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Ballot issues would boost mayoral hopefuls’ funding

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque mayoral candidates who use public financing are currently entitled to about $380,000 to power their campaigns.

But future hopefuls may have access to far more than that.

Included in two separate propositions on the Nov. 5 ballot is a provision to raise by 75% the campaign grants for mayoral candidates.

Under existing city charter rules, mayoral candidates who qualify for public financing – and thus forgo private contributions – get $1 per registered city voter. That amounted to about $380,000 during the last mayoral race, in 2017.

But the first proposition city voters will see this fall – a public financing reform measure driven by City Clerk Katy Duhigg – includes changing the amount to $1.75 per registered city voter. That’s the equivalent of $665,000.

And the second city proposition, a citizen ballot initiative, would also raise the amount to $1.75 per voter but also give candidates access to an entirely new pool of taxpayer money in the form of “Democracy Dollars.” Those are city-backed $25 vouchers each eligible city resident – registered voters, plus those who meet age and citizenship requirements to vote and apply with the city clerk for a voucher – would get to donate to the publicly financed City Council or mayoral candidate of their choice.

If either or both propositions pass, financing for mayoral candidates would rise to $1.75 per voter.

It remains undetermined how much each candidate could collect in Democracy Dollars; the City Council would have to establish the program’s specific rules if voters approved the concept. However, candidates could double their original public financing grants, according to the proposition’s language.

That means a candidate using public funds for a mayoral race could have $1.3 million at his or her disposal, though a spokeswoman for the City Clerk’s Office deems that unlikely.

“While the language of the question states that candidates cannot redeem Democracy Dollars in an amount that exceeds what they get in public financing, it does not guarantee candidates the right to redeem an amount equal to what they get in public financing,” Miriam Diemer said in an email, adding that the council gets to make that decision. “That said, even if Council did set the redemption limit at an amount equal to what a mayoral candidate gets in public financing, a candidate would have to collect Democracy Dollars vouchers from almost 27,000 voters to redeem that much, which would be incredibly difficult, to put it mildly.”

Current Mayor Tim Keller was the only mayoral candidate to use public financing in a crowded 2017 race. Nine other contenders tried to receive public financing or withdrew from the process. Qualifying required collecting $5 contributions from about 3,800 constituents. One candidate who missed the mark called it almost impossible.

None of Keller’s closest rivals in the race even attempted to use public financing. And each wound up collecting more money.

Keller, who ultimately won after a runoff with Dan Lewis, had about $544,125 in public financing, seed money and in-kind contributions between the regular and runoff elections, according to city public financing data. Lewis collected $881,485 in private contributions over the race, records show.

Brian Colón amassed $862,255, while Wayne Johnson raised $393,710.

However, Keller benefited from a “measure finance committee” designed to support him. The group raised nearly $680,000, according to city records.

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