Opposition’s Claim: Big Money just isn’t a problem in Berkeley politics.
False. Measure X1 provides a crucial solution to real problems with money in politics prevalent in Berkeley right now.
Candidates are reliant for their campaign funding upon a tiny group of people that are not representative of Berkeley residents as a whole. Well over half of campaign funds come from less than 1% of Berkeley households. Looking at the current elected City Council members and Mayor, one-third of their contributions came from outside of Berkeley.
Elections in Berkeley are expensive, and candidates who are able to raise more money have a competitive advantage over others. Seven of the last eight City Council races went to the candidate who raised the most money, as did the last mayor’s race.
Few Berkeley elections are competitive, and incumbents are difficult to hold accountable once elected. In the last 20 years, not a single incumbent City Council member has run and lost their seat. Fifty-eight percent of contests for City Council and Mayor in the last ten years have been uncompetitive. We aren’t able to hold our elected officials accountable at the ballot box if we don’t have real choices.
Opposition’s Claim: X1 won’t make a difference in Berkeley politics.
False. Measure X1 would lower the barrier to entry, making it possible for a more diverse range of candidates – those who have grassroots support but not access to big donors – to run for office and win. And instead of “dialing for dollars” to only those who can afford $250 campaign donations, the Fair Elections system encourages candidates to do grassroots campaigning and ask for small donations.
The positive impact of publicly funded elections is well-documented. Measure X1 is modeled on the successful public funding program in New York City, which has been very successful at increasing the number and importance of small donors, reducing the number of uncontested seats, and engaging a broader and more diverse community in their elected government – all changes that are badly needed here in Berkeley as well.
Opposition’s Claim: X1 would cost too much, and the money is needed more elsewhere.
False. Measure X1 would use a very small amount of existing funds, equivalent to $4 per Berkeley resident per year – and potentially much less – and would not raise taxes.
The system will be funded by an allocation of $4 per Berkeley resident per year from existing city revenues (the General Fund) to the Fair Elections Fund. The overall City budget for 2016 is $339 million. Four dollars per Berkeley resident per year is $483,888. This represents the maximum allowed spending per year. The actual cost will likely be much lower, depending on how many candidates run for office and participate in the Fair Elections system.
This maximum amount, equivalent to about 0.1% of the City’s budget, is not negligible – every dollar matters, and there are always competing needs. The cost does, however, represent a worthwhile investment in ensuring that the governing body overseeing the other 99.9% of the budget best represents the needs, interests, and preferences of Berkeley voters.
In a similar vein, Berkeley will spend $2,270,000 this year for the City Auditor’s office – money well spent. Investments in accountability and oversight are a necessary price to ensure good stewardship of public funds.