Survey Response: Clean Elections

The following survey was submitted to me by the Minnesota Citizens for Clean Elections. They propose “Democracy Vouchers” that would be issued to, and used by, registered voters to spend on elections by allocating funding to the candidate of their choice. My answers are below.

 

I am responding to this proposal exclusively from the perspective of a city council candidate in Minneapolis, and not reflecting state or national interests. At a philosophical level, I reject public funding of elections, though I would like to offer you my commentary on specifics of why MnCCE’s proposal would be bad for municipal elections in Minneapolis.

I see this program as a transparent ploy to subsidize the DFL and its candidates with public money. In the city of Minneapolis, roughly 80% of voters chose DFL candidates during the 2016 general elections. (This is the most recent indicator of partisan affiliation available in the city.) The city council itself is comprised of 12 DFL members and 1 Green; no other party’s candidate has been elected to city council or mayor in over 20 years. As you well know, despite city elections being non-partisan, candidates can identify with a political party, and the funds tend to follow voters’ prior political convictions.

Some simple math will make it clear just how much of an advantage this gives the DFL. With 224,384 registered voters in the city, at just $10 per citizen in subsidies, the city would have allocated $2.2 million to the “clean elections” program. Given voting trends and party identification in the city of Minneapolis, this would have earmarked (through citizen allocation) roughly $1.8 million to the DFL and its candidates; the remaining $400,000 would have been split among Libertarians, Greens, Republicans, and others. Based on party affiliation alone, out of the gate, the DFL would be the beneficiary of a $1.4 million fundraising advantage against all other parties in the 2017 municipal election.

Despite ranked-choice voting in the city that may enable slightly better outcomes for less-established parties, the non-DFL candidates should expect only modest gains. We can assume that outside funding will not go to (for example) a Libertarian or Green candidate if a DFL or Republican party candidate has entered the race. In my own experience in the city council election, the leading DFL candidate had already raised nearly $25,000 prior to the candidate filing period for the fall election. Much of her money had, in fact, been raised from outside interests such as unions and left-leaning PACs. In my own ward, at a hypothetical 50% participation rate in the MnCCE program among registered voters, the DFL could expect to receive an additional $71,000. As a Libertarian candidate, I would likely face an additional $66,000 funding discrepancy under MnCCE’s scheme.

If the goal were to provide an equal voice to participants in the political process, each candidate would be allocated exactly the same amount of funding. The election would be less about who could afford more yard signs, and more about the candidates’ platforms. Ironically, in municipal elections in Minneapolis, the only likely equalizer to DFL hegemony is, in fact, outside money that would level the playing field for “outsider” candidates.