I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Report lauds Albuquerque publicly financed campaigns
A report released Wednesday by the Center for Governmental Studies said the 2007 and 2009 publicly funded municipal campaigns in Albuquerque were a success, resulting in less money spent in the election and more focus on the issues.
“The citizens of Albuquerque should be proud of their impressive civic achievement in adopting and implementing the Open and Ethical Elections program,” the report (pdf) concluded. “Their determination to reduce expenditures in municipal campaigns has been richly rewarded.”
The main election in 2009, the mayoral election, featured three candidates who all opted to use public financing.
The New Mexico Independent reported in 2009 that it appeared public financing contributed to a surprising race which ended with Richard “R.J.” Berry defeating incumbent Martin Chavez. Chavez had served three total terms, including the previous two consecutive terms.
“Voters have embraced Albuquerque’s public campaign financing program, and officials contacted said they would use the program again instead of raising private donations. None of them needed supplemental ‘opposing funds’ during their campaigns to rebut messages by privately-funded opponents or independent groups,” the report stated.
Public financing was approved in the 2005 election by Albuquerque voters. The public financing required candidates to collect $5 contributions from 3,287 registered voters, or one percent of the registered voters in the city, in a six-week period to receive roughly $328,000 in publicly-financed campaign money. This was a change from the 2005 election when Martin Chavez raised $1.2 million in his successful re-election.
The candidates were also required to collect signatures from 2 percent of the registered voters in the district or city, depending on the office for which they were running.
The public financing allowed for “seed money” that could be raised for those who wish to explore a mayoral race. Candidates for mayor and city council could raise up to 10 percent of the total money they would receive from the public financing with a $100 contribution limit on donations and $500 of the candidate’s own money. The seed money would later be taken away from the money given once the candidate qualified for public financing.
While the report heaped praise on the first publicly funded mayoral campaign, it did include suggestions on how the program could be improved.
For example, it suggested that Albuquerque look at alternatives to the “opposing funds” provision that provides candidates who use public financing to get matching funds if another candidates chooses to self-fund instead of participate in the public financing program. This provision may be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in a case involving a similar program in Arizona.
The options include repealing the trigger mechanism and instead adding to the funds each candidate receives for public financing. Another possibility would be to follow the system in New York City which limits donations to $175 or less but matches these small-dollar donations at a 6-to-1 ratio. Two suggested untested options would give more grant money to the more competitive races and give additional money to candidates involved in races with a high amount of undecided voters four weeks before an election.
The study also recommends that the time allowed to collect the $5 dollar qualifying donations for mayoral candidates be increased by four weeks. Two candidates, City Councilors Michael Cadigan and Debbie O’Malley, were unable to reach the amount of qualifying donations needed to receive the campaign funds.
In order to ease the burden of verifying thousands signatures by the city clerk, the group suggests, “Form 5 should be re-written to clearly state the transaction between the voter and the candidate, the reason for the transaction, that the funds given are those of the voter, the identifying information for both the voter and the candidate or agent, and awareness of the penalty for committing perjury.”
The group also suggests audits to make sure campaign funds were spent appropriately, improving the city’s website to make election information more easily attainable and requiring the candidates to include more information on the required disclosure reports, including the date of each individual transaction.
The report is one in a series of studies on other public-financing programs around the country.