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New public financing plan may be on November ballot

A group of election advocates has submitted a petition with more than 27,000 signatures in an effort to place a revamped public financing proposal before voters in November.

Advocates say they hope the ballot initiative is “the first step to put the power to decide who represents the city back into the hands of the voters and improve the city’s public finance system.”

The proposal would amend the City Charter by adding “Democracy Dollars” to the city’s election code. Registered city voters and voting-eligible residents would use the Democracy Dollars coupons to contribute to their choice of qualified candidates. The candidates would then redeem the dollars with the city clerk, up to a limit, for funds to spend in support of their campaigns. The program would tap into an existing $3.1 million city public financing fund.

“Democracy Dollars puts the power of public financing directly in the hands of Albuquerque’s citizens and gives them greater choice,” said Heather Ferguson, co-director of ABQ Democracy Dollars. “It will increase participation in the local election as it has in Seattle, where the system is in place, and it will give candidates a reason to reach out to ordinary voters, not just big donors who do not tend to be representative of our diverse, vibrant community.”

The City Clerk’s Office must now certify those thousands of signatures. A minimum of 19,480 signatures from registered city voters were required on the petition for ballot placement, according to Ferguson.

Seattle voters in 2015 passed a citizen-led initiative known as “Honest Elections Seattle,” which allowed the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to distribute “Democracy Vouchers” to eligible Seattle residents.

The Albuquerque proposal would direct the City Council to establish an ordinance providing for issuance and redemption of the coupons.

Nearly 70 percent of Albuquerque voters said yes to a public financing system in 2005, which allowed participating candidates to receive a stipend if they agreed to not accept private contributions. Under the system, City Council candidates who take public financing receive $1 per voter in their district, usually around $30,000 to $45,000. Mayoral candidates get about $380,000.

In 2009, all three mayoral candidates used the system, including Richard Berry, who defeated then-incumbent Martin Chávez.

In 2013, Berry accepted private donations and outspent his closest challenger, Pete Dinelli – who participated in public financing – by well over a two-to-one rate.

In last year’s mayoral election, then-State Auditor Tim Keller was the sole participant in the public financing system in his successful run to City Hall.

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