Why I voted in support of campaign finance reform

Early last spring I first heard murmurs about legislation regarding campaign finance reform. I’ll admit, initially, I didn’t know what to make of it. Campaign finance reform means different things to different people and I wasn’t sure what problem we were trying to solve.

After speaking to my colleague, Mike O’Brien, I learned what he wanted to achieve. His hope was to tackle some of the perceived flaws to our electoral system. I say perceived flaws because much of the rumblings I was hearing were about eliminating corruption from politics. Corruption? I know corruption had been an issue here in the 70s but I can tell you I am proud to be working with such honorable people as those who are elected officials now: Corruption is not an issue amongst my colleagues. With that in mind, I was also aware that perception is reality for most of us, which is why I kept an open mind about this campaign finance reform legislation.

Two elements of reform are proposed in Council Bill 117548. They are 1) limiting the campaign fundraising window meaning WHEN funds can be raised, and 2) restricting the rollover of surplus funds after a candidate is in office and before he or she runs again.

I’ll admit, from a personal stance, the first issue sounded appealing to me. Truth be told, I loathe fundraising. I really don’t like picking up the phone and asking every friend I know for money. It makes me feel frankly unclean. So the idea of shortening the fundraising window struck me as a great thing – I would focus on fundraising for a shorter period of time and get back to the work for which I was elected. And a shortened window would give the prospective donors some relief as well. Who likes being targeted for a money “ask”?

The other part of this legislation deals with rollover funds. The initial idea was to impose a $5,000 cap on campaign funds that an elected could carry over from one race to another. Again, this didn’t affect me much because I have a little less than $10,000 left over from my 2009 campaign, but it will impact several of my colleagues. This cap was eliminated by amendment and now no funds can be rolled over.

I was reluctant to take away money from those who had worked hard to raise it because I didn’t think it was fair. If the rules change, then everyone plays by the new rules.  This might have something to do with the first issue discussed above, fundraising. Have I mentioned that I rank fundraising somewhere near root canals? But I wanted to understand the reasoning and talked further with my colleagues.

The thinking behind both of these reforms is to limit the actual and perceived influence of campaign contributions in city government. The idea is to make the political realm a bit more accessible so more people get involved. Frankly, I believe we can run our campaigns effectively with less money, which would be a good thing.

The legislation was introduced on August 13th, and passed out of committee on September 19, 2012, with a 6-2 vote. Some amendments were discussed at the table. The fundraising window was amended to begin on January 1 two years prior to an election, and as I noted earlier, the $5000 cap on funds that could be rolled over was removed, so that no funds can be rolled over.  

Those are noble reasons and ones I can support. And this is why I agreed to co-sponsor the campaign reform legislation. While I don’t agree that this legislation will fix every problem, perceived or real, it is a step in the right direction.

The amended version was in front of the Full Council this afternoon, October 15, 2012, and I once again supported Council Bill 117548.

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