AM

Vote early,vote often.
So if the dems use a bagman,does that finally make Hillary
a bag lady?
Hening on april 11,2008 at 7:40AM.

Hening:Technically yes,However this will be a 2 bag
operation!Haha.

canopfor on April 11, 2008 at 7:50 AM

Imagine being in on Operation Chaos, and getting paid.

JiangxiDad on April 11, 2008 at 7:53 AM

Hence the historic/current situation in Phila, corruption, violent crime out of control. This article proves you get what you pay for. Look at the glorious results. Operation Chaos!
I can smell Phila from here, thankfully I rarely have to go into the city.

JoeAvg on April 11, 2008 at 7:54 AM

More than street money, it is the lucrative contracts, projects, programs, and ear marks you get after your guy is elected.

Every democrat social program legislated means money going to somebody.

rockhauler on April 11, 2008 at 8:00 AM

I say Obama ends up paying, despite what he says. That’s his M.O.

AZCoyote on April 11, 2008 at 8:02 AM

Go Hillzilla!

I like the idea of paying people to vote though. It’s a different take on the 3rd world election practice of killing people who don’t vote or rather who vote the wrong way.

Ares on April 11, 2008 at 8:06 AM

Imagine being in on Operation Chaos,and getting paid.
JiangxiDad on April 11,2008 at 7:53AM.

JiangxiDad: Excellent point!

canopfor on April 11, 2008 at 8:06 AM

No wonder Democrats want to raise taxes
and tax the rich!

canopfor on April 11, 2008 at 8:08 AM

So if the Dems use bagmen, does that finally make Hillary a bag lady?

Hening on April 11, 2008 at 7:40 AM

The competition for ‘pig in a poke’ is still up for grabs, though…Obama’s going for more of the traditional meaning, while Clinton’s stuck with the more literal meaning.

James on April 11, 2008 at 8:18 AM

canopfor on April 11, 2008 at 8:06 AM

Actually, it’s not. Only too late did I realize that it was money for black people only. Sorry for my racism.

JiangxiDad on April 11, 2008 at 8:19 AM

If he (Hussein Ossama) alienates his constituency with a failure to play the corrupt Democratic game, he may still win the nomination but lose the general election in November.

posted at 7:19 am on April 11, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

I’m not sure what you’re talking about here.

You greatly missed the point of this election cycle.

This is not about “playing any Democratic game,” this is about two things:

1 – Getting rid of the Republicans.

2 – Affirmative Actioning a Black in the White House.

That’s it.

The rest is blah blah blah.

Indy Conservative on April 11, 2008 at 8:25 AM

Suppose she ponies up the money & the machine scares up all those black voters who, in the privacy of the voting booth, vote for Obama anyway.

She also must worry that the media may likely skewer her if she pays up (whether to turn out the vote or suppress it).

And lastly, the media has a dilemma. Do they skewer Hillary…even if it means shining a light on the Dems’ dirty politics that reporters usually work so hard to ignore?

What a delicious irony.

jeanneb on April 11, 2008 at 8:25 AM

Gotta love my hometown.

N. O'Brain on April 11, 2008 at 8:35 AM

Maybe he’s just afraid to carry cash when he hits the street in Philly. I know I am.

forest on April 11, 2008 at 9:58 AM

Suppose she ponies up the money & the machine scares up all those black voters who, in the privacy of the voting booth, vote for Obama anyway.

jeanneb on April 11, 2008 at 8:25 AM

If she gives walking around money to her white supporters, just wait for the demogogic nukes to fly.

pedestrian on April 11, 2008 at 10:25 AM

It’s amazing how this is just accepted practice. Buying votes…no big deal. Money from Chinese spies and diswashers…nothing to see here.

CP on April 11, 2008 at 10:42 AM

B. Hussein Obama may not pay, but Soros will.

MNDavenotPC on April 11, 2008 at 10:53 AM

Now you know why Philadelphia always has close to 100% voter turnout in important elections, and why it consistently votes 90% Democratic.

I think Obama has to take this stance. But he had best be ready to take the flak over it and lose a lot of votes over it. Hillary will shell out that half a mil out of her own pocket without blinking.

rockmom on April 11, 2008 at 11:10 AM

Oh, and there was a report earlier this week that Democrats claim to have registered 50,000 new voters in Philadelphia. I don’t see how that is humanly possible.

rockmom on April 11, 2008 at 11:12 AM

It’s not worth it for Obama to pay. Rendell and most of the Philly machine are in the bag for Clinton anyway. Also, it’s a proportional race, so what does he really buy for his money? And since it’s still a secret ballot, those turning out can take Hillary’s money and vote Obama anyway if they want.

SocklessJoe on April 11, 2008 at 11:16 AM

I don’t see how that is humanly possible.

rockmom on April 11, 2008 at 11:12 AM

Can you possibly be serious?

RushBaby on April 11, 2008 at 11:18 AM

Obama has the high ground here, but it will likely cost him.

No and no. Obama knows he is going to lose Pennsylvania so he has set himself up with an excuse: “I lost because I wouldn’t pay for votes. Hillary won because she bought the election”.

If Obama were really so saintly in such matters he would embrace public financing of the general election as he promised. This is nothing but a smokesceen to mask his failure in the state primary.

DamnCat on April 11, 2008 at 11:20 AM

This is a PR move by Obama, designed to make it appear as if he’s taking the high road, and hopefully win back some moderate whites who were put off by the Rev. Wright situation.

He figures that when push comes to shove Philly will vote for him anyway. Plus, he can always repay anybody he wants after becoming POTUS.

Mr. Wednesday Night on April 11, 2008 at 12:01 PM

She also must worry that the media may likely skewer her if she pays up (whether to turn out the vote or suppress it). jeanneb on April 11, 2008 at 8:25 AM

Are you that naive, or are you kidding? I have personally witnessed much worse in relatively civilized neighborhoods in LA county. The press could care less.

burt on April 11, 2008 at 12:18 PM

Most of y’all really don’t know Philly. This is the city that had a sitting mayor under federal investigation yet put him back in office. The democrat drones in Philly will do what they are told. It’s to their advantage. The Convention Center is an example. During a girls volleyball tournament, it took 12 union laborers from 3-4 different trades 6-8 hours to do what 6 teenage girls could do in 20 minutes….put up a volleyball net in water weighted netposts.

They know this…if Obama won’t pay now, he won’t pay later…and some of these people actually count on this as planned income.

rudytbone on April 11, 2008 at 1:56 PM