Evanston’s City Council is scheduled to vote Monday on a plan to force taxpayers to fund mayoral candidates’ campaigns.

Revisions to the ordinance proposed by staff since the Rules Committee in July recommended adoption of the ordinance on a 6-1 vote would scale back the potential cost of the program over a four-year election cycle from roughly $450,000 to about $325,000.

Other staff-proposed changes would:

  • Shorten the time period for candidates to raise funds to qualify for the matching program from starting at the beginning of the four-year election cycle to beginning on Oct. 1 of the year before the election.
  • Clarify that private contributions gathered before the qualifying period would not be matched, but would be limited to $150 per donor for participating candidates.
  • Strike a provision barring contributions from lobbyists, given that the city currently lacks a lobbyist registration ordinance.
  • Specify that unopposed candidates would not be eligible for matching funds.
  • Shift responsibility for investigating and hearing claims of violations of the ordinance from the city clerk to the city’s administrative hearing officer.

Under the ordinance candidates would have to receive at least 100 initial qualifying contributions of between $5 and $50 to get matching funds.

After that, candidates would get a match of $9 from city taxpayers for every $1 in contributions they receive.

An Evanston Now analysis of the impact of the taxpayer funding proposal suggests that in a 2025 re-run of the last mayoral race the effect of the ordinance would be to slightly reduce the funds available to the 2021 winner, Daniel Biss, while dramatically increasing funds available to the two losing candidates, Lori Keenan and Sebastian Nalls.

Candidates who wanted to skip the public financing option would be free to raise private contributions in excess of the program limits.

The revised version of the ordinance does not address an issue raised in an Evanston Now report last month that noted that mayoral candidates potentially could follow a practice used by some long-shot Republican presidential candidates seeking to qualify for party debates — and provide sweepstakes offers and cash kickbacks to donors.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Unbelievable! As commented on in a previous discussion of this issue, I think this is a dreadful idea. It’s just inviting a pseudo-candidate who has no intention to run to a “serious” campaign, collect 100 signatures from friends, & soak the taxpayers still again. Scale it back all you want, it’s still a crazy idea.

    The city council should get its greedy, money-grubbing hands out of my wallet! Do you seriously want me & others to leave taking with us our tax dollars which fund this already heavily taxed town? Who will pay the bills then? The alders voting for this?!

    I feel as if this is a line from the Beatles’ song “The Taxman.”

  2. Who wants all this extra stuff and why should Evanston citizens have to pay for it? It must be the mission of the alders to endlessly spend and then just charge it to the taxpayers. As a private citizen I don’t have the option to spend over my income. My neighbors aren’t waiting to come to my rescue with their money. How many millions is the deficit? No lessons to be learned from this?

  3. Keep taxing the residents into oblivion. Is this your only way you know how to raise revenue? Maybe focus on breathing life back into the retail district instead.

    1. I’m open to a taxpayer match of small funds, but I have still yet to see a reasonable explanation of why this bills charges taxpayers 9x what a donor gives. That critical detail invites graft.

      Change that to a ratio of no more than 1:1, and I could see the bill’s logic. At anything above 1:1, I think it’s a farce.

  4. Evanston is in LA LA Land First we have 14 year olds , homeless, and non residents voting on what to do with our tax dollars Now we have people who want our property taxes used to pay for candidates running for mayor. I shudder to think of what’s next

  5. I’m so pissed off about this. I’m livid to think I have to pay, being FORCED to pay, for someone else’s election campaign. I don’t care if it’s $1 – I don’t want my money going to fund elections. It’s un-American. It’s not right.

    You guys are pushing us and you keep pushing us. Eventually we’re going to push back.

  6. Absolutely ridiculous. What other money grabbing ideas is this city council going to think up. I will not pay for any candidates running for office

  7. No citizen should be forced to contribute to the campaign of a candidate they disapprove of. Including the re-election campaigns of our own inept City Council, who think its their role to legislate every detail of our lives.

  8. As one of two candidates who might possibly have benefitted from this in the last election, I can honestly say this is one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard, especially since a candidate could just skip the public finance element and continue to fundraise on their own with no upside limits. I think the idea was probably proposed to prevent someone with deep pockets (or more likely, friends with deep pockets) from simply “buying” the seat, but as proposed, that wouldn’t be the case. Instead, this sounds like what our family calls GITS — a good idea that sucks.

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