News Column

Hispanics Who Write the Checks

Nov 2 2000 11:59AM

Both political parties agree: Hispanics are contributing more money to campaigns than ever before.

By James E. Garcia

November 2000 - There’s no doubt this will be the single most expensive presidential election in U.S. history. At last count, more than $300 million had been collected by the two major candidates. And by November 7, experts say as much as $750 million will have been spent by the major parties on their respective presidential campaigns.

The Hispanic community has made history, too. Twice as many Hispanics were expected to vote in this presidential election than in 1992. As many as 6 million Hispanics will cast their ballots this month.

But the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates count more than Hispanic votes. They also count our money.

Campaigns are only beginning to crunch the numbers, but political finance experts say the Hispanic community broke new ground by giving more money than ever to the major presidential campaigns, as well as down-ballot races at the federal, state, and local levels.

“It’s all part of the maturing process for the Latino community,” explains Al Cardenas, chairman of the Florida Republican Party and a major fund-raiser for George W. Bush. “There’s a growing number of Latino-owned small businesses and entrepreneurs. There are five times as many Latino executives today. So the [campaign] fund-raising is a natural part of that maturing process.”

According to officials with the George W. Bush campaign, at least 10 Hispanics nationwide have helped raised $100,000 or more for the Republican presidential candidate. Among the top Hispanic fund-raisers for Mr. Bush are Hector Barreto of Barreto Insurance and Financial Services in California; Solomon Trujillo, former CEO of US WEST in Colorado; Raul Romero of S&B Infrastructure in Texas; Jorge Arrizurieta of Huizenga Holdings in Florida; and A.R. “Tony” Sanchez of Sanchez Oil and Gas in Texas. Mr. Sanchez, incidentally, is a registered Democrat who may run for governor of Texas.

On the Democratic side, which raised about $50 million less than the Bush campaign overall, fewer Hispanics are estimated to have raised $100,000 or more for the White House aspirations of Vice-President Al Gore.

Gilberto Ocañas, deputy executive director for the Democratic National Committee, says “several” Hispanic Democrats have raised at least $100,000 for Mr. Gore, including Miguel Lausell, a Washington attorney, and Alvaro Cifuentes of Puerto Rico. But Luis Rosero, a deputy press secretary for the Democratic Party, says that information could not be confirmed at press time because Gore campaign officials only file quarterly contribution reports, while their Bush counterparts provide monthly updates.

Still, Mr. Ocañas insists that many more Hispanics are contributing to Democrats during this election cycle than ever before. “I think they’re doing it because obviously the economy is doing really well these days,” explains Mr. Ocañas, president of Ocañas Printing Co. in Austin, Texas. “There’s also been a lot more outreach to find Hispanic donors. In the past, we never really thought we could raise money [in the Hispanic community]. But now when you go to Democratic fund-raisers, you see a lot more Hispanics, including people from all over the country – Florida, Chicago, Los Angeles.”

The fact that more Hispanics are running for elective office – especially at the local and state level – means people in the community are often being asked to contribute by someone they know. Once Hispanics gain a foothold in local politics, they become a natural conduit for the national campaigns.

Contributing to a national campaign is becoming “a new habit, a habit we’ve never seen before,” says Hector Barreto, a long-time supporter of Mr. Bush.

Mr. Barreto acknowledges that one of his designated roles as a Bush campaign co-chairman in California was to tap into his West Coast and national business contacts in the Hispanic community, though he adds his main job was to conduct community outreach. A former chairman of the Latin Business Association in Los Angeles, he was instrumental in getting Mr. Bush to address the group during its 1999 convention. It was the Texas governor’s first major campaign speech on education. Mr. Barreto, meanwhile, went on to deliver a speech to the GOP convention delegates in Philadelphia in July.

He agrees with Mr. Ocañas’ general assessment that increased outreach and a strong economy have prompted more Hispanics to contribute money. But he also observes that “the environment for Latino-owned business has changed. … There is a huge amount of wealth that’s been created over the past 20 years, and many more people who are capable of giving are giving.”

Indeed, the fund-raising portion of his job was made easier, Mr. Barreto maintains, by the rebound in the California economy and a virtual explosion in the number of Hispanic-owned businesses in the state. According to a study by the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, the state hosts about 600,000 Hispanic-owned businesses.

As a result, Mr. Barreto and others in California had little trouble raising about $300,000 of the more than $1.3 million collected for a GOP fund-raiser – a Latin music concert called “Un Nuevo Dia” – staged just prior to the Republican Convention in Philadelphia. The musical event marked Mr. Bush’s arrival at the convention.

Mr. Cardenas, meanwhile, estimates that about 10 to 15 percent of the $6 million-plus that Floridians have contributed toward the Bush campaign came from Hispanics. And Hispanics also gave more often to state campaigns. This year, 37 Hispanics were running for election to the Florida Legislature.

“There’s a much greater understanding of the purpose [of campaign fund-raising] as an integral part of expressing your voice in the political process,” says Mr. Cardenas, who also credits the Bush family’s personal links to the Hispanics for a good deal of the increase in Hispanic financial support.

Another sign of the growing sophistication of Hispanic campaign contributors is their increasing tendency to give money to more than one candidate in the same race. It’s a strategy that Sergio Bendixen, president of Florida-based polling firm Hispanic Trends, calls “a part of the American political tradition.”

Ray Arvizu, CEO of Arvizu Advertising in Phoenix and the former chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, believes giving to both sides in a campaign is a good idea for businesses. “I have crossed party lines,” says Mr. Arvizu. “I’m sure there are lot of diehard Democrats and diehard Republicans who’ll stay with one party. But you need to build coalitions in both parties, and you need the understanding of both parties, particularly from the business perspective. I’ve been available for Republicans and Democrats.”

Mr. Barreto adds that Hispanic CEOs and managers have begun to understand that “politics and business go hand-in-hand.”

“Fifteen years ago, Latino business owners were saying, ‘I’m not going to spend money on politicians because they don’t do anything for me,’” Mr. Barreto recalls. “But what’s happened is that as we’ve grown in power and stature and visibility. I don’t think the link between politics and business is an afterthought anymore.”

Despite the media focus on money totals raised by the candidates, everyone interviewed for this story says giving money isn’t the only way to contribute to a campaign’s success. “I think it’s important that people show their support in a variety of ways,” says Gary Mendoza, an attorney and California co-chairman for the Bush campaign, who has raised about $60,000 for the Republican Party in this election cycle. “Raising and contributing money is important, but I don’t think it’s the only way, by any means, to have influence. Opinion leaders who can mobilize the community can have as much influence as or more than the people who write the checks.”

In the Hispanic community, people power still matters, since there are still relatively few truly wealthy Hispanics with a long history of political involvement. But that will change with each new national election.

“Being a stockholder in anything is significant,” says Mr. Cardenas, “and being a stockholder in the public arena offices means you have to contribute funds. Whether it means the appointment of Hispanic [officials] or expression of your views on bilingual education, once you’re a stockholder, you have a seat at the table. And that means we don’t have to depend on third parties to get our views heard.”

James E. Garcia, a nationally published newspaper columnist, is editor and publisher of E-mail the writer at

Source: Hispanic Business magazine

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