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Does Public Financing of Campaigns Make Sense Today?

Monday, Aug. 13, 2012

In an effort to make it easier for newcomers to have a chance to win in the upcoming election, the taxpayers of San Francisco are financing qualifying candidates.

The program is administered by the city’s Ethics Commission, and allows challengers for a seat on the board of supervisors to receive a maximum of $155,000; incumbents have a cap of $152,500. More than $4 million is available in the account, according to John St. Croix, executive director of the commission. A payment of $248,867 was made Friday to five candidates who have qualified.

In order to be eligible, says St. Croix, the individual “must demonstrate that he or she has received at least $10,000 in qualifying contributions from at least 100 individuals who reside in the city.” The threshold for incumbents is slightly different: they must raise $15,000 in qualifying contributions from at least 150 residents.

A base grant of $20,000 is granted once the candidate qualifies, with additional amounts given based on the results of private fundraising.

Discussion questions:

  • With cities and counties facing bankruptcy, does public financing of campaigns make economic sense?
  • Do you support public financing of political campaigns? Why or why not?
  • Should there be an “ethics clause” that requires the public money be returned if the candidate engages in negative campaigning?
  • Should the money be returned in the case of campaign ethics violations?

Tags: campaign finance

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