In the last few days leading up (to) the deadline for (Albuquerque) City Council candidates to qualify for public financing, there is a familiar scramble for $5 contributions as seen during previous municipal election cycles. However, this year, things were supposed to be different.
Due to a newly instated rule, candidates are no longer limited to collecting the qualifying contributions in cash and can now accept online donations. Online contributions help candidates scale back their canvassing efforts and digitally reach more residents. In theory, this new rule makes qualifying for public financing more accessible. Unfortunately, we are still seeing some candidates struggle to qualify, just as many others have in the past. And with this system’s persisting inadequacy, candidates who don’t qualify will have to switch their filing to private financing. Therefore, what impact does this new rule have on reducing corruption by removing monetary influence on politicians?
Currently, there are four City Council seats that are up for election, (in) Districts 2, 4, 6 and 8. Based on the most recent update to the city website, May 23, … only one of 14 candidates has qualified for public funding. The candidate, incumbent Councilor Isaac “Ike” Benton, has five challengers, none of which have successfully qualified.
This low success rate indicates a need for more change. Furthermore, our current system historically favors incumbents and previously elected officials. This favoritism can be observed from the inception of our public funding system and particularly in City Council races. Additionally, more candidates fail than succeed at qualifying for public funding. This suggests a need for the City Council to once again reevaluate the efficacy of our public funding option.
To truly make elections more inclusive and reduce monetary influence in politics, then we must limit the fundraising capacity of privately financed campaigns. Currently there are no limits for privately financed candidates and how much they can fundraise or spend. And the only fundraising limit that does exist is the individual contribution maximum of $1,500 per person. Whereas private candidates can leverage unrestricted fundraising, public candidates are drastically disadvantaged, and as a result the system is undermined.
The necessary limits for privately financed campaigns must be comparable to the spending amount which publicly funded candidates receive. Additionally, the individual contribution limit should better reflect the median household income of Albuquerque residents and their capacity to donate to political campaigns.
This imbalance hasn’t always been the case; before June 27, 2011, there was a matching-funds provision which ensured a competitive amount of funds to each public candidate. However, a United States Supreme Court decision ruled that a matching-fund provision is unconstitutional. Since then, city officials haven’t successfully adjusted our system to correct for this legal change.
Another issue with the public versus private financing systems is the lack of regulation on Measure Finance Committees. … Measure Finance Committees act similarly to PACs and Super PACs by fundraising and spending on behalf of issues/candidates which they support. Once limits exist for privately financed candidates, then there is a need to evaluate the regulation of MFCs.
Another proposed option warranting public discourse is the possibility of changing from our current “all or nothing” model to a “tiered system” of public funding. This different model would match public funds to the number of qualifying donations that each candidate receives. Effectively, candidates would receive funds that correlate to the number of contributions they collect. This would guarantee funds to each candidate based on a percentage of the maximum amount.
Lastly, though this new rule increases the candidates’ reach, it doesn’t address that a $5 contribution can be too expensive for some residents of Albuquerque. We must honor all citizens’ invitation for increased participation in civic engagement by not pricing them out.
The evidence from this current election cycle indicates a need for more change, and these issues highlight a persisting need for the continued improvement of our public financing system.