The upcoming November 5, 2019 election will be the first consolidated elections for the City of Albuquerque. The ballot is very lengthy and will include 4 City Council races, $127 million in city general obligation (GO) improvement bonds, continuation of a city road tax, the Albuquerque Public School Board election, a ballot measure for a continuation of a tax levy for APS school maintenance, and the CNM governing board.
The November 5 ballot also includes a “Proposition 2” which sets up a city funded voucher system to use city general funds to give out $25 vouchers to voters who in turn will give the vouchers to candidates they support.
This blog article is an examination and in depth analysis “Democracy Dollars”, the measured finance committee formed to promote it and the representations being made to promote the program.
DEMOCRACY DOLLARS BALLOT QUESTION
The Democracy Dollar ballot question is as follows:
Shall the City of Albuquerque adopt the following amendments to update the language of the Open and Ethical Elections Code, which provides for public financing of City candidates: provide eligible city residents with Democracy Dollars, to contribute to their choice of qualified candidates, which the candidates could redeem with the City Clerk, up to a limit, for funds to spend in support of their campaigns, as directed by the City Council, and increase the funds for publicly financed mayoral candidates?
A yes vote is a vote in favor of creating a program called Democracy Dollars that would provide eligible city residents with $25 vouchers that they can give to a participating candidate.
A no vote is a vote against creating a program called Democracy Dollars.
MEASURE FINANCE COMMITTEES EXPLAINED
Under the City of Albuquerque’s campaign finance laws, a Measure Finance Committee is a political action committee (PAC), persons or group that supports or opposes a candidate or ballot measure in City of Albuquerque elections. Measure Finance Committees are required to register with the City Clerk within five (5) days once they have raised or spent more than $250 towards their purpose specific purpose.
All Measure Finance Committees must register with the Albuquerque City Clerk, regardless of the group’s registration as a political action committee (PAC) with another governmental entity, county, state or federal. Measure finance committees must also file financial “Campaign Finance Reports” reporting monetary contributions, loans, in kind donations and expenditures.
DEMOCRACY DOLLARS MEASURED FINANCE COMMITTEE
A measured finance committee was formed to promote “Democracy Dollars”. According to finance reports filed with the Albuquerque City Clerk, the measured finance committee is entitled “ABQ Democracy Dollars, Common Cause New Mexico, New Mexico Working Families Party, Ole Education Fund”. The “Democracy Dollars” measured finance committee has filed eight 2019 Campaign Finance Reports.
On October 21, 2019 filed its eight Campaign Finance Report covering the reporting period of October 12, 2019 to October 18, 2019. You can review the report here:
The Financial Summary of the report is as follows:
TOTAL MONETARY CONTRIBUTIONS … $81,526.98 3.
CASH BALANCE FROM LAST REPORT … $53.28
TOTAL LOANS THIS REPORTING PERIOD … $0.00
TOTAL LOAN FORGIVENESS THIS REPORTING PERIOD … $0.00
TOTAL EXPENDITURES THIS REPORTING PERIOD … $21,813.46 6.
CLOSING BALANCE THIS REPORTING PERIOD … $59,766.80
TOTAL IN-KIND CONTRIBUTIONS THIS REPORTING PERIOD … $39,745.60 8.
TOTAL DEBTS AND OBLIGATIONS INCURRED … $0.00
TOTAL ANONYMOUS CONTRIBUTIONS … $0.00
CASH DONATIONS TO DEMOCRACY DOLLARS
Specific Monetary contributions are listed in the 8th Campaign Finance Report for Democracy Dollars with two contributions listed as having been made on October 17, 2019. Those two donations are:
$80,000 in cash was contributed by the New Mexico Working Families Party. ABQ Working Families raised $122,000 and spent on Mayor Tim Keller’s behalf to get him elected Mayor in 2017. The Working Families Party is a progressive grassroots political party building a multiracial movement of working people. Former Albuquerque City Councilor and former State Senator Eric Griego is its executive director. Griego was the sponsor of the original City’s Public Finance Ordinance .
$1,526.96 in cash was contributed by Ole Education Fund. OLÉ is a non-profit, who uses grassroots organizing within the local community of working families in New Mexico and gathered signatures to put “Dollars for Democracy” on the ballot.
IN KIND DONATIONS TO DEMOCRACY DOLLARS
The 8th Democracy for Dollars Campaign Finance Report reports a total of $39,745 in “in -kind” donations. The dates, contributors and amounts are as follows:
10/17/2019 OLE EDUCATION FUND In-Kind PURPOSE: FIELD CANVASS, FACEBOOK ADS: $4,244.05
10/17/2019 PLANNED PARENTHOOD ROCKY MOUNTAINS, PUBLIC AFFAIRS, REPRODUCTIVE AND SEXUAL HEALTH CARE; EDUCATION; AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS AD ASSOCIATED CANDIDATES, In-Kind PURPOSE: STAFF TIME: $1,083.05
10/17/2019 RETHINK, BUSINESS/GROUP … FOR SECURITY, RIGHTS, AND DEMOCRACY ASSOCIATED CANDIDATES / BALLOT MEASURES DEMOCRACY DOLLARS (SUPPORT) In-Kind PURPOSE: STAFF TIME $3,709.00
10/18/2019 CENTER FOR CIVIC POLICY … BUSINESS/GROUP INFO: ORIANA SANDOVAL RESEARCH AND EDUCATION TO INCREASE VOTER OUTREACH AND PARTICIPATION ASSOCIATED CANDIDATES / BALLOT MEASURES DEMOCRACY DOLLARS (SUPPORT) In-Kind PURPOSE: STAFF AND OVERHEAD: $1,051.42
10/18/2019 COMMON CAUSE NEW MEXICO, BUSINESS/GROUP … REDUCING THE INFLUENCE OF MONEY IN POLITICS, HOLDING PUBLIC OFFICIALS ACCOUNTABLE, CREATING A MORE R ASSOCIATED CANDIDATES / BALLOT MEASURES DEMOCRACY DOLLARS (SUPPORT) In-Kind PURPOSE: STAFF MANAGEMENT TIME $1,220.00
10/18/2019 EQUALITY NEW MEXICO … BUSINESS/GROUP INFO: To INCREASE EQUITY, FULL ACCESS, AND SUSTAINABLE WELLNESS FOR LGBTQ NEW MEXICANS ASSOCIATED CANDIDATES / BALLOT MEASURES DEMOCRACY DOLLARS (SUPPORT) In-Kind PURPOSE: STAFF TIME $175.00
10/18/2019 NEW MEXICO WORKING FAMILIES, BUSINESS/GROUP INFO: … ADVANCE BALLOT MEASURES DEMOCRACY DOLLARS (SUPPORT) In-Kind PURPOSE: STAFF TIME AND STAFF MANAGEMENT FOR CAMPAIGN LAUNCH/OUTREACH $3,250.00
10/18/2019 STAND UP AMERICA … [New York] BUSINESS/GROUP INFO: … A GRASSROOTS PROGRESSIVE ORGANIZATION FOCUSED ON STRENGTHENING OUR DEMOCRACY ACROSS THE COUNTRY ASSOCIATED CANDIDATES / BALLOT MEASURES DEMOCRACY DOLLARS (SUPPORT) In-Kind PURPOSE: STAFF TIME $1,612.32
10/18/2019 THE CENTER FOR POPULAR DEMOCRACY, New York BUSINESS/GROUP INFO: TO CREATE EQUITY, OPPORTUNITY AND A DYNAMIC DEMOCRACY ASSOCIATED CANDIDATES / BALLOT MEASURES DEMOCRACY DOLLARS (SUPPORT) In-Kind PURPOSE: STAFF TIME $2,487.98
10/18/2019 US PIR, DENVER, COLORADO BUSINESS/GROUP INFO: RESEARCH AND ADVOCACY FOR PRODUCT SAFETY, PUBLIC HEALTH, CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM, TAX AND BUDGET REF ASSOCIATED CANDIDATES / BALLOT MEASURES DEMOCRACY DOLLARS (SUPPORT) In-Kind PURPOSE: PHONE CALLS TO REGISTERED VOTERS $20,912.78
Total in-kind contributions to Democracy Dollars is $39,745.60
EXPENDITURES TO PROMOTE DEMOCRACY DOLLARS
The 8th Democracy for Dollars Campaign Finance Report reflects a total of $21,813.46 in expenditures. The dates, who was paid and the amounts are as follows:
10/17/2019 BASE BUILDER 1 … BUSINESS/GROUP INFO: SEN ONISHI PAYROLL SERVICES ASSOCIATED CANDIDATES / BALLOT MEASURES DEMOCRACY DOLLARS (SUPPORT) FIELD CANVASS Monetary $1,526.98.
10/17/2019 DON MICKEY DESIGNS, INC. … BUSINESS/GROUP INFO: DON MICKEY PRINTING, GRAPHIC DESIGN, PROMOTIONAL MARKETING, DIRECT MAIL ASSOCIATED CANDIDATES / BALLOT MEASURES DEMOCRACY DOLLARS (SUPPORT) 49,158, 8.5″X 11″ COLOR, 2 SIDED HALF FOLD ELECTION MAILER WITH POSTAGE Monetary Amount paid $20,286.48
Note how “Democracy Dollars” has already sent out a slick and impressive mailer to 49,158 registered voter family household encouraging Albuquerque voters to vote YES on Proposition 2. According to the latest Campaign Finance Report, the cost of the mailer with postage was $20, 286.48
MAYOR TIM KELLER ENDORSEMENT OF “DEMOCRACY DOLLARS”
The flyer that “Democracy Dollars” sent out to 49,158 registered voter family households has a photo of Mayor Tim Keller with his quote “At the heart of every democracy, everyone should have a stake in their elections. That connection is what Democracy Dollars is all about.” The flyer also contains the disclaimer “PAID FOR BY ABQ DEMOCRACY DOLLAR, COMMON CAUSE NEW MEXICO, NM WORKING FAMILIES PARTY, OLE EDUCATION FUND. NOT AUTHORIZED BY ANY CANDIDATE OR CANDIDATES CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE.”
Tim Keller was the only candidate in 2017 election that qualified for public finance. The Keller campaign collected over 3,000 qualifying cash donations of $5 to the City of Albuquerque from registered voters over a six-week period. Once qualified, the Keller for Mayor campaign was given a total of $506,254 in public financing, which included the first election and then the runoff. As a condition to receiving public financing from the City, Tim Keller agreed to a spending cap not to exceed the amount given and agree not to raise and spend any more cash to finance his campaign.
Notwithstanding being a public finance candidate, Keller supporters realized that more would be needed to elect Keller and formed three (3) measured finance committees that either raised money directly to spend on his behalf or indirectly spent money and supported Keller’s candidacy for Mayor financially.
ABQ Forward Together was a measured finance committee that was formed specifically to raise money to promote Tim Keller for Mayor. The measured finance committee raised over $663,000 for Keller. ABQ Forward Together was chaired by a former campaign consultant for Mr. Keller when he ran successfully for New Mexico State Senate. $67,000 was raised and spent by the Firefighters political action committee known as ABQFIREPAC for Keller. $122,000 was raised and spent by ABQ Working Families on Keller’s behalf.
$1,358,254 was 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.)
It should not come as any surprise that Tim Keller endorsed “Democracy Dollars” in that it is likely he will be running for re-election in 2021 using the same formula that won him the 2017 election which is to seek public finance, accept help from measured finance committee’s, and his 2021 re election campaign will want to take advantage of a new funding source.
TRUTH CHECKING THE DEMOCRACY DOLLARS “FAQS”
“Democracy Dollars” campaign has set up a “web page” and a FACEBOOK page to promote the ballot initiative. The web page can be found here https://www.burquebucks.org/ . The web page has a section entitled “FAQS” listing a series of questions and answers to how “Democracy for Dollars” will work.
Following a listing of the “FAQS” questions and answers prepared by Democracy Dollars published on the web page followed by a TRUTH CHECK of the statements:
DEMOCRACY DOLLART FAQ QUESTION: “HOW DO THEY WORK?
Democracy Dollars are simple. Each coupon is good for a $25 contribution to a candidate you choose. Just give the coupon to the candidate you support, or fill it in and mail it back to the Clerk. No one else can use your coupon—it’s custom made just for you!”
TRUTH CHECK: This is nothing but a presumption. The only truth is that each coupon is worth $25. The truth is there are no rules, and no regulations on the program have been written and there is nothing contained in the wording of the ballot measure.
DEMOCRACY DOLLART FAQ QUESTION: “HOW DO WE PAY FOR IT?
“There are no new taxes involved. The City sets aside about $500,000 a year for public financing, but currently, this money mostly goes unused because it was set aside for the now defunct “matching funds” part of the program. Democracy Dollars will be funded by the $3,000,000 surplus that has built up in the Open and Ethical Elections Fund and the annual allocations already in place.”
TRUTH CHECK: This representation is true only in part, but is at best misleading or false. Although there are no new taxes involved, the funding for Democracy Dollars will come out of the city’s general fund budget. The general fund is gross receipts tax funds which is used to pay for essential services. There is no $3 million dollar surplus of matching funds as asserted. That is not how city financing works. At the end of each fiscal year, all money allocated by the city council and spent on specific programs reverts back to the general fund. When the “matching funds” for runoffs was set aside by the courts, the account was deemed no longer necessary and eliminated
DEMOCRACY DOLLAR FAQ QUESTION “WHO GETS TO USE THEM?
This program will be as inclusive as possible—just like elections should be! Registered voters will get coupons in the mail automatically. Eligible residents who aren’t registered get their coupons by applying to the City Clerk.”
TRUTH CHECK: With Democracy Dollars, all qualified residents, not just registered voters, would be mailed the vouchers without determining if they are still residents or are deceased. Residents can also apply for the vouchers. There is no clarification if United States citizenship is required to be given the voucher. There is no clarification as to the minimum age requirement of a resident to qualify for the $25 voucher. The estimated 2019 population of Albuquerque is 558,000. With no age qualification, or citizenship qualification, the cost of the “Dollars for Democracy” would be approximately $13,950,000 (558,000 X $25 = $13,950,000.)
The issuance of $25 vouchers to all city “registered voters” will result in a financial liability far above and beyond what is already in the city budget for publicly financed candidates. To print and implement a voucher system for registered voters will result in a minimum financial exposure to the city of $9 million dollars. (360,000 registered voters X $25 voucher = $9 million).
DEMOCRACY DOLLART FAQ QUESTION: “WHAT CANDIDATES ARE ELIGIBLE?
Only the candidates who have qualified to use the public financing program can redeem Democracy Dollars .”
TRUTH CHECK: This is misleading at the very least or just plain false. As a condition to receiving public financing from the City, a public financed candidate must agree in writing to a spending cap not to exceed the amount given to them and agree not to raise and spend any more cash to finance their campaign. Candidates who qualify and agree to public finance will not be able to redeem the voucher because they are capped on what they can spend and are prohibited from soliciting and accepting donations after qualifying for public finance. According to “Democracy Dollars”, to accept Democracy Dollars, candidates must qualify for the public financing program collecting $5 qualifying donations.” But that is not all that is required under the city public finance law.
DEMOCRACY DOLLAR FAQ QUESTION: “WHAT’S TO PREVENT FRAUD OR ABUSE?
Candidates using Democracy Dollars can only spend them on campaign activities as defined by City code. They report every dollar they raise and spend, so the City Clerk and the public can see where their money is going. Democracy Dollars will be capped at the same level as the initial amounts publicly financed candidates can receive.”
TRUTH CHECK: This argument is misleading. There are no rules or regulations on how Democracy Dollars can be spent. Candidate may report every dollar they raise and spend, but that does not mean it is being done properly and it can only be challenged after the fact, and in all likely after an election. Mayor candidates who qualify for public finance agree to a spending cap and are prohibited from soliciting donations and financial help from anyone else.
NEW MEXICO “ANTI DONATION CLAUSE”
Absent from all information being distributed by “Democracy Dollars” to promote the ballot measure is any mention of the New Mexico Anti Donation clause and why Democracy Dollars does not violate the New Mexico constitution.
The New Mexico Constitution strictly prohibits donations to individuals by governmental entities. The provision provides in pertinent part:
“Neither the state nor any county, school district or municipality, except as otherwise provided in this constitution, shall directly or indirectly lend or pledge its credit or make any donation to or in aid of any person, association or public or private corporation … .” (N.M. Const. art. IX, § 14.)
Advocates for “Democracy for Dollars” cite the success of such programs in other states and municipalities such as Seattle, Washington. This is a bogus argument in that it does not take into account New Mexico’s anti-donation clause.
It is highly likely that in the event that the “Dollars for Democracy” passes, it will be challenged in court as a violation of the New Mexico Anti Donation clause in the New Mexico constitution. The language of art. IX, Section 14, is very clear when it states “neither the state nor any county, … or municipality … shall directly or indirectly … make any donation to or in aid of any person, association or public or private corporation ” The “Democracy Dollars” $25 vouchers are clearly a donation and aide to people given to them to give to another. This is the very type of activity the anti-donation clause was designed to prohibit. Yet if Democracy for Dollars is enacted, the city will have to defend the program in court.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It is very difficult to ignore the absolute hypocrisy of the supporters and promoters of “Democracy Dollars” when they engage in the very conduct they condemn and supposedly deplore. The campaign finance report reflects that promoters and supporters have contributed large amounts of cash as well as in-kind contributions to influence the city election and voters.
Democracy Dollars is a $25 voucher system funded by city taxpayers, but there is not a single small donor donation of $25 listed for it. What you have is a single donation of $80,000 from one donor. There are 10 in-kind donations including in kind donations of $4,244, $3,709, 3,250, $2,248. A whopping one in-kind donation of $20,912 is listed as having been made by a Colorado corporation advocating campaign finance reform with the purpose of the donation to make phone calls to registered voters.
Democracy Dollars voucher system sets up a public finance system that can be very easily abused and undermined by any nefarious candidate or measured finance committees to solicit the vouchers. Enforcement to prevent violations of campaign finance laws will also be a major hurdle and costly to the city.
WARPED INTERPRETATION OF DEMOCRACY
The “Democracy Dollars” system is touted as a “voucher” system to allow the city to donate $25-dollar redeemable vouchers to all “qualified” city residents who are less fortunate to make money donations on their own to a candidate of their choosing like those who can afford to make donations on their own. This is a somewhat warped interpretation of democracy. It equates political donations as the only meaningful way to participate in the election political process.
Democracy Dollars also does not take into account those circumstances where a person wants to donate to 2 or more candidates which is often the case with people who want to “hedge” their bets on a winner. Those who cannot afford to make political donations can and usually do get very involved with campaigns and volunteer time and “sweat equity” to campaigns on a grass root level. The hallmark of city elections is “door to door” campaigns to ask for a vote and support, not just money.
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.
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 and when the funding source for the voucher is the city general fund and the taxpayer.
MEASURED FINANCE COMMITTEES
Measure finance committees are not bound by the individual contribution limits like candidates. When it comes to ballot initiatives, such as Democracy Dollars, any Measure Finance Committee can be formed supporting or opposing any ballot initiative and raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to produce and distribute information. Any Measure Finance Committee can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money and can produce misleading or negative information if they want. There are absolutely no regulations or limitations what can be produced and disseminated by measured fiance committees, even if false or misleading.
The fact that Measure Finance Committees are not bound by the individual contribution limits like candidates is what makes them a major threat to warping and influencing our municipal elections and the outcome of those elections.
“DOLLAR FOR DOLLAR” MATCH NEEDED
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 or ballot measure.
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.
“Democracy for Dollars” is a pathetic attempt to supplement the $5.00 qualifying donations to secure public finance from the city. The voucher system will be funded by financing from the general fund, so there is nothing free about it. To say that Democracy Dollars will encourage more people to register and vote is a real stretch of the political imagination.
Albuquerque municipal elections need campaign finance reform and enforcement and not just another pool or trough of money candidates can drink from.
VOTE NO ON PROPOSITION 2 “DEMOCRACY DOLLARS”
On January 2, 2018, a blog article with recommendations for changes to the City’s public finance and election code laws was published:
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: