Politicians Need Rich Zip Codes

An intriguing analysis by the Rocky Mountain News of which zip codes are supplying gubernatorial candidates Republican Bob Beauprez and Democrat Bill Ritter with the most campaign cash shows a fierce fundraising battle between the two candidates, who count six of the same zip codes in their top ten list, all in the Denver metro area.

What the Rocky fails to note, however, perhaps because newspapers often think it too “obvious,” is the significance of the fact that the the top contributing zip codes are in wealthy areas. This is because very few people of ordinary means can afford to shell out the maximum $1,000 contribution. Nationwide, only one half of one percent of the adult population gave a contribution of $200 or more to a federal campaign in the 2004 elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The zip code 80220, which spans Denver’s Park Hill and Hilltop neighborhoods, is Ritter’s top contributing zip code. Nearly one out of five households here enjoy an income of at least $100,000-and that figure is likely highly underestimated, as it’s from the 1990 census.

Beauprez’s top contributing zip code was 80111, in Greenwood Village, although, as the Rocky points out, Ritter outraised him there by $26,432 In this wealthy area, a whopping 44 percent of the households earn at least $100,000 according to the 1990 census.

Nationwide, the top contributing zip code in the 2004 elections was 10021, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan-not exactly an area where poor people make their homes.

Why does this obvious point matter? When politicians must rely on the wealthy to fund their campaigns, they get a skewed view of what their constituents need and want. They too much of their time at fancy fundraisers and dialing for dollars and not enough talking to ordinary voters. Just because this is the status quo doesn’t mean that it’s not worth pointing out–or that it is the way that our elections must be run.

[disclosure: when I’m not posting at Colorado Confidential or Muckraking Mom, I work for Public Campaign, a Washington-based nonpartisan organization working to pass publicly financed elections.]