Solutions for Our Democracy: Berkeley City Council to Vote for Fair Elections

Voter's hand placing ballot into box

California May Soon Reverse Its Statewide Ban on Public Financing Programs

In an election year dominated by super PACs and seven-figure contributions from a handful of wealthy donors, California is taking positive steps to ensure the average voter has a voice in our democracy.

The Berkeley City Council will decide today whether to place a public financing system on the ballot for voters to consider in November. And later this week, the California Senate will vote on whether to remove a 28-year-old statewide ban on public financing. If passed, these measures will help ensure that candidates running for office can actually focus on everyday voters, not big donors.

The Berkeley Fair Elections Act, which Campaign Legal Center assisted in drafting, would create a small-donor matching funds program for mayoral and city council candidates. If the measure passes, Berkeley candidates would be required to collect at least 30 small dollar donations between $10 and $50. Local candidates who choose to participate in the Fair Elections program would receive $6 in public funds for every $1 raised in small contributions (a 6-to-1 match). Fair Elections candidates may only accept contributions of $50 or less and may not spend more than $50 of their personal funds on their campaign. Berkeley’s public financing program would create an incentive for candidates to pursue smaller contributions by increasing their proportional importance.

We’re hopeful that all jurisdictions in California will soon be able to follow the lead of cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and now hopefully Berkeley in creating some sort of public financing program. Since 1988, California law has included a ban on the use of public funds to finance campaigns except for charter cities, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Berkeley, which are not subject to the ban. The California Senate votes later this week on Senate Bill 1107, which would remove the statewide public financing ban and allow all California jurisdictions – not just charter cities – to enact public financing programs if they so choose.

Despite the current state of money in politics, public financing programs are one way Americans are taking necessary steps nationwide to restore balance in our democracy. The participation of each and every citizen should be meaningful in our democracy, and CLC, along with our partners at Issue One, provide in Blueprints for Democracy actionable solutions for state and local governments to enhance our democracy.

The Berkeley Fair Elections Act and California SB 1107 are important steps to engaging more citizens in the democratic process by increasing the impact of even modest campaign contributions. We hope the Berkeley City Council and the California Senate will recognize the potential of these two measures and give Californians the chance to change the way their campaigns are funded so everyone can participate in our democracy.