by Reid Schweitzer
Over the last fifteen years, a growing movement in the US has called for the diminution of corporate and special interest money in elections by providing public funds for campaigns. In that time, sixteen states and a number of municipalities have enacted various schemes that provide public financing for candidates for public office, usually with requirements that the candidates abide by spending caps and raise a certain amount of money on their own through small donations.
This past election tested San Francisco’s version of public finance in its mayoral election. The City by the Bay provides $50,000 to any mayoral candidate who can raise at least $25,000 from donations of $100 or less. After that, donations to the candidate are matched at a rate of 4:1, decreasing to 1:1 by the time that candidate reaches the $1,375,000 spending cap imposed on those candidates receiving public financing. In a single election, a candidate may receive as much as $850,000 from the city, unless, as in this election a privately financed campaign exceeds the cap. Thereafter, the cap rises in $100,000 increments as privately financed campaigns continue to spend.
In this election, however, a publicly financed campaign did not take the prize. Interim Mayor Ed Lee won the election on November 8 after funding his campaign through private contributions. Ultimately a total of $2.6 million was spent in support of Lee’s campaign, including nearly one million dollars spent by independent groups. This amount, however, is dwarfed by recent campaigns in San Francisco where, for example, in the 2003 election, former Mayor Gavin Newsom spent $5.1 million. Continue reading