One of the most remarked-on stories of the 2012 election was the impact of the nation’s rapidly growing Hispanic population at the ballot box. Largely overlooked was the emergence of a cadre of wealthy Latinos as a force in political fundraising.
Especially successful was a network called the Futuro Fund, organized by television star Eva Longoria, San Antonio architectural-design-firm owner Henry Muñoz III and San Juan lawyer Andres W. Lopez. It pulled in upward of $30 million toward President Obama’s reelection.
“We wanted to make sure the Latino community stops being a number and starts being looked at as a market,” Longoria said in an interview. “It may have been a shock to some, but not if you look at trends in Hispanic buying power.”
Now the three are pondering how to build a Latino political organization that will help shape the national debate — not only on such issues as immigration laws and Puerto Rico statehood, but also on education and economic opportunity for Latinos.
“If we are ever going to get what we want, we have to be politically involved,” Muñoz said. “Politics has a currency. It has votes and money. Our community has been known for votes, and now it has to be known for money.”
That, however, is a tall order. An Associated Press survey found that while Hispanics account for 16 percent of the population, less than 4 percent of itemized political contributions (those of $200 or more) during the 2012 campaign came from predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods.
It is understandable, given that the median household income for Hispanics in the 2010 Census was $37,759, compared with $54,620 for non-Hispanic whites. Hispanics have also been hit harder by the recession, with unemployment rates persistently higher than the national average.
In recent weeks, Muñoz and Lopez have been quietly making the rounds in Washington, tapping their contacts, including at the White House, and soliciting advice. Among the possibilities they are considering is setting up a Latino research and advocacy center modeled on a liberal powerhouse, the Center for American Progress.
They bristle, however, at suggestions that they will be just another arm of the Obama political operation.
“We can’t cast ourselves necessarily as a partisan entity or an Obama-specific entity. The question is, how do Latinos, having reached a tipping point in this cycle, move on not just for the next four years, but the next 40?” Lopez said. “That will necessitate talking to both sides of the aisle.”
Though there are already a number of established Hispanic organizations, most grew not from politics but from the civil rights movement. Activists say they are not as influential as they could be and often struggle for funding.