Election 2007: Public Financing Next Cycle?

As reported in today’s N&O, Chapel Hill is on track to be granted permission to create and use voter-owned elections for our municipal races.

I’ve supported this and other efforts – cumulative voting, super-precincts, same-day registration – to open up access to local office and generate the greatest participation possible.

The Senate approved HB143 and is sending it back to the House for final ratification.

define a uniform program of public campaign financing and to authorize the town of Chapel Hill to conduct such a program.

The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts:

SECTION 1.  G.S. 163‑278.6 is amended by adding a new subdivision to read:

(17a)  The term ‘public campaign financing program’ means a uniform program of a governmental entity that offers support for the campaigns of candidates for elective office within the jurisdiction ofthat governmental entity under the following conditions: (i) the candidates participating in the program must demonstrate public support and voluntarily accept strict fund‑raising and spending limits in accordance with a set of requirements drawn by that government, (ii) the requirements are drawn to further the public purpose of free and fair elections and do not discriminate for or against any candidate on the basis of race, creed, position on issues, status of incumbency or nonincumbency, or party affiliation, (iii) any public funds provided to candidates are restricted to use for campaign purposes according to guidelines drawn by the State Board of Elections, and (iv) unspent public funds are required to be returned to that governmental entity. Funds paid pursuant to such a program are not subject to the contribution limitations of G.S. 163‑278.13 and the prohibitions on corporate contributions of G.S. 163‑278.15 or G.S. 163‑278.19 but shall be reported as if they were contributions in all campaign reports required by law to be filed by the campaigns receiving the payments.

SECTION 2.  Article 21 of Chapter 160A of the General Statutes is amended by adding a new section to read:

§ 160A‑499.1.  Uniform, nondiscriminatory program of public financing of election campaigns.

(a)       A governing body of a city may appropriate
funds for a public campaign financing program as defined in G.S. 163‑278.6(17a) for city office in that city’s jurisdiction if the city has held at least one public hearing on the program before adopting it and the program is approved by the State Board of Elections. The State Board of Elections shall develop guidelines for the basic components needed in a program to meet the criteria set forth in G.S. 163‑278.6(17a) and shall approve a city’s program that meets the criteria. Any city exercising authority under this section shall provide full notice to the county board of elections in any county in which it has territory.

(b)       The governing body of a city
appropriating funds as provided by this section shall prepare a report no later than six months after the second election in which it appropriates funds under this section that analyzes its experience in implementing a public campaign financing program by that date, including percent of candidates participating in a program, sources and amounts of funding, litigation involving a program,
administrative issues, and recommendations for changes in this statute. The report shall be presented by that date to the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, to the Fiscal Research Division of the Legislative Services Office, and to the committees in the House of Representatives and Senate to which election‑related bills are primarily referred.

SECTION 3.  This act applies to the Town of Chapel Hill only.

SECTION 4.  This act is effective when it becomes
law and expires July 1, 2012.

Money can be a big factor, and folks like myself that can kick in some seed money to get their campaigns rolling have an advantage.

Mayor Foy’s 2001 race against Lee Pavao set a troubling standard ( Democracy North Carolina’s “Campaign Costs Skyrocket in Chapel Hill – Spending By Mayoral Candidates Has More Than Tripled Since 1995” [PDF]) that, luckily, has been approached but not yet exceeded.

Council member Mark Kleinschmidt (whom I ran with in 2005) said of the passage

“Campaign public financing will allow our elected officials to better reflect the widespread diversity of ideas and people that exist in Chapel Hill. It will increase the accessibility of running for office for non-wealthy candidates, and allow us to avoid trends in other cities of moneyed special interests dominating local elections.”

Unfortunately, this comes too late it seems to help any contenders wanting to run against the block of incumbents this year.

Speaking of incumbents, according to the Orange County Board of Elections filings, Foy, Greene, Hill and Strom have all not said yet if they plan to restrict their campaigns to a $3,000 limit.

Cam Hill did say “”Actually, we’ve got enough right here. My son’s going to be my treasurer, which will be an adventure. I’m hoping this will be an inexpensive campaign for all involved.” in this recent Chapel Hill News report, so maybe any other candidates will not have to contend with the double whammy of big money and incumbency.

We’ll know what kind of warchest these and the other candidates will bring to their effort as the 2007 Mid Year Semi-Annual report covering “Registered participants & non-participants in the 2007 elections from January 1, 2007 through June 30, 2007” is due July 27th.


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