Do you need personal wealth to run for office? No, says the Campaign Finance Institute:
Personal wealth seems not to be a requirement for office. Glavin said that for all spending on U.S. House campaigns in 2008, only 10 percent came from candidates’ personal wealth. Fifty-four percent came from individual contributions and 36 percent came from Political Action Committees, a name given to groups that organize to support a particular candidate or issue. For incumbents in 2008, the amount spent from personal wealth drops to just 5 percent, while the amount from PACs grows to 45 percent, as incumbents are able to tout their voting record on certain issues to garner support.There is, however, a baseline amount of money needed to run a campaign.
“If you’re not crossing a threshold then your chances aren’t very good,” Glavin said, but added that it’s difficult to pinpoint just how much money a candidate needs to run a competitive race. Success leads to more campaign donations which are used to create more success, but the biggest problem candidates face is getting that cycle going, Glavin said.
I should explain my emphasis; insofar that personal wealth is useful to a candidate, it's not because it makes it easier to win (I went over this awhile ago). Rather, having lots of money is useful because it allows a potential candidate to break into the system and attract necessary support from community and business leaders. For a rich person interested in higher office, it's much easier to raise money when the head of the local Chamber of Commerce is a friend, and you are on good personal terms with the mayor and city council. And if you can effectively fundraise from important local interests, then you're more likely to attract support from party organizations on the state and national level.
Without access to those networks, non-wealthy candidates have a harder time jump-starting the fundraising cycle, and thus, a harder time attracting broader support. Which is to say, if you are interested in reducing the influence of wealthy people in electoral politics, your best bet is to support a campaign finance system that creates a broad base for fundraising. New York City has a good thing going, and if the Fair Elections Now Act ever made it out of Congress, the country would too.
-- Jamelle Bouie