Philly supporters to Obama: pay up

April 11, 2008

Democratic candidate Barack Obama, who has built his candidacy on the promise of a “new kind of politics,” has run up against the old kind of politics in Philadelphia.

obamaspeakThe Los Angeles Times reports that Obama’s refusal to pay “street money” to volunteers in Pennsylvania’s largest city may cost him support in the state’s April 22 primary.

Local party leaders in Philadelphia expect candidates to deliver cash to help them get out the vote, the Times says. Teens who hand out leaflets typically get a $10 bill, while more experienced volunteers can get up to $100. The total for America’s sixth-largest city could come to $500,000.

“This is a machine city, and ward leaders have to pay their committee people,” ward leader and Obama supporter Carol Ann Campbell told the Times.

Obama often rails against the influence of money in politics, and his campaign has told Philadelphia officials they should expect no street money.

That could cost him support in an area where he will have to run up large margins to counteract rival Hillary Clinton‘s strength elsewhere in the state, the Times said. Local officials expect the Clinton campaign will have no qualms about handing out street money, which is legal and has been a fixture in previous presidential campaigns.

Obama’s stance could also cause resentment among the city’s poor, black voters, who see the black candidate’s well-funded campaign spending lavishly on TV ads but freezing out field workers for whom a $50 bill would be a big payday.

“They view it that the white people are getting all the money for TV,” said state Rep. Dwight Evans, who is neutral in the race.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Frank Polich (Obama campaigns in Gary, Indiana on April 10)


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So what is wrong with paying teens a pittance to help get out the vote? Why expect experienced volunteers to aid Obama on their own dime? This is Philadelphia and not affluent cities like San Francisco and Seattle.

I also heard on a TV show yesterday from someone who talked to the Obama campaign in Pennsylvania, that there have been flare-ups between Obama volunteers and the conservative non-black people who live in central PA over race.

It just seems like that the Obama campaign does not understand anything about the diverse cultures in PA.

Posted by Nickberry | Report as abusive

Is this the same Philadelphia where democracy was born? It is amazing enough to hear that people get paid to vote in America. It is shocking to hear that it is legal. I thought that this kind of things would only happen in some of the third world countries

Did Alan Specter also pay the “street money?” I would be terribly disappointed if he did.

Posted by Jason C | Report as abusive

Common Barach – just pay the street people. It’s not worth the flap.

Posted by Alice Levine | Report as abusive

This is what some would call a “shake down”. If these are common tactics in Philly politics if i were Sen. Obama i would by-pass Pennsylvania altogether. I applaud Sen. Obama for not giving ‘street money’ , i hope the senator stands by his word.

Posted by Tad -NY | Report as abusive

“Obama’s stance could also cause resentment among the city’s poor, black voters, who see the black candidate’s well-funded campaign spending lavishly on TV ads but freezing out field workers for whom a $50 bill would be a big payday.”

Now that’s just dumb. I seriously doubt there is going to be resentment. If people don’t want to volunteer they don’t have to. I’ve never been paid anything to volunteer.

Posted by Carter | Report as abusive

I agree with Senator Obama. He has to make a stand even when it could cost him greatly. That is the type of politician America needs. We need a President that will keep the same message throughout the campaign and throughout his or her years in the White House. Secondly, the poor class should respect his decision and not automatically assume that he is doesn’t care to place money into their neighborhoods. Obama 08

Posted by Michelle | Report as abusive

that’s a tricky one. will be interesting 2 see what happens on 22nd if obama camp doesn’t hand out street $$.

or if he does, how he will explain doing so.

Posted by amar | Report as abusive

I have been with Obama all the way and will continue to be
However, he needs to give up the money on this one
If it’s legit, why not
Marketing shouldn’t be limited to the Big Boys

Give the little people a piece of the action
Afterall, that’s what he’s asking the little people to do.

Posted by nepeebles | Report as abusive

Hang in there Barack! I’m volunteering in South Dakota on my own dime. I’m taking unpaid leave to campaign for Brack, and not rich.($20,000/yr) Street money is as bad as lobbyists and big money. It’s time we Americans sacrifice a little for the common good.

Posted by joe | Report as abusive

The most powerful thing about the Obama campaign and its volunteers is that we do not get paid.
That makes what we do for him- many of us working as fulltime volunteers since last February when he announced (and continueing to work our fulltime jobs too)so beautiful and genuine.
He has paid noone to get out the vote in any city.
I’ve been to 5 states and paid out of pocket to go each time because I truly believe in him.
That’s the way it should be.
That’s how you know you have true support.

Posted by Thetruth | Report as abusive

Thats crazy, How selfish is that… other supporters have been paid….I know that if i was big into supporting obama that my time would be given with no pay….

Posted by oregon4obama | Report as abusive

Obama’s doing his best to run a clean campaign. There are a lot of smart people working with him, and hopefully they’ll figure out the best way to deal w/ this. Probably best to just pay the money. Giving field workers $10 to $100 each for their efforts doesn’t really count as political corruption. It’s just another campaign cost.

I can see where Obama is coming from with this. Probably he meant to eliminate any possibility of the Clinton campaign accusing him of bribery and something similar. Knowing the desperate Clintons as we do, this is not unthinkable. But if the Clinton campaign is doing the same thing, ie paying the field workers, then Obama should not be too afraid of being accused of buying votes. Then again, with the Clintons, one never knows how they can twist and twist facts so I guess Obama needs to be very careful.

Posted by Junebug | Report as abusive

My fellow citymates are cretins. Send them all to me and I will distribute the fliers for free.

Union town, scandal town, certainly not the town of brotherly love we pretend to be.

Posted by Sven | Report as abusive

i think obama iz wat it takes to run dez contry the right way and fix bush’s mess!

“They view it that the white people are getting all the money for TV,” said state Rep. Dwight Evans, who is neutral in the race.

Well Rep Evans, perhaps if we did something to improve the schools “a $50 bill” would not be a big payday!

Not to mention all the advertising they’ve run on BET… I guess that is a white institution too, huh?

Next you’ll be telling us we should pay reparations to the lazy people in your district, huh?


Posted by Sven | Report as abusive

Paying the street money has nothing to do with new kind of politics. What’s the difference between the street money and that paid for advert? These people need to get paid for the work? Even in freetown, it would not be free. Obama, Please pay and don’t bungle our chances of closing the primaries early!

Posted by Odeh Michael | Report as abusive

I think Obama will get more undecideed voters to vote for him because he did refuse to PLAY THE BUY THE VOTES GAME.
Right on Obama. We the people are sick and tired of political machine politics. Honest people do not BUY volenteers and honest people do not want and will not accept PAY for volenteering. The days of political insiders are over in America.
We the people do NOT want or trust lier Hillary Clinton OR warmonger McCain as our president and will write our vote for Obama in November If that is what it takes to drain the swamp that Pelosi said she was going to drain BUT instead Pelosi became a big part of the swamp herself.

Posted by Dan C | Report as abusive

What part of “volunteer” don’t people understand? You can’t get paid and still be a volunteer. When you are paid you become an employee. Volunteers can be provided with transportation, meals, campaign tee shirts, hats, buttons, lodging if need be etc. As long as they volunteer their time, thats fine. Others may choose to volunteer all of the above as well. They won’t be paid either. Geez! Get a dictionary people.

Posted by Martha Davidson | Report as abusive

As a Philadelphia resident, let me reassure the Obama supporters that it’s not going to make any difference. Obama is going to have enough volunteers in town for any get out the vote operation he wants to run. The ward leaders are just bitter that they’re not able to feed at the troth of campaign money. For a recent example, please not last year’s mayor race:

You had 5 candidates: Bob Brady (mr Democratic Machine himself), Chucka Fattah (immense name recognition, built-in support in black neighborhoods), Tom Knox (rich guy who spent millions on street money and TV ads), Dwight Evans (whom you quote in your aticle) and Michael
Nutter (city councilman with a reformer message, zero support from the ward leaders and a small base in the Northwest). You know who won, but the question is, how?

Here’s how. Nutter was able to mobilize the relatively well off white liberals in Center City and the Northwest and create a fundraising base of small donations (sound familiar?). He ran as a change candidate and a reformer in a city that was ready to move on from a
corrupt and ineffective mayor (again, see any familiarities?). He performed well in the debates and increased his name recognition with well timed ads starting about a month before elections. He recieved
endorsement from the two larges papers (guess who they endorsed in this election). He went from last to first in the span of 45 days and won 37% of the vote in a 5-way race. Ofcourse now he’s endorsing Hillary, so it’s hard to make sense of it all.

Posted by Roman | Report as abusive

I agree with the majority on this blog–the Obama grassroots campaign is all about ending graft and corruption. So, does this mean Clinton is paying off the machine — otherwise the people don’t want them? Pretty telling!! The whole Obama concept is WE the citizens of the USA–want to be FREE of this corruption, this payola (street pay) forever. I am banking on good people who live in PA–who have been the scapegoats of their own states society for too long. Obama is here to pull them out! Jump on Board!

Posted by Cecilia | Report as abusive

I think Obama truly loves this country. The dream in his heart for the country is our collective dream. Let those who believe in the change he offers us go our and work to make this happen. You can’t but a better country with just $100.00. It is a privilegde and a precious opportunity to be part of this historic movement. Can the payment you forfeit be the sacrifce you’re making for a better tomorrow for all of us? Let each of us count the $100 he/she will not receive as his/her individual’s investment in the campaign. That makes a lot of sense. Other people have made bigger contribution.

Posted by Philip | Report as abusive

You cannot call yourself a volunteer if you expect to be paid. You are either selling your services or you are a volunteer. The two are mutually exclusive.
This amounts to being expected to buy votes. The threat is implicit: “If you don’t pay me I’ll get everyone to vote for the other guy.”

Posted by marilee | Report as abusive

I don’t support Mr. Obama but I totally agree with him on this point.

Volunteer means exactly that.

“Street money” sounds like mob tactics.

Posted by None in 08 | Report as abusive

Why is Philadelphia doing this? No other city or state has requested the volunteers get “street money”. If they get paid then they become campaign employees, or, like someone said, it could be interpreted as buying the votes. Looks like the candidates are being placed between a rock and a hard place on this one. Damned if you do and damned if you dont.

I volunteered to teach literacy classes to adults who missed out on education for whatever reasons. It was fun and rewarding in itself and I got to meet some very nice people in the process. It never occurred to me that I should be given gas money, snack money, etc. When people volunteer they do it because they want to do something for their community. I never heard of volunteering and expecting to somehow be compensated monetarily.

I’m sorry, the definition of the word VOLUNTEER is to do something for NO COMPENSATION because you care about it! If Obama were to pay cash money to these people, that would make them EMPLOYEES.

No wonder this country is going into the toilet…

Posted by Mike S | Report as abusive

Philadelphia…this is not helping how the rest of us view of your city. Now I see that it’s not just the Eagle fans.

Posted by Dallas, TX | Report as abusive

The people who get paid “street money” in Philadelphia are asked by their ward leaders and committee people to help their candidates by knocking on doors and reminding people to get out and vote and putting in a good word for particular candidates. These are not people who volunteer because they are motivated by politics or by a particular candidate. This happens every election day in Philadelphia, not just during Presidential elections.

Posted by Jennifer - South Philly | Report as abusive

What a bunch of elitist B.S. And some racism thrown in. I cannot believe you guys are Obama supporters. This is not buying any votes… any more then it is to pay millions of dollars to have ads run on television and radio. This is paying people with very little or no income a pittance for services.

And I cannot believe the California Obama supporters who already forgave the Obama campaign for initially disqualifying 950 delegate candidates leaving only the “volunteers” who bundled big money. The Obama campaign changed its mind because of the loud complaints and around 825 were finally allowed back in.

The Philadelphia issue and the California debacle reveals a very sad pattern. Volunteers are only valuable if they provide free services and finance their expenses. Delegate candidates are only valuable if they bundle money. It is not about the voters, but rather about the money.

Posted by Nickberry | Report as abusive

For the ignorant people using this incident as an excuse to slam Philly, this has nothing to do with the city. It’s the infrastructure of the Democratic political machine (Democratic City Committee) that’s demanding money for its street soldiers. Not all that different from DNC throwing money around to preferred congretional candidates. These guys are not volunteers, they’re political operatives that hire help to get out on the streets and get the vote out.

It’s an effective tactic for low-turnout elections where general public is not motivated to go to the polls or doesn’t know much about the candidates. That’s obviously not the case this time and the turn-out will be high regardless of what the ward leaders do. Obama is doing the right thing by not playing that game, since alot of the money would probably be pocketed by corrupt politicians like Carol Ann Campbell.

Posted by Roman | Report as abusive

I’ve never heard of this in my life- it really does sound sketchy to be paid for volunteering to get out the vote. I don’t want Clinton to have the advantage, which makes it achingly difficult to support Obama’s decision, but he’s doing the right thing- don’t pay, b/c an election belongs to the people, not the money owners. Thanks to the PA posters here who explained the situation.

Posted by Sally | Report as abusive

It sounds like the end of old fashioned tacky politics in the City of Brotherly Love and the ward leaders are sounding out a death rattle.

I’m curious about the Clinton campaign. Will the Clinton’s be handing out money?

Posted by Dennis | Report as abusive

I would encourage Barack to not pay these or any other volunteers (hence the term “volunteer”). If it costs him votes at least it won’t cost him his integrity. And where is Clinton on this? Is she paying street money? If so, this would be a great place display the difference between them. If not, why isn’t she being taken to task on this?

The difference between this and advertising is one is a known, everyone pays for venture (advertising) while the other is an “on the down-low, slide me a little love, wink-wink” deal that makes a mockery of the idea of volunteering and places Barack’s integrity in question. If these folks said, I need to be paid to do what I do, that would be one thing. Then Barack’s campaign could decide to hire them or not. If they’re doing their work, then afterward coming in with a “you know how we do this” attitude, they sound like mafia thugs Barack should have no dealings with.

Better to win the White House by the smallest of margin with your integrity than sell out to “assure” what would then be a “victory”.

Posted by Robert | Report as abusive

These are FAT CATS at work here. They are asking for a fee of $500,000.-$750,000. How much do we really think they dish out for the helpers, NOT MUCH. When Obama gets nominated, then they’ll shake he down again. This is the Hillary camp at work, since she doesn’t have money to pay, her people have told the FAT CATS to shake down.

Posted by Boogyeman | Report as abusive


1. a. Arising from one’s own free will
b. Acting on one’s own initiative
2. Acting or serving in a specified capacity without constraint or guarantee of reward


1. A person who performs or gives his/her service of his/her own free will
2. A person who renders aid, performs a service, or assumes an obligation voluntarily

Nothing here about being compensated monetarily. Umm…

Obama has made a decision not to provide street money based on principal. It is illogical for him to make exceptions for poor cities, since the poor are the ones most likely to benefit by his election. However, I do have to wonder if using such small sums for street money isn’t a good idea applied nationally. After all everyone pays teens and adults to commercially distribute flyers, but any policy should be national, not city focused.

The existence of street money, as opposed to payment or reimbursement for direct expenses like gasoline used in distributing materials does raise the issue of whether Philadelphia is a political machine and not a true democracy with street money being a form of patronage employment.

People also need to remember that if this decision saves $500,000 in just one big city, that kind of money could be better spent supporting candidates running for the House and Senate trying to unseat Republicans. After all Obama cannot keep excess revenue from fund raising for his personal use. It can only be sent to other campaigns, returned to contributors or donated to charity.

Posted by Walter L Johnson | Report as abusive

Obama should NOT pay the people in Philly. It would definitely become a slippery slope if he does. HONESTLY I THINK IF THE TRUTH BE TOLD it is not the average person in the community that wants the money. I BELEIVE THEY WOULD BE WILLING TO DO what thousands of other supporters have done. WE MUST HAVE FAITH in the GOODNESS of MAN and what makes the people in Philly any different that others across the country who have volunteered countless hours and money because they believe he is a candidate of CHANGE. I truly believe to quote what a previous person stated “The ward leaders are just bitter that they’re not able to feed at the troth of campaign money.” I can’t believe these ward leaders don’t turn around and expect favors in return for them selling a small amount of their soul for 10 bucks. I SUGGUST he holds a rally for the people in Philly or make a public statement explaining why he has chosen not to pay the volunteers and then let the people decide!!!

Posted by Tracene | Report as abusive

What’s the moral difference between handing out money at this level, and handing it out to lobbyists to influence votes in his favor? Sure, the people are different, and no one has much sympathy for lobbyists, but the process is the same. Money to buy votes.

Posted by Allen | Report as abusive

I worked very hard for Obama in our East Texas primary, and have worked for candidates since the 60′s, that is what grass roots mean, from the people. Never occurred to us to get paid, VOLUNTEERISM. I am shocked they would do that. I spent hours on the phone, at my own expense. Teens should do it as civic’s lesson for school or don’t they do projects any more?
What a world.

Posted by gayle | Report as abusive

From the ‘affluent’ city of Seattle to the ‘effluent’ city of Philly, I say a volunteer is a volunteer, and not a paid campaign worker. Obama should skip the street money and get whatever votes he can the same way he did all across this country. He can win without a majority in Pennsylvania, so why bother? I’ve seen several cases where paid ‘volunteers’ filled their petitions with bogus voter names and signatures so they could collect a few more dollars, and it really messes up the process.

By the way, I like Philly– that was a joke

Another example to show that Obama would love to use your money for his gain, be it through raising tax or taking money through the Internet. But when it comes to create jobs or give money to poor then his action is the opposite of his words. He gives less than 10% to charity compared to the Clintons’. Clinton pays these folks in Phillies and provides some temporary jobs.

Posted by vote4thebest | Report as abusive

Is this the best u’ve got Andy Sullivan??? dig deeper. supporters should support because they want to not because they’re getting paid. (PERIOD)

Posted by Erik | Report as abusive

Just goes to show once again that Obama is out of touch with his main base (the poor and colored people) and does not understand what is going on around him.

Posted by John Silver | Report as abusive

I am disgusted that people would want money to volunteer.
That is not the meaning of ” Volunteer ” . My God when are people going to wake up and get rid of this type of politis

Many of us volunteer and we consider it a privilege!

If Obama loses Pa because of this , then they dont deserve
his Presidency !

Posted by Disgusted | Report as abusive

“He gives less than 10% to charity compared to the Clintons’.”

You’re kidding right? Most of the money was donated to the Clinton Library!!

Posted by Julie | Report as abusive

“Just goes to show once again that Obama is out of touch with his main base (the poor and colored people) and does not understand what is going on around him.”

Colored people. You said colored people. This is the 21st century and you said colored people.

Talk about out of touch. I presume you’re voting for Hillary?

Posted by Julie | Report as abusive

Obama is NOT a President for the PEOPLE…..face it!



Posted by Sean McM | Report as abusive

OK, some of you blogers have a distorted view of these
campaign workers.
If TV stations are getting millions for those ads thatn keep interupting your programing
What’s wrong with those teenagers makin a few bucks.
You won’t find any millionares out there doing it for nothing.

Posted by yea right | Report as abusive

I don’t want anybody going crazy over my post, but I guess I just don’t know why it’s so difficult to zero in on the “volunteer” portion of the deal. Further more, in no other state has it EVER been required by local custom, social mores or any scewed sense that volunteers get paid. I bet they get donuts and coffee, right?
y’all might as well go spit shine windshields for quarters. It’s VOL-UN-TEEEEEER work. Say it with me.

Posted by Obamanaut | Report as abusive

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Part of me agrees with giving money to local people who need it. But I’m more swayed by the argument that our democracy is built on the backs of everyone in America, and that our votes shouldn’t be for sale under any circumstances. So, while I applaud the thinking that we should pay everyone to support a political candidate… I have to say wholeheartedly that I agree with Obama’s approach that our democracy is not for sale, and that he won’t accept coerced votes. I would hope the people of Pennsylvania would support a free democracy!