This is what you call refusing to take no for an answer.
On Tuesday August 14, 2018, the Bernalillo County Commission voted 3 to 2 not to place the “Democracy Dollars” on the November 6, 2018 ballot.
The “Democracy Dollars” was a voter petition drive initiative to place on general election ballot amendments to the City of Albuquerque’s public finance laws.
The County Commissioners who voted not to put the measure on the ballot expressed serious concerns about the proposal, especially about how the coupons would be tracked, used, distributed and funded, and questioning why the Albuquerque City Council was not asked to do it, all very legitimate concerns.
Heather Ferguson, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico had this to say after the county commission declined to put “Democracy Dollars” on the ballot:
“We’re really disappointed that the county commission decided to take an action tonight that was against the wishes and will of 28,000 of their constituents. … every single one of the residents of Albuquerque are their constituents here in the county, and that was silencing their voices. It was incredibly disappointing to hear.”
The very day after the county commission voted against putting the measure on the ballot, organizers of “Dollars for Democracy” mounted an extensive social media and phone lobbying effort to have the county commission reconsider their vote claiming that the county commission disenfranchised petition signers by refusing to put the measure on the ballot.
In response to the pressure, the Bernalillo County Commissioners have now scheduled a special public hearing for Tuesday, August 21, 2018 for the “Democracy Dollars”.
DEMOCRACY FOR DOLLARS EXPLAINED
Because the November election is a statewide and county election, the Bernalillo County Commission was required to vote to place it on the ballot, but only if they wanted to.
The voter initiative if it passes would direct the Albuquerque City Council to establish an ordinance providing for issuance and redemption of $25 coupons and change the date for municipal elections from its usual October date to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November on odd-numbered years.
Under the Democracy for Dollars proposal, all registered city voters and all voting age residents, would be given $25 Democracy Dollars coupons issued by the city to contribute to their choice of qualified candidates.
All registered voters would automatically be mailed or given $25 vouchers finance by city taxpayers.
Voter age residents who are not registered voters would be able to get the $25 vouchers by applying to the Albuquerque City Clerk.
Municipal candidates would then redeem the dollars with the city clerk, up to a limit, for funds to spend in support of their municipal campaigns.
What is not clear or definite from the petition signed by registered voters is if “foreign nationals” who are Albuquerque residents and who are not a citizen of the United States or a national of the United States will be given the $25 vouchers, which would violate federal law, both by the candidates soliciting the vouchers and the foreign national themselves.
The federal election contribution laws prohibit a person, including candidates from soliciting, accepting, or receiving a contribution or donation from a foreign national.
The federal law applies to local elections such as Albuquerque’s municipal election.
FEDERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTION 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.
The $25-dollar coupons or vouchers called “Democracy for Dollars” clearly have a value once redeemed and fall within the definition “a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value.”
Foreign nationals who knowingly and willfully engage in the prohibited activities of donating to candidates for office or political campaigns may be subject to an FEC enforcement action, criminal prosecution, or both.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Democracy Dollars is a clear attempt to make major changes on how contributions and donations are made in Albuquerque’s Municipal elections and for that reason it will be subject to federal contribution laws.
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.
Bernalillo County has no “public finance” system in place for any of its elected officials, yet Common Cause and Democracy for Dollars wants the county to weigh in on demanding the city to make major changes to its campaign finance laws.
The New Mexico constitution provides that all minicpal elections are to be nonpartisan elections.
The voter petition initiative also wants to change the date of the city’s nonpartisan municipal elections to coincide with State and Federal partisan elections.
“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.
If anything, “Democracy Dollars” should be placed on the 2019 City nonpartisan election ballot by the Albuquerque City Council and not on the general partisan election ballot by the Bernalillo County Commission.
There are two major points that need to be made clear to the Bernalillo 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 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 disingenuous for Democracy Dollars and Common Cause 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 and not their own pocket book.
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 as being argued by supporters of the measure.
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 “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 totally discretionary for the Bernalillo County Commission to put “Democracy for Dollars” on the ballot.
Signing a petition is merely voicing an opinion at the time that may change and not a binding vote, so no one is being disenfranchised by the county commission’s decision.
It is downright laughable for anyone to argue that people who have sign the Democracy for Dollars petition are being disenfranchised by the Bernalillo County Commission when they declined to put it on the ballot seeing as they are acting totally within their authority to say NO.
It is called a “represented form of government” for a reason: people are elected to make decisions that they believe are in the best interest of their constituents.
We will now see if the Bernalillo County Commission majority will fold like cheap suits to public pressure and reverse themselves and put “Democracy for Dollars” on the ballot.
FOLLOWING ARE OTHER LINKS TO BLOG ARTICLES ON DEMOCRACY DOLLARS: