Taxpayers in Oakland, California, won’t just be paying for school upgrades, road improvements, and routine city measures anymore. They will now be funding — wait for it — local political campaigns, such as those for mayor, City Council, or the school board.
Four $25 vouchers, sent every two years to all Oakland residents over the age of 18, regardless of citizenship, will be paid for out of the city’s general fund. Recipients can then donate the “Democracy Dollars” — which are expected to total $4 million per election — to the candidate or candidates of their choosing, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
BREAKING NEWS: Oakland just passed Measure W, cracking down on #darkmoney. Now, democracy dollars will give Oakland voters the power to upend unlimited spending from special interest groups. Congratulations to @OaklandRising for this win! #darkmoney #midterms pic.twitter.com/FVYAsEBc04
— RepresentUs (@representus) November 9, 2022
Called an “under-the-radar measure” by the Chronicle, the Fair Elections Act was overwhelmingly supported by nearly 74% of Oakland voters, making it only the second U.S. city to enact such a law.
Not surprisingly, the first to pass such a measure was Seattle, which implemented it in 2017, two years after it was approved.
Liz Suk, executive director of Oakland Rising, which joined other groups to sponsor the act, also known as Measure W, pointed to a University of Washington study which found a 350% increase in campaign contributors under the system. Donations under $200 soared $250% and local races saw an 86% increase in the number of candidates, making it less likely that the incumbents would win re-election.
“It has increased participation in lesser areas in Seattle, and voter turnout from communities of color” and in traditionally low-turnout areas, she said. “The way folks are campaigning has changed.”
The most recent draft of Measure W states “the programs and reforms in this Act will curb corruption, including quid pro quo corruption, and its appearance in Oakland elections and government. The programs and reforms in this Act will also ensure the right of Oakland residents to participate in democratic selfgovernance through effective participation in Oakland elections and government and their right to elected officials who are responsive to constituents.”
“The Democracy Dollars Program will also support candidates for elected office who lack networks of wealthy contributors, and will encourage candidates across the political spectrum and from different backgrounds to seek elected office, thereby resulting in a pool of candidates that is more reflective of the diversity of Oakland residents and resulting in more competitive elections,” it continues.
It will also extend “the lobbying ban from one year to three years after a city official leaves government service,” a move the draft explains is “necessary to curb corruption, including quid pro quo corruption, and the appearance of corruption, and will thereby better protect the integrity of city government.”
“Candidates hoping to receive residents’ vouchers must first qualify for the program by raising a certain amount in contributions,” Blaze Media reports. “For instance, a mayoral candidate must receive 400 contributions of at least $10 each. Certified candidates will also have to agree to spending caps.”
While proponents of the act say it will encourage more would-be local leaders to connect with the city’s residents rather than just the wealthy donors, Marcus Crawley, president of the Alameda County Taxpayers Association says it was a waste of money when Oakland “can’t hire enough people to clean the streets or answer 911 calls.”
It was the City Council that placed Measure W on the ballot, and despite arguments to the contrary, Crawley says it was “biased toward incumbents” and “has no controls for fraud,” according to the Chronicle.
On Twitter, users are skeptical of the new program.
“If you thought ballot harvesting is a problem,” tweeted one user, “can you imagine the efforts to harvest ‘Democracy Dollars’ in Oakland!”
If you thought ballot harvesting is a problem, can you imagine the efforts to harvest “Democracy Dollars” in Oakland! Maybe a “donation” of $25 Democracy Dollars gives you a free meal at a fundraiser or something else that costs you nothing but gives taxpayer $ to a politician.
— D DB (@dean1941_d) December 1, 2022
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