Tom Suffredin.

A plan to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to mayoral candidates was tabled by Evanston’s Rules Committee Monday night after several council members raised questions about it.

Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) objected to the idea of compelling taxpayers to financially support candidates they don’t agree with.

When the measure’s sponsor, Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th) suggested the money was just “supporting the election process,” Suffredin countered that the funds would not do something nonpartisan — like holding more candidate forums — but would instead go directly to the candidates — turning over taxpayer money to them without the taxpayers’ consent.

Suffredin suggested that the federal presidential campaign fund provides a more appropriate model. It allows taxpayers to voluntarily designate that $3 of their tax payment be devoted to the program. Participating in the program doesn’t change the individual taxpayer’s overall liability.

Until the issue of giving residents a choice about paying into the program is fixed, Suffredin said, “I’m a no on this.”

Related story: Plan: Make taxpayers fund mayoral race

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) suggested that a state statute might make the program illegal. 10 ILCS 5/9-25.1 provides in part that “No public funds shall be used to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition, or be appropriated for political or campaign purposes to any candidate or political organization.”

Reid also said that rather than giving candidates funds, he favors a unique model used in Seattle, Washington, of giving voters “Democracy Vouchers” that they can then provide to the candidates of their choice.

He said the Seattle model does a better job than matching funds of encouraging people not now involved in the political process to become active.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) objected to a bar in the proposed ordinance on contributions from lobbyists — saying a new state law requiring registration of lobbyists at the municipal level has yet to be implemented — so defining who is, and is not, a lobbyist would be extremely difficult for the city.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) raised concerns about the size of the match the ordinance would give candidates — $9 for every $1 of qualifying contributions they had raised.

Revelle said the highest ratio in any other community that has a matching fund program for elections is in New York City. It now provides an 8 to 1 match, while other communities use matching ratios varying from 1 to 1 to 6 to 1.

It was not clear from the motion to table when the proposal might return to the committee for further debate.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. The other obvious and ridiculous thing about this is that the Mayoral position is largely ceremonial.

    The mayor does not get a vote in Council unless there is a tie–which is not common under a 9-member council. Under our city manager form of government, the city manager runs things, so the mayor doesn’t have any executive power either.

    The only other “power” they have is to name people to boards and committees. Since most of those are advisory and council often ignores their recommendations, that seems to be a pretty weak power as well.

    Why we would ever consider public financing of elections for a ceremonial position is unclear. It is akin to Homecoming King/Queen of the city.

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