Public Campaign Financing In Hartford Could Cost Less Than $1 Million Per Election
By Ken Krayeske
April 18, 2013
Columnistís Note: This is the written testimony I provided to the Hartford Court of Common Council, on behalf of the New Haven Democracy Fund, on Monday, April 15, 2013.
Can Hartford afford public campaign financing for its mayoral, court of common council and city treasurer elections? From where I sit, I do not think Hartford can afford not to implement public campaign financing for its elections.
Our current model of election financing stems from the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Buckley v. Valeo, which held that spending money in elections is protected speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
We have long been taught that more speech is always a good thing. Using transitive principals, if speech is money, and more speech is good, then more money in campaign is good, too. Right? Wrong.
The election of Chris Murphy to United States Senator shows in part the fallacy that more money in elections is a good thing. Recent thinking questions the assumption that speech from massive infusions of cash from unknown sources into elections is good speech.
Transparency is at the heart of public campaign financing programs. Open election advocates loathe dark money because we cannot determine who is paying for it, and thus, we cannot determine who our elected officials are in debt to, and how this will sway public policy making. Public campaign financing can help end the perception of pay-to-play corrupt politics.
Normally, less than one percent of voters will give in any election. Increasing the participation of small dollar donors provides a constitutional rationale for instituting a public campaign financing program in Hartford.
I ventured into Hartfordís official record of the 2011 municipal election to try to project what candidates will spend on the election in 2015. My brief review of these filings from 2011 showed to me more than ever the need for a rigorous campaign finance filing.
Even without dark money, we do not know some basic things about who paid for the candidatesí campaigns in 2011. The filings are a mess, sitting in a box. It is astonishing to me that none of these were digitized, and available on the internet.
And once I searched through them, I saw that almost every elected official sitting before me today has faulty campaign finance filings sitting in the City Clerkís office. Yet there has been little to no enforcement to correct this issue.
One candidateís treasurer filed an incomplete SEEC Form 20. The City Clerk sent a certified letter to that treasurer, who refused it, and the enforcement stopped there. That candidate paid no price for careless monetary management.
Another candidate presented his donor lists on spreadsheets, which donít match up and are missing names. Several candidates never filed termination reports, one of whom has filed several ďdeficitĒ reports, despite having a surplus. Several candidates never totaled up all their donations, so it is quite difficult to determine exactly how much they spent.
This is an issue of not just training for treasurers and candidates. Nor is it an issue of enforcement Ė both of which, by the way, would be solved by mandating that all candidates participate in the paperwork scheme devised for a public campaign financing program.
The problems plaguing Hartfordís 2011 campaign finance filings are about following the money, and understanding that candidates who effectively use and track money during a campaign demonstrate that they will effectively manage public money when they are in office. This truism holds more weight when applied to candidates who use public monies to win elections.
But I sit here before you to provide basic cost estimates for a public campaign financing program in Hartford, one which will not break the cityís bank. And I do so with an understanding that the City is facing a $70 million deficit in the coming years.
Before I give actual figures, I want to note that of the 15 or so cities across the USA that employ public campaign financing, many of them have specific funding mechanisms to pay for them. Austin, Texas uses lobbyist registration fees; donations from individuals and business entities; liquidated damages and criminal fines for campaign violations; voluntary check-off on utility bills and candidate filing fees. Portland, Oregon uses civil penalties to pay for its public campaign finance program.
Other cities like Los Angeles simply have charter provisions demanding that the legislative branch appropriate sufficient funds to pay for the campaign finance program.
Hartford could be creative in paying for its program. The City could do as Portland, Oregon and add a few dollars to every parking ticket. Or, it could seek voluntary donations. Or, it could ask the Hartford Foundation for a one-time donation to establish the fund while it grows.
Since Hartford will have to seek legislative permission to implement portions of an effective program, like holding non-participating candidates to the same paperwork and reporting requirements as participating candidates, the City could go to the legislature and ask for additional taxing power, like adding a dollar to every ticket sold at the Meadows and the Civic Center.
Conservatively, if there are 60 events at both venues annually attended by 10,000 people each, that would be $600,000.00 annually, more than enough to create a fund that would pay for campaigns and annual administrative expenses.
So, how much would Hartford need exactly? That depends on the type of program that the City chooses to enact. I will lay out rough numbers for three different campaign types, with high and low end estimates of potential candidates utilizing the fund.
In 2011, Mayor Pedro Segarra raised $447,628.50 in his quest for election. In 2011, candidates Shawn Wooden raised $212,622.45, and Ed Vargas raised $84,219.09.
Letís assume that the next mayoral race could see a candidate using the current fundraising laws to raise $750,000.00.
I could find no records about spending for the treasurerís race.
On Court of Common Council, in 2011, Cynthia Jennings spent $9,955; Shawn Wooden spent $25,593; Ken Kennedy appears to have spent $7,695; Alex Aponte spent $8,480; Larry Deutsch appears to have spent $10,984; Kyle Anderson spend $8,840; Joel Cruz appears to have spent $1,430; Raul DeJesus appears to have spent $5,056.38; and David McDonald appears to have spent $4,573.
Averaged out, the nine candidates for council spent about $9,178. If we remove the top and bottom spenders, the average council candidate spent $7,940.
Any public campaign financing scheme developed by the City of Hartford would necessarily include voluntary spending caps. Letís say, then, that a publicly financed candidate for mayor could not spend more than $400,000.00, for treasurer not more than $50,000 and for Court of Common Council not more than $10,000.
Public campaign financing would be in effect for the primary and the general election, and a sore loser law, like in New Haven, would be appropriate to prevent a publicly financed candidate who loses in the primary to draw public funds in the general.
As discussed previously, there are three kinds of public campaign financing program, matching funds, grants and a hybrid system of the two. All have advantages and disadvantages. Professor Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute in Washington, D.C. recently expressed a preference for matching funds as being the most effective form of public campaign financing. . New York Cityís Campaign Finance Board matches every donation from a registered NYC voter up to $175 on a 6-to-1 basis. So, the CFB makes a $175 donation a $1,225 contribution thanks to its $1,050 match.
My assumption for Hartford will focus on matching grants. The funding total, though, represents a total that could be used in other models. Letís say Hartford offered a participating candidate a 2-to-1 match up to $250.00. So if John Smith gave Candidate X $250.00, the City would give $500.00, and the candidate would have raised $750 with that one donation.
Under a matching funds regime of 2-to-1 and a $400,000 spending limit, the City would spend at most $200,000.00 per candidate, per election. A candidate would need to solicit 800 donations of $250 each to max out. If less than one percent of voters donate to any candidate during a municipal election cycle, and considering that 6980 people voted in the 2011 mayoral election, that 800 donation figure is more than the one percent. Obviously, the City could and should adjust these thresholds after more consideration.
MAYOR: 2 candidates in Primary and one in general @ $200,000 per candidate = $600,000.00
Treasurer: 2 candidates in Primary and one in general @ $25,000 per candidate = $ 75,000.00
Court of Common Council: 18 candidates in Primary and 9 in general @ $5,000 per candidate = $135,000.00
In New Haven, I have found that my administrative costs are about 20 hours per candidate. A program with 33 participating candidates would, under this rubric, be about 660 hours annually, or about 13 hours per week.
Given the administrative burden of setting up a new program, it seems reasonable for the City of Hartford to budget between $75,000 and $150,000 annually for the non-partisan administration of such a program.
The City of New Haven budgets $25,000 a year for my services. At $70 an hour, I can work 357 hours a year. 2013 is the first time New Havenís Democracy Fund, which is paid out of its general fund, is being tested by more than two candidates. I am doing my best to stay within the budgeting time. However, I would not be surprised if the four participating candidates demand more of my time than is allotted.
At $70 an hour, 660 hours equals $46,200. However, the administrator will need a budget to pay for printing, website design, and other ancillaries, which could be, in the first year $30,000 or so. Yet in off years of the 4-year cycle, the administrator would have fewer duties, and it is reasonable to assume that a well-run administration could do the job in $150,000 for four years.
Overall, the cost could be less than a million dollars per election cycle, or $250,000 annually. This is hardly a bank-breaker for the City of Hartford, especially if it is paid for with special, earmarked revenues.