Reader View: Let’s fix public financing in Santa Fe
- Viki Harrison
In 2008, an overwhelming 63 percent of Santa Fe voters approved public campaign financing for city elections. Santa Feans sent a resounding message that public funding provided to candidates is necessary to ensure fundraising ability is not a main qualifier to run for public office. Over the past seven years, the system has been used and been successful at helping candidates win. However, recent court rulings require a fix to our city’s campaign finance system.
Public campaign financing is when cities or counties pay for all or part of a political candidate’s campaign expenses in return for the candidate raising a certain amount of qualifying funds. Once public funds are taken, the candidate agrees to abide by certain restrictions, like spending and fundraising. Most importantly, public financing is the best way to ensure influence stays with ordinary Santa Feans rather than those who donate to campaigns.
The system in Santa Fe has worked well since its inception in 2009. However, outside money is increasingly playing a role in our local elections, and it requires a fix to our system. This money comes from groups and organizations that do not have to disclose their spending, and in Santa Fe, we saw the impact of this “dark” money firsthand during the 2013 mayoral race. Two privately funded political action committees spent more than $180,000 to support one candidate. While all three mayoral candidates in the 2013 race took public financing, which in Santa Fe equals a lump sum of $60,000, the current system did not then, and does not now, allow the opportunity to raise additional funds to compete with the outside spending. The experience of the 2013 election illustrates the urgency to fix our system. While outside groups have not yet been visible in our upcoming City Council races, it is likely that day is not far away.
Matching funds are the answer, and over the past few months, the Ethics and Campaign Review Board has diligently worked to develop a solution to our public campaign finance system that includes matching funds. This process has included weeks of public comment, research and input from diverse voices to develop the absolute best policy for Santa Fe. Whether it’s emerging “dark” money or trying to compete in a tight race, matching funds allow candidates to stay in the game while empowering constituents via small contributions.
At the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, we work every day to make Santa Fe one of the best places in the country to live, work and raise a family, while helping more than 900 member businesses thrive. I try to encourage business leaders to get involved and run for public office. Unfortunately, again and again, business leaders tell me they have no interest in running due to concerns over long hours, little pay and the existing campaign finance system that can unfairly influence races.
The Santa Fe City Council has opportunity to lead on finding solutions to the ever-increasing role of money in politics. Adding matching funds to our public campaign financing is the best solution to give influence to local Santa Feans, make our elections more transparent, give more candidates the financial foundation they need to run, and give elected leaders the opportunity to focus on the issues that really matter. With matching funds, the value of our voices will be higher than the money we can give, voters will be more engaged in the process, and we can take steps to improve our city. It is time the City Council fixes our public campaign financing system and implements the board’s recommendations.
Simon Brackley is president and CEO of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce.