City Council members Monday will consider a plan that could force taxpayers to spend up to $450,000 on an election for mayor.

The proposal, which sponsor Juan Geracaris (9th) calls the “Small Donor Matching System for Fair Elections” would create a fund of nearly $400,000 available to candidates in a mayor’s race and spend an additional $50,000 for staff in the city clerk’s office to administer the program.

Each year the city would put one-fortieth of one percent of the city’s total budget into the fund. With a city budget of $397 million this year, that would work out to $99,250, and add up to nearly $400,000 over a four-year election cycle

The program could radically shift how much money candidates have available. Qualified candidates would receive a $9 match from the taxpayers for every $1 they raised on their own in contributions of $50 or less.

Mayor Daniel Biss garnered 73% of the vote in 2021 to 18% for Lori Keenan and 9% for Sebastian Nalls.

On the way to his victory, Biss raised $145,000 in contributions to $12,000 for Keenan and $4,000 for Nalls from July 2020 through March 2021.

To see how the proposed new funding mechanism might alter a rerun in 2025, we had to make several assumptions.

These include that:

  • All candidates raised the initial 100 contributions of between $5 and $50 required to qualify for a match
  • All itemized donations greater than $150 in 2021 were reduced to exactly $150 in 2025 from the same number of donors.
  • The average non-itemized donation amount in 2021 was $50 and in 2025 the same number of non-itemized donors would each contribute exactly $50.
  • The proposed ordinance’s cap on matching funds to any candidate of $81,000 applies.

With far more money available from the city than the total actually spent in 2021, candidates would be incentivized to put more effort – and more spending of taxpayer dollars – into generating still more small-dollar contributions.

The proposed ordinance does not specify when the annual allocation of taxpayer money to the election fund would begin. If the allocation initially started with next year’s budget, then presumably the fund would only have about $200,000 to give out to candidates in 2025, with twice that amount available for the 2029 election.

Exact amounts available would be subject to future changes in the size of the city budget.

The ordinance has a variety of other provisions. It would bar participating candidates from accepting contributions from any entity that lobbies the city or does business exceeding $5,000 with the city or seeks zoning variances from the city for non-residential properties.

Candidates getting matching funds would also be barred from coordinating with any individual or independent expenditure committee in support of the candidate or in opposition to the candidate’s opponent.

And they would be barred from using more than $450 of their own or family funds to support their own campaign.

Candidates who thought they could raise more money from private sources would be free to not participate in the matching funds program — leaving more taxpayer money for the remaining contenders.

The staff memo from Deputy City Attorney Alexandra Ruggie accompanying the 16-page ordinance provides no information about how it was developed or what other communities may have already adopted a similar plan.

If you’re among the nearly three-fourths of voters in the mayoral election who backed the winner, you may be dismayed at the prospect of so much money going to candidates who had relatively little support.

On the other hand, if you believed the losers could have won if only they had more money to get their message out, the proposal may look appealing.

One thing its adoption would appear sure to do is let the small share of relatively well-to-do Evanstonians who make large contributions to mayoral campaigns spend their money somewhere else.

Proposed ordinance 56-O-23 is scheduled for a vote at the Council’s Rules Committee meeting at 5 p.m. Monday in the City Council Chambers.

Editor’s note 6/6/23: This story has been substantially revised. The original version was based on a city staff memo that did not specify that the election fund would be replenished each year, rather than once per election cycle. The ordinance draft itself specifies the annual allocation, and that dramatically increases the size of the fund. Our apologies to our readers for not noticing that before the original story was published

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. This is just a ridiculous proposal. If someone wants to run, then they should raise the donations. It’s should not be a tax burden on taxpayers. This council needs to stop with the crazy ideas and not listening to taxpayers.

  2. Time for “Brexit” – Ev-x-it – if only we could turn the calendar back to 1874!

    The multifaceted plan to transform Evanston into a socialist utopia is unending and unrelenting.

    The village of North Evanston merged with Evanston in 1874, and in 1892, residents of South Evanston voted to join with Evanston.

    We The People – vote to join Wilmette in 2023!

  3. Resident tax money spent on an EV mayoral election–NO. (added to
    this concern about increasing EV business minimum hourly wage and
    “fair work week hours”) highlights my interest in what I witness in our
    City government: I suggest BEGIN FAIR Annual INCREASES for the
    Alder/Council please! all their assigned Committee meetings and
    ‘volunteering’ for extra Committees, plus Council meetings and Ward
    meetings, business communication, extra inadvertent civic projects and
    hours of meeting prep–the past three years have accentuated extraordinary
    time expended which calculates to an insulting hourly wage of a guess
    at $6/hour for professional Council members !? (based on their annual
    “stipend” for services). Consider valuing our Council reps first. 6/2023 CH

  4. Not sure I agree with raising salaries or paying for expenses of the council. We don’t seem to have a dearth of candidates and it’s doubtful that we would be willing to pay what it would take to attract truly qualified candidates.

  5. This is crazy – tax payers would be forced to support candidates they have no intention of voting for and wouldn’t want picking up their trash let alone be mayor!

    If it’s a matter of equity, then put a cap on how much a candidate or their supporters can spend.

  6. Another terrible idea so it’s likely to be adopted. If enacted, it will encourage more fringe and divisive candidates to a post that’s essentially a cheerleader position.

  7. Remember that “woke” types like Geracaris ultimately care about nothing. There is no issue or problem they want to solve – they want perpetual “problems” so that they can endlessly not solve them and make their money or gain their moral assurance or both from it…

    Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

    1. Instead of protecting the safety, economy, jobs, quality of life of our beloved city on Lake Michigan, the woke, progressive, activist leaders of the city council have taken up a new mission — impressing each other with radical gestures.

  8. I think this an idea worthy of further exploration. It seems like it would enable more candidates from more diverse backgrounds to run. Even be elected. Might mean that more “regular” citizens could be heard.

    1. Hi Spencer,
      Just asking … What’s “irregular” about the citizens on the Council now? And are they not diverse?
      — Bill

      1. They’re not diverse. They’re all far, far leftist, radical marxist council members. Evanston does not embrace diversity of thought; this is apparent in the city council, and it’s very, very apparent in the school board and the administrators they hire.

  9. We have become a socialist town and unfortunately we have elected this council. We were sick of Rainey’s antics and of course this is an example of be careful what you wish for. I was initially impressed with our Mayor and he has proved me wrong. He is a big part of this and he continues to support Reid. I wish i knew how to stop these people. We will have to wait for the next election.
    This was a good town, I graduated from ETHS and put 2 kids through school there. They got a great education and they both graduated from college. I have never been so embarrassed to live here. I pay high taxes and this town has gone to crap.

  10. Another way to tax Evanstonians that’s all this is! Evanstons ultimate goal run out the middle class and poor because they charge for everything here!

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