Reflections from a Former Congressional Candidate

Rhonda Elaine Foxx | Jun 25, 2020

I’ve never been intimidated by a challenge; being bold and fearless has been the hallmark of my career. Or so I thought. That changed the moment I filed to run for Congress. For the first time, I was petrified.

As a former Chief of Staff and political fundraiser, I thought I was prepared to run for office. I was wrong. Being a candidate is hard, and the biggest obstacle is raising money. I was the only Black woman and first-time candidate in a five-way primary. The only white candidate, in a newly drawn minority district, was a millionaire. I knew I’d be outspent, but not be outworked. I mistakenly thought that mattered.

I went to multiple churches each Sunday, knocked on countless doors, made 100’s of calls, and spoke at every event. I practically lived on college campuses. I was determined to get students, especially those that looked like me, involved in the political process. You name it, Team Foxx did it. In the two weeks, I raised $77,000, hired staff, and opened a headquarters. This was herculean, but it still wasn’t enough. Not when you’re running against a millionaire. I gave it my all but seldom is your all good enough when money determines elections.

During my campaign, every day was a brutal reminder that in American politics, work ethic, experience, and diversity doesn’t matter. What matters is the size of your donor list. In 2020, the fact that we still use this to determine candidate viability is shameful. It’s a large part of why there are only two Black women under 40 in Congress, and only two Black women have served in the US Senate.

Political endorsements are largely contingent on a candidate’s access to capital. This practice is tantamount to saying, “good leaders have rich friends.” I interviewed for a key labor endorsement. My friends in labor helped me prepare and my staffer was certain I got it. I presented well, knew the issues, had handouts, and a record of labor advocacy. I, however, knew I wouldn’t. On my way out they asked the question, “How much have you raised?”

The data and commonsense makes it clear – younger and diverse candidates do not have equal access to robust donor networks. How could they? Many are still grappling with crushing student debt and soaring unemployment. Money in politics bars too many new voices and kills inclusive leadership. It’s why Congress, the People’s House, looks nothing like the people. It’s time to change our broken system. We can do that by:

1. Investing in diverse staff: As a Black woman and first-time candidate, I needed staff that understood me and my diverse community. Every candidate needs diverse staff because no District is homogenous. Diversity of thought is key to effectively representing your community and crafting inclusive messaging and policies. Diverse staff matters.

2. Instituting new endorsement benchmarks. The ability to raise money can no longer determine a candidate’s viability. In 2020, organizations must reject using fundraising prowess to determine endorsements. Instead, evaluate a candidate’s fortitude, community support, legislative know-how, work-ethic, their diverse perspectives. Money does not make good leaders.

3. Doing your part to level the playing field. Endorse candidates early, using metrics other than their ability to raise money. Then connect endorsed candidates to your donor pool. That is step one to leveling the playing field for all candidates.

4. Eradicating political privilege. End Citizen’s United. It’s that simple. Our democracy demands it.

Running for office isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s even harder for women of color. I’m proud that I ran – it made me fearless. The experience has inspired me to build a new women’s network that connects Black women to early support. It’s time to be bold in our commitment to diversifying our legislative bodies. We need more leaders like Johanna Hayes pushing for affordable education, Lucy McBath fighting for gun reform, and Lauren Underwood leading the charge to eliminate healthcare disparities. I’m encouraged by Katie Hill, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Ayanna Pressley. Fearless women changing the game by supporting candidates based on their values, and not their wallets. Together, we can ensure that every woman can take her seat at the leadership table.


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