League-Supported Public Financing for Berkeley Elections Goes to City Council

Thumbnail-Berkeley cityAt its meeting on June 18, Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission (FCPC) approved, by a vote of 5 to 3, sending the proposal for public financing of elections to City Council so that they will consider placing the charter amendment  on the 2016 ballot and approving the ordinance  of the proposal.

Discussions of the measure–and public comment–have extended over several commission meetings about the process that could level the playing field among candidates for local office by using partially publicly financed political campaigns.

The workshop discussion focused mostly on a draft charter amendment and ordinance written initially for MapLight , a Berkeley-based research group that focuses on money’s influence in politics, and supported by our League, Council Member Jesse Arreguin and others. It has been reviewed and somewhat modified by the City Attorney Zack Cowan and the City Clerk .

Publicly financed campaigns will require a public vote to amend the City Charter and adopton of a ordinance to specify the details.  The FCPC approved draft  is a first step to put a measure on the November 2016 ballot.  It closely resembles the original draft by Maplight.

The basic mechanism of the proposal is that candidates must raised $500 in small donations of $10 to $50 to become eligible for a 6 to one match from the City.  So the initial match would yield $3000 to add to the $500 raised by the candidate, for a total of $3500. To get further matches from the City they must raise additional small donations.   I believe that the proposal that went to Council covers Mayor, City Council, City Auditor, School Board Director or Rent Board Director.

The City would appropriate funds from the General Fund each fiscal year. The amount in the Fair Elections Fund would be no more than $2 Million.

Commission members proposed several substitutions and additions to the first proposal, but none were adopted  by the Commissions.  Proposals included funding candidate and issue debates rather than campaigns [from the chair Brad Smith],  including some funding for ballot measure proponents and opponents by limited funding to candidates for Mayor and Council and excluding Rent Board, School Board and Auditor rages, and a proposal to remove any requirement that candidates raise small donations before becoming eligible for public funds, a suggestion by Commission member  Dean Metzger.

LWVBAE supports the measure because of the strong policies of the state and national League of public funding of elections. Public financing is perhaps the best way to reduce the influence of big money on elections and legislators.

Details of Proposal: Because of recent adverse US Supreme Court decisions, the measure we are supporting does not completely free candidates of fundraising after an initial round of signatures collection and small campaign contributions.  Nevertheless, we concluded that this was the best we could do at this time.  Our recent letter to the Commission is an updated version of our letter last year and can be read by clicking here: LWVBAE toFCPC re public finance April 23 2015

See the background below for the link to our original letter to council and more information about the League’s actions and analysis.

More on the workshop in a post from the Contra Costa Times.

In addition to our strong position favoring public funding at national and state level, Jay Costa shares Zephyr Teachout’s comment  that women of color benefit from public funding.

“It is absolutely the most basic feminist issue right now,” she said. “Far more women run for office when you have a public financing system. We’ve seen that everywhere we’ve experimented with it — in New York City, in Arizona, in Maine and Connecticut.”

In New York City, Teachout said seven new women of color ran for office in recent years who wouldn’t have been able to campaign without the city’s public matching funds system.


Our proposal is based on the NYC system! Jay points out.

The Background

On May 19, 2014, the League wrote to the City Council urging them to adopt a public financing measure charter amendment and to place it on the November 2014 ballot. LWVBAE to Berk City Council re public finance  President Nancy Bickel appeared before the Council to support the measure.  The Council did not put the charter amendment on the November 2014 ballot.  Instead it sent it to the Fair Political Campaign Practices Commission [FCPC] for comment and consideration for the November 2016 ballot.  The League continued to follow,  support and seek to strengthen the measure.

The League support was in response to being approached, in April 2014, by Dan Newman, co-founder of the excellent non-profit website MAPLight. Newman and his then colleague Jay Costa asked us to join in his second effort to get Berkeley to adopt a public financing system for Berkeley. Dan had last attempted to get such a measure adopted in 2004. That proposal was not supported by the League or the voters at that time–it was defeated.  Nancy Bickel and Carol Stone met with Dan Newman and his MAPLight colleague Jay Costa and others, and joined a discussion with Mayor Tom Bates and other supporters.

After extensive discussions with the League Board, Bickel drafted a supportive, but cautious, letter to the City Council, which the Board adopted. The League’s long-standing support for public funding of national and state elections was the basis for our support. The Board had reservations, among them that Berkeley already has strong limits on contributions and good oversight of campaign activities through the FPCP, that Berkeley has not had a history of major scandals, and that the amount required to support the measure would be nearly $2 million for every 2 year election cycle. This would be drawn from the General Fund and would amount to about $4/per citizen/per year. To read the measure presented to City Council, click here.Berkeley_Public_Financing_Ordinance_5.13.14

We’ll post more as the issue develops.

Nancy Bickel

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