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Vote to strengthen democracy with better public financing

October 1, 2018

In 2008, Santa Fe voters overwhelmingly approved a charter amendment requiring the City Council to “provide for meaningful public financing” of election campaigns. Santa Fe’s Ethics and Campaign Review Board has been working diligently toward this goal.

At a recent meeting, the review board unanimously passed a proposal strengthening Santa Fe’s existing public campaign finance ordinance. So the question is not whether to have public campaign financing, but how to improve the system.

If approved by the City Council, here’s how the amended public, campaign financing ordinance would work:

• To show a level of community support, candidates applying for public campaign financing would be required to collect a specific number of qualifying $5 contributions from qualified registered Santa Fe voters (600 for mayoral, 150 for city councilor or municipal judge elections).

• To qualify for funds through the matching system now under consideration, candidates would have to demonstrate additional support in the form of $100-maximum donor contributions, which would be matched 2-to-1 with public financing.

No system is immune from misuse and no system of qualification can ever be perfect. Although public financing has been obtained by one or two candidates whom some people might find unworthy, it’s also true that some very good candidates — including two prominent councilors running for mayor — have come up short in their efforts to qualify for public funds.

However, the benefits of the proposal far outweigh the disadvantages. One of the main values of public campaign financing is that campaigns and elections more closely represent the voters when they are funded by many small donations “by the people” rather than by fewer large donations. Public financing has been shown to increase voter participation and reduce the undue influence of overly wealthy donors, corporations and special interest groups.

Big Money does greatly affect politics and elections. Due to Buckley v. Valeo, Citizens United and other Supreme Court decisions, we cannot make public campaign financing perfect. However, the matching system proposal is an important step in the right direction, and well worth doing.

If you support public campaign financing, please contact your city councilors as soon as possible and urge them to pass the board’s proposed amendment. The Ethics and Campaign Review Board meets Monday to vote on approving the amendment, and the City Council meets Oct. 10 to consider it.

Bruce Berlin is president of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics. For more information go to www.nmmop.org.

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