Todd Litton, a Democrat running for Texas’ 2nd congressional district, is claiming to be running a grassroots oriented campaign. We definitely need more grassroots progressive candidates in the Democratic Party. The issue is that Litton appears to be misusing this term. In today’s political sphere, the term grassroots implies a Bernie Sanders, or Ron Paul style campaign. The focus is not just on building enthusiasm at the grassroots level, but also a focus on small dollar donations and the issues average working people face. Litton’s campaign focuses on neither of these things.
Litton has far outraised any of his opponents in the Democratic Party Primary. As of Sept. 30, 2017, the Litton campaign has raised $256,222.79 in campaign contributions. In a private email to me, Litton’s campaign informed me that they have received well over $270,000.00. Litton’s campaign also informed me that all of these donations came from individuals, and that their campaign was “fueled by the people.”
Refusing to accept PAC money is a step in the right direction, but simply taking PAC money out of the equation doesn’t exactly demonstrate that a political campaign is fueled “by the people.” The cap on individual federal campaign contributions is still very high, at $2,700.00. Individuals can contribute $2.7k in the party primary election and $2.7k for the general election, maxing out their total maximum contribution at $5.4k. Thus, simply refusing to take PAC money doesn’t necessarily mean a candidate will be beholden to the interests of average working people. The high maximum contribution limit still leaves plenty of sway for wealthy individuals to have their interests represented over that of the average working person.
Let’s take a deeper look at Littons’ campaign contributions. Of the $256,222.79 the Litton campaign has raised as of Sept. 30, 2017, $226,3370 came from itemized individual contributions from a total of 519 people. Litton’s average individual itemized campaign contribution works out to be roughly $436.10. By comparison, Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke at the same point in time had raised money from 61,000 individuals averaging roughly $44. Beto’s primary opponent, Sema Hernandez, has an average campaign contribution of $21.39. Hernandez actively encourages people to donate $27 at a time to her campaign. Bernie Sanders’ average campaign contribution was roughly $27 during his 2016 bid for the presidency.
Litton’s statement that his campaign is grassroots and fueled by the people is extremely misleading when comparing him to other candidates that are known for their grassroots oriented campaign. Litton can’t fairly claim that his campaign is fueled by the people when most, if not all, of his campaign contributions come from a relatively small number of affluent individuals donating over $400 each on average.
Further, it’s extremely difficult to tell what exactly Litton stands for. Litton’s campaign website contains absolutely no policy substance. When looking through Litton’s Facebook page, I discovered that he is for ‘common sense gun regulation’, protecting DACA and the “Dreamers,” stands against white supremacy, supports a woman’s right to choose, LGBTQ rights, protecting the ACA, and that’s about it.
I’m currently awaiting a reply from Litton’s campaign team on other progressive issues. I have asked Litton if he supports single payer healthcare; a $15/hr minimum wage; decreasing the bloated military budget; opposes cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP and other social safety net programs; abolishing key aspects of the surveillance state like PRISM; raising taxes on the wealthy; free (taxpayer funded) college; abolishing anti-union “right to work” laws; rejoining the Paris Climate Accords; Universal Basic Income; expanding the social safety net; an employment non-discrimination act for LGBT people; ending standardized testing; opposes regime change wars; and overturning Citizens United.
If Litton is a progressive, then he should make his positions on these issues and others abundantly clear. At the current time, Litton comes off as a Republican-lite or diet Republican candidate. If Democrats continue to run center-right candidates, they’re going to lose. When people have a choice between a Republican and someone that is almost a Republican, they’re always going to choose the Republican. Progressive ideas are overwhelmingly popular, so it doesn’t make any sense for a progressive party to run candidates that are not progressive.