Why Do We Need a Democracy Dollars Program in Evanston?
What are some of the likely impacts of this reform?
We can look to the results of Seattle’s program to see what how the Democracy Dollars could improve the donor pool in Evanson. In 2017, 84% of Seattle’s total donor pool consisted of new donors (who had not contributed in the 2013 or 2015 cycles), and this new pool of donors was more representative of the overall electorate than past elections. Before the voucher program went into place, only 1.3% of Seattle residents donated to city elections; by the 2019 election, that percentage had more than quadrupled to 8% using either a voucher or cash donation. Though no system is perfect, these vouchers strongly suggest a highly positive effect on closing the class divide between those who can influence politics.
You can find more analysis of Seattle’s program in a study by sociologists Brian McCabe and Jennifer Heerwig here. A Seattle Times article by Daniel Beekman and Jim Brunner provides this graphic, showing the staggering proportion of donations that came from vouchers in the city’s mayoral race this year:
If a similar program were implemented in Evanston, we would expect to see greater participation as well as diversity in the donor pool for local campaigns, which will ultimately lead to a city government that is more representative of its constituents. We also hope that Evanston can serve as a model for other cities throughout the state and country.
Why should we pursue this in Evanston?
Evanston residents and policymakers have signalled openness to this kind of campaign finance reform in the past, and now-mayor Daniel Biss made it a big part of his campaign. Evanston has been a leader in implementing other progressive reforms at the municipal level, so a Democracy Dollars program is a natural fit.
How does the Evanston Democracy Dollars proposal connect to the For the People Act?
The mammoth piece of democracy reform legislation known as the For the People Act (also referred to as S1 or HR1) includes similar provisions for public campaign financing in federal elections, reflecting that campaign finance reform is a national priority. The For the People Act would establish both a small-dollar matching program across the country as well as a pilot Democracy Dollars program in three states (where voters would have $25 vouchers to distribute to congressional candidates). These programs would be funded through a new “Freedom from Influence Fund,” with funds coming primarily through surcharges on criminal or civil penalties and settlements from corporations or individual tax code violators.
Democracy Dollars Evanston is fully compatible with the For the People Act, and the two reforms are quite complementary. The For the People Act would only provide financing for congressional campaigns, where the Evanston initiative would finance city council and mayoral campaigns. If both proposals were enacted, Evanston residents would be better able to get their voice heard at both the local and federal levels.
Moreover, if the For the People Act does not ultimately get passed, local initiatives like Democracy Dollars Evanston would raise public awareness of and support for future campaign finance reform. Local successes will propel the movement for state and national reform.
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