“Democracy Dollars” A New Form of “Dialing For Dollars”

The term “Dialing for Dollars” is used to refer to the amount of time candidates for office spend on the phone to solicit huge amounts of campaign contributions.

It is not uncommon for candidates to block off hours every day to make calls for donations.

A new version of “Dialing for Dollars” is being proposed called “Democracy for Dollars” where candidates and their campaigns will likely spend hours on the phone to collect $25 vouchers issued by the city to city voters as well as to solicit the $5.00 qualifying donations to run for Mayor.

A petition with more than 27,000 signatures has been submitted to the City Clerk in an effort to place a revamped City of Albuquerque public financing proposal for voter approval on the November general election ballot.

The full Albuquerque Journal story can be read here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/1204893/new-public-financing-plan-may-be-on-november-ballot.html

The City Clerk’s Office is in the process of certifying a minimum of 19,480 signatures as being registered voters before the initiative can be put on the ballot.

The proposal would amend the Albuquerque City Charter by adding “Democracy Dollars” to the city’s election code.

The passage of the measure would direct the Albuquerque City Council to establish an ordinance providing for issuance and a redemption process of coupons to secure public financing.

Registered city voters and voting-eligible residents would be given the “Democracy Dollars” coupons that they would use to contribute to their choice of qualified candidates.

Candidates for Mayor and City Council would then redeem the coupons with the city clerk, up to a limit, for funds to spend in support of their campaigns.

The program would be funded by the city’s public financing fund that is already set up for candidates who qualify for public finance with the fund currently at about $3.5 million.

Heather Ferguson, co-director of ABQ Democracy Dollars that organized the petition drive explained in an August 5, 2018 Journal Guest column how “Democracy Dollars” will work:

“The basics of the public financing program remain the same – candidates who are willing to not accept private donor monies, and who qualify by collecting enough signatures along with small $5 contributions, get a block grant from the city’s Open & Ethical Election Fund for their campaign.

“Each Albuquerque voter will be mailed a $25 coupon, or “Democracy Dollar,” from the city clerk to contribute to a participating candidate of his or her choice. Candidates receiving the new kind of contributions can then redeem them for their face value for their campaign. The vast majority of citizens who are not able to make a monetary contribution under the present system will now have a new role – as small donors, with a new way to have their voices heard, and a new stake in our democratic system.”

You can read the full Journal guest editorial comment here:

https://www.abqjournal.com/1205099/public-campaign-financing-can-work-in-abq.html

Seattle, Washington has had a similar system is in place for the past 3 years and for that reason few elections have been held using the system.

In 2015, Seattle voters passed a citizen-led initiative known as “Honest Elections Seattle.”

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission distributes what are known as “Democracy Vouchers” to eligible Seattle residents to give to candidates to qualify for public finance.

ALBQUERQUE’S EXISTING PUBLIC FINANCE SYTEM

Since 2005, Albuquerque has had a voter approved “public finance” system.

It was enacted with a 70% vote.

Under the existing system, candidates for Mayor and City Council who elect to take public financing must collect a specified number of $5.00 donations from registered voters and must agree to a spending cap of not more than they are given in public financing by the city.

City Council candidates are required to collect upwards of 850 to 900 $5.00 donations and Mayor candidates are required to collect 3,000 $5.00 donations.

City Council candidates are given $1 per voter in their district, or approximately $30,000 to $45,000, while Mayoral candidates are given around $380,000 and if in the runoff an additional $118,000.

All candidates for Mayor or City Council are given three months to collect nominating petition signatures from registered voters.

In the 2016 election only 8 of 16 candidates secured the required number of qualifying signatures from registered Albuquerque voters.

Collecting the $5 qualifying donations is extremely difficult because candidates are only given six weeks to collect the donations yet are given far more time to collect the nominating petition signatures.

Theoretically, a candidate for Mayor could gather the required number of qualifying donations and yet fail to collect the required number of nominating petition signatures.

Candidates are given more than double to time to collect qualifying signatures and just six weeks to collect $5 qualifying donations.

Candidates for Mayor are required to collect at least 3,000 qualifying cash donations of $5 to the City of Albuquerque from Albuquerque registered voters over a six-week period, which is a daunting and very difficult task for anyone.

If a candidate seeking public financing donations does not secure the 3,000 qualifying $5 donations, all the money reverts to the city and cannot be kept by the candidate that collected the donations.

With public financing, paper receipts have to be used and issued and copies of paper receipts and the cash must be turned over to the city clerk for approval.

As a condition to receiving public financing from the City, a public financed candidate must agree to a spending cap and agree not to spend any more than the amount given in public financing and agree not to raise and spend any more cash to financed their campaign.

MEASURED FINANCE COMMITTEES

Individual candidates that decide to go with private financing can solicit unlimited cash donations from any source including out of city and state contributions.

Measured Finance Committees are also allowed under the city campaign finance ordinance and election code.

Measured finance committees are allowed to be organized to promote an individual candidate.

Measured finance committees can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to promote and individual candidate so long as there is no coordination between the individual candidate and the measured finance committee.

PRIVATE AND PUBLIC FINANCED CANDIDATES FOR MAYOR

It was in the 2005 municipal election that the city’s current public financing laws were adopted by city voters.

In 2005, there were 3 candidates for Mayor: incumbent Mayor Martin Chavez, City Councilor Eric Griego and City Councilor Brad Winter and all three were privately financed candidates.

In 2005, incumbent Mayor Martin Chavez was re elected having raised and spent $1.2 million dollars from private donations showing the power of his incumbency.

An interesting side note fact is that it was then City Councilor Eric Griego who wrote and sponsored the public finance law and he ran and lost to Martin Chavez.

In 2009, all three mayoral candidates, Martin Chavez, Richard Berry and Richard Romero, qualified for and used the city’s public finance system and each given and spending the exact amount of approximately $340,000 in public financing.

In 2009, then-incumbent Mayor Martin Chávez was defeated by Richard Berry without a need for a runoff.

Political observers believed that Richard Romero and Martin Chavez split the Democratic vote and that Chavez made the mistake of taking public financing

Political observers felt that Chavez needed far more to spend to fend off the constant attacks from Berry and Romero.

In 2013, Richard Berry raised private donations and outspent yours truly by well over a two-to-one margin.

Mayor Berry raised and spent $904,623.00 in cash and in-kind contributions of $5,176 for a total of $909,799 spent compared to my $360,000 in public financing.

In the 2017 Mayoral election, there were only 8 candidates out of an original field of 16 that made the ballot for Mayor and collecting the required number of nominating signatures.

In 2017, then-State Auditor Tim Keller was the sole candidate that qualified for public financing.

For the first election, Keller was given $342,952 in public financing and then another $118,000 for the runoff.

Notwithstanding being a public finance candidate, Keller had three (3) measured finance committees that either raised money directly to spend on his behalf or that indirectly spent money and supported his campaign with campaign commercials.

ABQ Forward Together was a measured finance committee that was formed specifically to raise money to promote Tim Keller for Mayor and raised over $663,000 for Keller.

ABQ Forward Together was chaired by a former political campaign consultant for Mr. Keller when he ran successfully for New Mexico State Senate.

City campaign finance records reveal that $1,358,254 was actually spent on Tim Keller’s successful campaign for Mayor ($506,254 public finance money + $663,000 ABQ Forward + $67,000 ABQFIREPAC + $122,000 ABQ Working Families = $1,358,254.)

Republican Dan Lewis raised more than $847,000 in cash contributions for the October election and the November Mayoral runoff election.

Democrat Brian Colón raised and spent nearly $824,000 for his unsuccessful mayoral run.

Republican Wayne Johnson privately raised and spent approximately $250,000.

Republican Ricardo Chavez finance his own campaign by contributing and loaning his campaign $1 million dollars, but when he dropped out of the race all of the money was repaid to him after he spent approximately $200,000.

The remaining three (3) candidates for Mayor raised and spent less than $50,000 combined after failing to qualify for public financing.

COMMENTARY

There are approximately 360,000 registered voters in Albuquerque.

To print and implement a voucher system will result in a minimum financial exposure to this city of $9 million dollars. (360,000 registered voters X $25 voucher = $9 million).

A real unintended consequence of “Democracy Dollars” will be to add yet another difficult layer of campaign solicitation effort by candidates on top of an already very cumbersome process to collect $5.00 qualifying donations that sets up most candidates for failure.

Candidates will be soliciting not only the $5.00 donations but the $25 city issued coupons that are in reality a city subsidized contribution being called a “block grant” from taxpayers.

Enforcement to prevent violations of campaign finance laws will also be a major hurdle and costly to the city.

The $25 voucher system being proposed can be very easily abused and undermined by anyone who decides to go around and just buy the voucher’s outright from voter at a lesser cost of say $5 to $10 for an example and then turn the purchased voucher into the city to collect the full $25.

It is very misleading to call citizens who are not able to make monetary contribution under the present system to be referred to as “small donors” when giving their $25 voucher to a candidate when the funding source for the voucher is the city.

Albuquerque’s public finance laws are way too difficult to qualify for public financing in that in the very last 2 Mayor elections, only 2 candidates out of 19 candidates actually qualified for public financing.

The “Democracy for Dollars” plan has absolutely no impact on the affects of measured finance committees and the unlimited amount of money they can raise and spend on behalf or even against a candidate.

The one successful public finance candidate in the last two elections for Mayor, Tim Keller, received approximately $852,000 from measured finance committees in addition to his public financing of $506,254 of representing final campaign spending of $1,358,254.

Keller very effectively held himself out as the only public finance candidate in part to get the progressive vote and get elected when he said with a wink in his eye and a smile on his face he was “walking the walk” and not just “talking the talk” when it came to his support of public financing and getting the $5 qualifying donations.

It is going to take a hell of a lot more than a voucher system and significantly more changes to put public financing directly in the hands of voters, especially with the existence of Citizens United in order to level the political donation playing field.

The “Democracy Dollars” are really “free vouchers” provided by the city to voters in an apparent attempt to supplement the $5.00 qualifying donations to the city that are now required to secure public financing.

Free vouchers defeat the intent and purpose of public finance campaigns.

Every effort should be made to make Albuquerque’s public financing laws for municipal elections to legally provide for a “dollar for dollar” match to privately raised funds by candidates, thereby providing a real level playing field.

The influence of big money in elections allowed by the US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United is destroying our democracy.

Many highly qualified candidates for office all too often do not bother to run because of the inability or difficulty raising the necessary money to run.

Political campaign fundraising and big money influence are warping our election process.

Money spent becomes equated with the final vote.

Money drives the message, affects voter turnout and ultimately the outcome of an election.

Albuquerque municipal elections need campaign finance reform and enforcement.

2018 should be the year the City Council and the Mayor Keller act on campaign finance reform in anticipation of the 2019 municipal election.

However, the “Democracy for Dollars” initiative is a pathetic attempt at campaign finance reform.

During his campaign for Mayor, Tim Keller strongly condemned the Supreme Court decision of Citizens United saying that was why he chose public financing because he believed in it.

Perhaps now that Tim Keller was elected mayor by a landslide, he will use some of his political capital to advocate for true campaign finance reform in municipal elections to reduce the impact of measures finance committees.

Then again, now that he is the incumbent, Keller just may give campaign finance reform another wink of the eye with a smile on his face, seeking public financing and rely upon measured finance committees to get reelected as Mayor and again spend over $1 million dollars.

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POST SCRIPT:

On January 2, 2018, I posted my blog article with recommendations for changes to the City’s public finance and election code laws.

Following is a listing of the recommendations:

1. Allow four (4) months and two (2) weeks, from January 1 to May 15, to collected both the qualifying donations and petition signatures, and private campaign donation collection.
2. Allow the collection of the qualifying donations from anyone who wants, and not just residents or registered voters of Albuquerque. Privately finance candidates now can collect donations from anyone they want and anywhere in the State and Country.
3. Once the allowed number of qualifying donations is collected, the public financing would be made immediately available, but not allowed to be spent until starting May 15.
4. Permit campaign spending for both publicly financed and privately financed candidates only from May 15 to the October election day.
5. Return to candidates for their use in their campaign any qualifying donations the candidate has collected when the candidate fails to secure the required number of qualifying donations to get the public financing.
6. Mandate the City Clerk to issue debit card or credit card collection devices to collect the qualifying donations and to issue receipts and eliminate the mandatory use of “paper receipts”.
7. Increase from $1.00 to $2.50 per registered voter the amount of public financing, which will be approximately $900,000, and allow for incremental increases of 10% every election cycle keeping up with inflation.
8. Allow for additional matching public financing available for run offs at the rate of $1.25 per registered voter, or $450,000.
9. Albuquerque should make every effort to make municipal elections partisan elections to be held along with State and Federal elections by seeking a constitutional amendment from the legislature to be voted upon by the public.
10. Any money raised and spent by measured finance committees on behalf a candidate should be required to first be applied to reimburse the City for any taxpayer money advanced to a public finance candidate or deducted from a publicly financed candidates account and returned to the city.
11. City of Albuquerque campaign reporting and finance ordinances and regulations need to define with absolute clarity that strictly prohibit the coordination of expenditures and campaign activities with measured finance committees and individual candidate’s campaigns in municipal elections.
12. A mandatory schedule of fines and penalties for violations of the code of ethics and campaign practices act should be enacted by the City Council.

You can read the complete blog article here:

http://www.petedinelli.com/2018/01/02/2018-year-to-reform-city-public-campaign-finance-laws-revised-article/

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About

Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.