Ald. Devon Reid (8th) sought Monday night to amend a taxpayer financing plan for mayoral elections to only provide matching funds for contributions made by poor people.
At the Evanston City Council meeting where the plan to give a 9-to-1 match for small contributions to candidates was approved for introduction, Reid said that unless the plan is amended to only match contributions made by the poor, it could increase the power of already wealthy residents.
The wealthy, he suggested, are already contributing to support candidates, while lower income people are hard-pressed to come up with money to make any contribution.
Reid has voiced support for an alternative to the matching funds model. That approach, called democracy vouchers, is used in Seattle, Washington, and provides all residents with forms they can use to assign their share of the public funding pool to candidates, without having to put up any money of their own.
The matching funds model has been more widely adopted across the country.
David Melton, board president of Reform for Illinois, the activist group that has pushed for Evanston to adopt the taxpayer financing model, said Reid’s proposal would likely lead courts to rule that the scheme was unconstitutional, on equal protection grounds.
Mayor Daniel Biss said the matching funds program would dramatically reduce the disparity in power between rich and poor because the maximum contribution that candidates could accept to receive matching funds would be far less than what wealthy donors can give now.
Reid’s proposed change failed to win backing from any other council members, and after adopting a package of amendments proposed by staff, the taxpayer funding scheme was approved for introduction on a 5-1 vote.