The plan of Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th) for taxpayer funding of Evanston mayoral campaigns picked up a challenge Monday night from a competing proposal from Ald. Devon Reid (8th).
The Geracaris plan that Evanston Now reported on Monday morning would give candidates who collect at least 100 initial donations a nine-to-one match from the taxpayers of whatever amount they were able to raise privately.
It would create a per-election spending cap of $50,000 for participating candidates — so a candidates who initially collected 100 contributions of $50 each would not have to do any additional fundraising through the campaign.
Individuals would be limited to giving no more than $150 to any candidate.
The Geracaris plan, as currently drafted, would apply only to the race for mayor. He pegged its cost for a four-year election cycle at $276,000
Reid said he favors a plan like the “Democracy Voucher” program adopted by voter referendum in Seattle in 2015.
That program — funded by a ten-year property tax levy that collects around $3 million annually — gives each voter in the city of 734,000 residents four vouchers, each worth $25, to give to candidates of their choice in each biennial election there.
Voters in Seattle can use the vouchers for both mayoral and city council contests.
So far considerably less than 10% of the voter eligible to participate have actually used the vouchers they’re entitled to receive.
But a Georgetown University study of the voucher program’s impact shows growing participation in the program over time — especially among Black and younger voters.
2021 was the first year in which the vouchers could be used in Seattle’s mayoral election, which may explain some of the increase in participation.
Another study, from the University of Washington, says the program increased overall election funding by 53%, increased the number of candidates by 86% and substantially decreased the electoral success of incumbents.
Advocates for the voucher system, including the Democracy Policy Network, argue that it helps counter the perception that politicians only care about donors.
Daniel Newman, a leader of one of seven groups that promoted the Oakland measure sais it was designed to help candidates “who would be great elected officials but don’t have access to wealth.”
Several other communities — including Albuquerque, New Mexico; Los Angeles, California, and St. Louis, Missouri — have reportedly discussed adopting something similar.
Reid has not offered an estimate for the cost of a Democracy Voucher program in Evanston. But assuming it were scaled down from Seattle’s model based on our smaller population size, the cost would be about $1.3 million per four year election cycle — or more than four times the projected cost of the Geracaris plan.
Under U.S. Supreme Court rulings any candidate would be free to decline to participate in the taxpayer funding program and would then be only subject to much higher state limits on campaign fundraising.
Last year in Seattle 21 of 36 primary candidates, and six of eight general election candidates in eligible races funded their campaigns with democracy vouchers. Both mayoral candidates in the general election participated.
The candidates qualify for the program by collecting signatures and low-dollar donations from Seattle residents.
The Rules Committee Monday night voted to table discussion of the election funding proposals until its February meeting when the concept is scheduled to be up for a committee vote.