The CWA News | Moving Forward: Public and Small Donor Financing of Elections

Volume 75, Issue #4 | Winter 2015

CWA activists and partners rally for fair elections
CWA activists and partners rally for fair elections.  
CWA activists and partners rally for fair elections.

Another success story this past Election Day was the Seattle ballot initiative that created a first-in-the-nation funding system that will democratize the city's elections. Every registered voter will receive four "democracy vouchers" in each election cycle worth $25 a piece. Voters can donate these taxpayer-funded vouchers to candidates for municipal office, who in turn agree to restrictions on campaign spending and private contributions. To level the playing field even more, the initiative also limits contributions for city contractors, closes the revolving door, and increases transparency and accountability.

In a similar campaign this past February, a Chicago ballot measure promoting small-donor public financing in the city's 50 wards was overwhelmingly approved by voters.

In 1988, New York City enacted campaign finance reform, demonstrating that a contribution system based on small donors and matching funds can positively change our political process. The NYC model provides for a 6-1 match for individual contributions of up to $175 to candidates who choose to follow the expenditure limits and disclosure requirements. Today, most city council and mayoral candidates choose this voluntary program. It has dramatically transformed the politics of the city, broadening the demographic profile of donors and energizing grassroots campaigning.