Berkeley Fair Elections: Small-Donor Public Campaign Financing

During a special November 10 meeting, the Berkeley City Council considered placing on the November 2016 ballot the “Berkeley Fair Elections” proposal, which calls for a system of “small donor” public financing for local candidates’ campaigns funded through the General Fund.

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As proposed, candidates for Mayor, Council, School Board and Rent Board would be eligible to receive matching funds for campaign donations from the City through a new elections fund if they agree to limit donations to $50 from individuals only. They would qualify for the program by raising $500 of donations between $10 and $50 from at least 30 different sources. Each electoral category would have a maximum (eg: Council candidates would be limited to $40,000 per campaign).  The overall cost to the General Fund per year was estimated at just over $400,000.

Note April 7, 2016: Since this story was published the FPCP, the Fair Political Campaign Practices Commission has reviewed the measure again and has accepted versions of the four changes outlined below, which were supported by the League and the other members of the supporting group, including the Sierra Club and Daniel Newman of MapLight.

LWVBAE, acknowledged within the proposal as one of the co-authors of the original draft in 2014, has been conditionally supportive. In a letter to the Council, we wrote that the “League of Women Voters favors public funding as the best, long-term campaign finance strategy at all levels of government. We believe that Berkeley voters should have the opportunity to consider and vote on this measure.”  We are particularly interested in public financing that encourages smaller donations from more people with the expectation that “effective candidates of modest means with good ideas and broad community connections would be able to run competitive campaigns –and win more often” and “a more diverse group of candidates might be elected to office.”  We share concerns about the overall cost of the program in light of both competing budget priorities and Berkeley’s already restrictive limits on campaign donations.

At the meeting, coalition members introduced amendments to the proposal to address a variety of Council concerns:

  1. limiting eligible offices to Mayor and City Council
  2. allowing out-of-area $50 donations (though not matched)
  3. including an evaluation after two election cycles.
  4. increasing the matching cap for Mayor from $100K to $120K.

Council unanimously sent the proposal back to the Fair Campaign Practices Commission requesting they merge these amendments.  They expect to entertain a new draft in February 2016.

– Jill Martinucci

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