Today Joseph Kennedy III, the latest scion of the nation’s leading Democratic family, held a big ticket fundraiser in Palm Beach. Kennedy is running for the Massachusetts Congressional seat being vacated by Barney Frank. It seems when money is needed national democrats always find southeast Florida on the map. President Obama recently completed a fundraising swing through the state following in the footsteps of previous Democratic nominees who made frequent trips to raise money in SE Florida. A prime example was the frequency with which Democratic Presidential candidates visited southern Florida in 2003 to raise money for the 2004 primaries even though they spent virtually no time campaigning in the state whose contest in mid March was correctly judged as irrelevant in a front-loaded primary season.
While the Florida Democratic Party perennially has trouble competing with the Republican Party of Florida when it comes to fundraising, (and every other meaningful metric such as electoral performance) the DNC, DSCC, DCCC and individual high profile Democratic candidates from outside Florida seem to inevitably make their way to Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Miami or Fort Lauderdale to raise money. Even more telling is the relatively poor financial health of local DECs in SE Florida.
But why? Several factors are at play when you consider the demographics of southern Florida. Many high end Democratic fundraisers are off limits for local parties as they are focused almost exclusively on national issues or in the case of many, international issues and the security of the state of Israel. Many fundraisers in southeast Florida are from another part of the country and don’t have any interest about state or local issues and in some cases local parties aren’t organized enough to take advantage of a built in fund raising apparatus.
For many years in Palm Beach County, Democratic clubs, and not the Palm Beach DEC, represented the real power in local party politics. The clubs were better funded, better organized and ultimately more effective at electioneering than the local parties. in Broward County, the DEC has generally been better organized and funded than in Palm Beach but has lacked the critical support of many local elected officials, union leaders and Democratic club presidents. Miami-Dade County had similar problems for years but has recently been more effective as a functioning party operation, but suffers from the fact that Dade County is far less Democratic than Palm Beach or Broward.
Rectifying this often frustrating situation is easier said than done. Local DECs have made efforts to reach out to national donors living locally only to be rebuffed. In other cases, the national donors have funded local advocacy and activist organizations while funding candidates and party committees directly on the national level. For years, there have been efforts to create greater synergies between party entities at all levels.
But today, as was the case 15 years ago, local organizations are hit or miss with their funding, the state party has issues and the national party is successful raising big money in our backyard. The status quo appears acceptable when Democrats are performing well in elections, but more often than not partisan turnout and electoral results could and should improve. Let us hope 2012 begins an era of greater coordination, proper funding and better results for both the FDP and local party entities.