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Santa Cruz Indymedia | Government & Elections

Santa Cruz City Council to Consider Campaign Finance Reform Initiative
by via Paul Gratz
Friday Apr 25th, 2014 2:04 PM
On June 10, Santa Cruz City Council members Don Lane and Micah Posner will introduce an ordinance proposal for public campaign financing (santacruzelectionreform.org) before the City Council meeting on May 13. Also on Sunday, May 4th, at 5 p.m,, Senator Bill Monning, Micah Posner and local activist Bruce Van Allen will lead a related forum "The Road to Clean Elections" will be held at the Santa Cruz Police station, 155 Center Street. Hosted by the Peoples' Democratic Club, the event will include a discussion of the issue, recent legislative efforts, and local trends in spending and voting, including the proposed City ordinance.
The following information is from: http://santacruzelectionreform.org/

SANTA CRUZ ELECTION REFORM
Initiative for the City of Santa Cruz Government

SUMMARY

Allow the city to better serve its purpose as a democratic, public institution by:

* Preventing the potential for corruption, or the perception thereof, in City Council elections.
* Insuring that the pool of City Council Candidates is not limited to those with fund raising experience and/or access to money.
* Significantly increasing the quality of the debate during elections by allowing candidates to focus more on issues and conversations and less on fundraising.

This initiative first proposed at Civinomicon 2013.

ESTIMATE NET FISCAL IMPACT

The cost to the city of this ordinance is estimated at no more than $50,000.00 annually, representing .026% of the city’s current budget of $192,627,172.00. This cost would offset costs to the community of between $55,000 and $200,000 annually in contributions to the candidates.

COST ESTIMATE
$ 50,000

BACKGROUND

The City of Santa Cruz already has an ordinance that sets voluntary campaign expenditure limits for city council races- both per donor and per total expenditures. Both limits rise with population and cost of living increases. The per person limit is currently $325, per organization is $780, and the total expenditure limit is $26,641. This Ordinance was established in 2000. The goals of this existing Ordinance are stated as:

* To minimize the potential corruption caused by excessive contributions
* To limit overall expenditures in campaigns, thereby allowing candidates to spend less time fundraising and more time communicating with voters.
* To provide incentives to encourage candidates to voluntarily limit their campaign expenditures.

However, the existing ordinance offers very little incentive for candidates to agree to the voluntary limits. Agreeing to the limits allows a candidate to not pay $1,494 to be featured on the city’s website and allows the candidate access to software that helps to fill out campaign disclosure forms. A more serious incentive - a free mailer for candidates who agreed to the ordinance was rescinded by a Council wherein a majority of the members were elected without agreeing to the limits.

Since the 1980s, a majority of winning Council Candidates did not spend much more than $20,000. After the ordinance was passed in 2000 however, candidates started to outspend the voluntary limit as early as 2004. In 2012, two out of four of the candidates did not agree to the limit, one spent $43,000 + . Although, no candidate has exceeded the per-person/ per organization limits set up by the ordinance (currently $320 and $750 respectively) thereby fulfilling the first goal of the ordinance.

The recent history of voluntary campaign contributions suggest:

* We do not yet have a problem of corrupt influence in city elections, though the ordinance is so weak that it would not prevent this from occurring.
* The ordinance has not proven to be a strong incentive to control maximum expenditures, and the most costly campaigns are getting more costly with each election cycle.
* It is still entirely possible to win a city election while agreeing to the voluntary expenditure limits as evidenced by the successful campaigns in 2014 for 4 seats on the Council of Don Lane (1st out of 8) and Micah Posner (3 out of 8).

PROPOSAL

Amend and strengthen the city’s Voluntary Campaign Expenditure Ordinance by the following: Change voluntary limits on individual and organizational donations ($325 and $780 respectively) to mandatory, while retaining the same amounts as per the current ordinance. Strengthen the incentive to comply with campaign limits by providing a public 1 to 1 match for campaign contributions to candidates who agree to the Voluntary Expenditure Limit of $26,641.00. The match will occur at $5,000.00 increments.