On June 30, the Albuquerque City Council voted 5-2 to send the Open and Ethical Elections Code referendum to the October 4 citywide ballot. The referendum will give Albuquerque voters a chance to determine whether we should have voluntary limits on campaign spending and publicly financed elections [emphasis added].
Now that part with the emphasis added is very important. The proposed referendum will do nothing to cap the amount of money a given candidate can raise. That has already been ruled unconstitutional in a rare moment of clarity by Tenth Circuit of Appeals. So, let’s examine this year’s election and see what the cost could have been to taxpayers.
We have the mayoral incumbent who will come close to raising $1 million – interestingly enough in his Albuquerque Journal profile (subscription) he indicated he “supports removing big dollars from campaigns,” just another example of that flexible value system. Since he raised this much, each of the other candidates, if they opted into the taxpayer funded scheme, would qualify for up to $560,000, double the number of registered voters (subscription). Plus, in the case of a run-off an additional $92,400 would be available to the candidate. So, just for the mayoral race the burden to taxpayers in this race could have reached $1.7 MILLION.
Oh, and this doesn’t even factor in the council races which are also entitled to significant amounts. Now, before someone shoots me off an email that says that the fund would have been limited to $447,000 this year, let’s consider that. If a mayoral incumbent still has the option of raising $1 million, how does that level the playing field for the taxpayer funded candidates who have to share $447,000 amongst themselves and all City Council candidates. The short answer… it doesn’t.
Morale of this story: “If it doesn’t help, don’t pass it.” But the tale doesn’t end here, let’s take a look at the second misguided premise put forth by Common Cause:
Albuquerque Clean Elections believes the Open and Ethical Elections Code will level the playing field and give people from many different backgrounds a fair shot at getting elected without owing anyone any special favors. The system will allow candidates to spend less time raising money and more time talking to voters about the issues.
This is a two-parter. First question to come to mind is what exactly is being implied by “give people from many different backgrounds a fair shot?” Are people from diverse backgrounds being excluded? Again, let’s look at the current slate of mayoral candidates.
Eric Griego, one of four children raised by a mother earning minimum wage, is a Hispanic single dad from Barelas. Brad Winter, an Eagle Scout with a long career in education, is a Caucasian father in a blended family with seven kids. Martin Chavez, a lawyer from a political family, is a Hispanic divorcee with a dog. David Steele, a retired government employee, is a Caucasian grandfather just three years shy of celebrating his golden anniversary.
Sure looks like a diverse group of candidates to me. I know, there isn’t a woman. However, that is only because Common Cause candidate sued to have her removed. Bottomline: the current slate proves that people from many different backgrounds already have a fair shot.
Part two, “the system will allow candidates to spend less time raising money.” Oh, really (subscription)?
Mayoral candidates who sign up to get money from the program would have to demonstrate a base of support by getting donations of $5 apiece from 1 percent of the city’s registered voters, or about 2,800 people.
You don’t think the number of phone calls it would take to get 2,800 people to give you $5 is going to take a lot of time. Maybe they think it can all be done through mail? Well, direct mail gets at best a 1-2% return rate. So, hoping for the best means the cost in postage alone would be a minimum of $29,400 for one mailing. Now, add in production costs. Only a government funded system would require more than $30,000 in expenditures to raise $14,000.
This referendum needs to be defeated on Oct. 4. Email this post to your friends and colleagues, and ask them to email it to theirs.