The Albuquerque City Clerk’s Office has announced it has certified enough signatures of registered voters to allow the measure “Democracy For Dollars” to be placed on the November 6, 2018 general election ballot.
A petition with more than 27,000 signatures was submitted to the City Clerk and 19,480 signatures had to be certified as registered voters.
Supporters of the measure have said publicly that they believe they have the votes of at least 4 county commissioners out of 5 who will vote to put it on the ballot.
Under the system proposed, $25 vouchers will be given or mailed to all registered voters.
Eligible residents who are not registered voters can also get the $25 vouchers by applying to the City Clerk.
FEDERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTION LAWS
It is not clear from the petition if undocumented residents will also have the right to apply for the $25 vouchers, an if so, it would violate federal campaign finance laws.
Section 52 U.S. Code § 30121 of the federal statutes governs contributions and donations by foreign nationals to candidates for office or political campaigns and states:
“PROHIBITION: It shall be unlawful for—
(1) a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make—
(A) a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to contribute or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election;
(B) a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party; or
(C) an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication (within the meaning of section 30104(f)(3) of this title); or
(2) [It shall be unlawful for] a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (1) from a foreign national.
(b)“FOREIGN NATIONAL” DEFINED: As used in this section, the term “foreign national” means: a foreign principal, as such term is defined by section 611(b) of title 22, except that the term “foreign national” shall not include any individual who is a citizen of the United States; or
(2) an individual who is not a citizen of the United States or a national of the United States … [as defined by federal statute] and who is not lawfully admitted for permanent residence, as defined by [federal statute] … ”
Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules and regulations defines individuals who are considered “foreign nationals” and are subject to the prohibition to include foreign citizens, not including dual citizens of the United States, and immigrants who are not lawfully admitted for permanent residence.
EXISTING PUBLIC FINANCE SYSTEM
Under the now existing city public finance system, candidates for Mayor and City Council who elect to take public financing must collect a specified number of $5.00 donations and those $5.00 can only come from registered Albuquerque City voters and no County voters can donate.
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.
Because the November election is a statewide and county election, the Bernalillo County Commission is required to vote to place it on the ballot.
The ballot initiative if passed would instruct the Albuquerque City Council to amend the city charter and add it to the public finance ordinance enacted in 2005.
Common Cause New Mexico is one of the major proponents of Democracy Dollars and was instrumental in helping secure qualifying signatures.
According to the Common Cause web site, the benefits of Democracy Dollars are:
“The system would require no additional city funding and would enable working- and middle-class candidates to compete against wealthy or well-connected candidates.
A wide range of Albuquerqueans without big pocketbooks would be given a new way of participating in campaigns and having our voices heard.
Candidates could focus on the issues important to the communities they serve instead of dialing for dollars from big donors and special interests.
The Democracy Dollars system would enable a more diverse candidate pool the opportunity to compete in our elections and have a chance to serve in office.”
According to information distributed by “Democracy Dollars”, if the measure is approved by voters, the City Council would amend the public finance ordinance to “create a voucher system, giving every Albuquerque resident a voucher that could be contributed to the candidate of his/her choice, pushing candidates to interact with the people they intend to serve and be accessible-and accountable-to the community”
All registered voters would automatically be given the $25 “Democracy Dollars” vouchers while residents who are not registered to vote can apply for one.
Candidates for Mayor and City Council would redeem the vouchers with the city clerk for funds to spend only on their campaigns.
The voucher program supposedly will 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.
It is now up to the Bernalillo County Commission to place the initiative on the November ballot.
THE “DEMORACY FOR DOLLARS” EXPLAINED IN ITS OWN WORDS
A four and a half inch by five-and-a-half-inch post card is being distributed by “Albuquerque Democracy Dollars” that explains the proposal as follows:
1. Participating candidates agree to certain limitations.
2. Residents get democracy dollars in the mail. [$25-dollar coupons].
3. They give them to the candidates of their choice.
4. Candidates can redeem them for public funds.
The reverse side of the “DEMORACY FOR DOLLARS” promotional post card reads as follows:
The system would require no additional city funding and would enable working and middle-class candidates to compete against wealthy or well-connected candidates.
A wide range of Albuquerqueans without big pockets would be given a new way of participating in campaigns and having our voices heard.
Candidates could focus on the issues important to the communities they serve instead of dialing for dollars from big donors and special interests.
Very few Albuquerque residents vote in city elections. Even in the recent mayoral election, voter turnout was very low – 30% of registered voters. Who are they? 68% white, and 67% are over 50.
ALBUQUERQUE’S DEMOGRAPHIC POPULATION
The estimated 2014 population of Albuquerque is 558,000, a slight increase from the 2010 census figures of 545,800.
According to the 2010 census, Albuquerque’s racial makeup was as follows:
• White: 69.7% (non-Hispanic: 42.1%)
• Hispanic or Latino of any race: 46.7%
• Native American: 4.6%
• Black or African American: 3.3%
• Asian: 2.6%
• Two or more races: 4.6%
• Other races: 15.1%
Based on the demographics, there are more residents of the city who are in an ethnic or race minority than there are white or non hispanic.
ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
Common Cause and Democracy for Dollar’s have missed the mark by promoting just another way for candidates for office to collect donations for their campaigns instead of promoting meaningful campaign and election reform for our municipal elections.
Two years ago, an effort was made to place on the ballot a city voter petition initiative for mandatory paid sick leave, and the County Commission declined to put it on the ballot saying it was a city issue and should be on a municipal ballot.
Bernalillo County has no “public finance” system in place for any of its elected official’s.
“Democracy Dollars” is proposing major changes to the City of Albuquerque public financing system yet county registered voters will be voting in November on the measure when they are prohibited from voting in municipal elections.
“Democracy Dollars” should be placed on the 2019 City election ballot and not on a general election ballot.
There are two major points that need to be made clear to the County Commission and to voters about “Democracy Dollars”:
1.The $25 vouchers are to be mailed or given to all registered voters as well as any resident of the city who is not a registered voter but who applies for a voucher.
2. The issuance of $25 vouchers to all city residents of the city and not just registered voters will result in a financial liability far above and beyond what is already in the city budget for publicly financed candidates.
The argument that Democracy Dollars involves “no new taxes” conveniently ignores that it still involves taxpayer money that must come from the city’s general fund that is used for essential services and social services.
The City sets aside approximately $500,000 a year for public financing campaigns out of the general fund.
Supporters of Democracy Dollars claim it will be funded by a $3,000,000 surplus that has built up in the Open and Ethical Elections Fund and the annual allocations already in place.
There are approximately 558,000 Albuquerque residents.
To print and implement a voucher system for the estimated 558,000 Albuquerque residents will result in a minimum financial exposure to the city of $13,950,000 million dollars. (558,000 city residents X $25 voucher = $13,950,000 million)
There are approximately 360,000 registered voters in Albuquerque.
To print and implement a voucher system for just registered voters will result in a minimum financial exposure to this city of $9 million dollars. (360,000 registered voters X $25 voucher = $9 million).
An 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 $5.00 qualifying 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 a candidate who decides to go around and just buy the voucher’s outright from residents 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 refer to as “small donors” those residents who are not able to make monetary contribution on their own to a political campaign when they are given a $25 voucher with the funding source in fact coming from the city general fund and taxpayers.
On August 11, 2018, a major proponent of “Democracy for Dollars” expressed the opinion at a meeting of 3 Democratic Wards that “Democracy Dollars” will encourage the immigrant community and the city’s minorities to become more involved and participate in municipal elections by being able to make donations via the vouchers and arguing public financing of campaigns increases voter turnout.
It is extremely doubtful that any voucher system such as “Democracy Dollars” or for that matter any form of public financing of campaigns is going to have any major impact on increasing voter turnout in Albuquerque’s municipal election by minorities or Anglos.
The past three Mayoral elections in 2009, 2013 and 2017 all had the public finance system in place that was enacted in 2005.
Democracy for Dollar organizers point out that in the 2017 mayoral election, voter turnout was very low at 30% of registered voters with the vote being 68% white, and 67% over 50.
In 2017, the only public financed candidate for Mayor and virtually all 5 public finance City Council candidates won their elections yet the voter turnout was still only 29%.
In 2009, all three candidates for Mayor, Richard Berry, Martin Chavez and Richard Romero qualified for public finance and each were given the same amount to spend.
In 2009, only 34% of eligible voters voted.
In 2013, only 1 candidate, yours truly, out of the 3 candidates for Mayor who made the ballot qualified for public financing.
Four years ago, the Albuquerque Municipal election had the lowest voter turnout since 1977 with only 19% of eligible voters voting.
The turnout for the October 3, 2017 municipal election was 29% with 8 candidates running for Mayor, only one qualifying for public finance, and two going on to a runoff, Tim Keller and Dan Lewis, both anglo.
The runoff between Tim Keller and Dan Lewis had a 28.7 percent turnout among registered voters.
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 effects of measured finance committees and the unlimited amount of money they can raise and spend on behalf or even against a candidate.
It is going to take more than a $25 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 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 representing final campaign spending of $1,358,254.
The “Democracy Dollars” are really “free vouchers” provided to all city to residents in an apparent attempt to supplement the $5.00 qualifying donations from registered voters to the city that are now required to secure public financing.
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 entire public finance system enacted by city voters in 2005 needs to be completely over hauled to make it easier for candidates to qualify for public financing, especially the collection of the $5.00 qualifying donations.
Getting on the ballot and qualifying for public finance is by far where the problems are with the existing system as are the influence of “measured finance” committees.
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.
The “Democracy for Dollars” initiative is a pathetic attempt at campaign finance reform.
For more analysis of Democracy Dollars see:
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: