What, exactly, is "walking-around money"?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Oct. 23 2008 5:28 PM

What's "Street Money"?

Or "walking-around money"? Or "get-out-the-vote money"?

Philadelphia Democrats are anxious that the Obama campaign won't be handing out "street money" for the general election. "Honestly, they'd be crazy not to do it," said one ward leader. What's street money, and who gets it?

It's cash that's given to help get people to the polls. The money can go toward perks like coffee and doughnuts for door knockers, gas for volunteers to chauffeur elderly voters, or pocket money for kids who distribute fliers and sample ballots on Election Day. Also known as "walking-around money" or "get-out-the-vote money," it's most common in poor areas of Philadelphia; Chicago; Newark, N.J.; Baltimore; Los Angeles; and other big cities. Both parties use street money, but it's more common among Democrats, who tend to be better represented in the areas that rely on it.

Advertisement

Some street money comes from party fundraisers, like the Philadelphia Democratic Party's biannual Jefferson-Jackson dinner. But most of it comes directly from the candidates. Everyone from the presidential nominee to congressmen and state representatives are expected to chip in. (The top of the ticket usually contributes the most.) In Philadelphia, the candidate sends a check to the chairman of the city's Democratic Party, who then divides the money up among the 69 ward leaders, who in turn divvy up their cash among the 50 or so committee people in each ward. In 2004, John Kerry spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Philadelphia street money, and ward leaders received checks for as much as $8,000. Individual volunteers can generally expect anywhere from $10 to $200, depending on the location and the type of work they're doing.

The practice is legal everywhere—it's protected by the First Amendment—but some states have tougher restrictions than others. In Philadelphia, committee people can hand out cash for any reason, as long as they're not paying someone for their vote. (The U.S. Code prohibits vote purchasing.) In New Jersey, campaign officials have to pay the workers in checks and their names, addresses, and amounts paid must be submitted to the Election Law Enforcement Commission. Presidential campaigns are always required to report the money to the Federal Elections Commission.

Street money has its detractors, but most politicians accept it as a reality. During the primaries, Hillary Clinton's campaign gave $38,000 to an Ohio state legislator, who distributed the money to "get-out-the-vote" workers in Cleveland, plus tens of thousands of dollars to people in Houston and other Texas towns near the Mexican border. Obama did not provide street money then but might change his mind for the general election. In 2000, Jon Corzine paid volunteers $75 each to increase turnout for his Senate campaign. Walter Mondale described showing up to a Philadelphia Democratic committee meeting in 1980, only to have someone stand up and demand, "Where's the money?"

Abuses do occur. In Kentucky, a practice called "vote hauling"—paying people to drive sympathetic voters to the polls—often translates into vote buying. Street money can also be used to suppress votes. In 1993, Republican operative Ed Rollins bragged to reporters that he had given half a million dollars in "walking-around money" to black ministers and Democratic activists in New Jersey, and in return they persuaded voters to stay home. (When the Justice Department launched an investigation, Rollins said he had been lying.)

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Tracy Campbell of the University of Kentucky, Philadelphia ward leader Greg Paulmier, and Al Spivey, chief of staff to Philadelphia Councilman Curtis Jones.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM Planned Parenthood Is About to Make It a Lot Easier to Get Birth Control
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.