Is The Democracy Fund Hexed?

Just as the Democracy Fund got a long-awaited new member to join and help make an elusive quorum, its oldest member announced he plans to quit.

Former Westville alder Sergio Rodriguez has become the fifth member of the Fund, which oversees New Haven’s public-financing program for mayoral elections. Rodriguez showed up for the board’s monthly meeting at City Hall Wednesday night, helping produce an unusual feat: the Fund had a quorum and could officially meet.

Then, at the end of the meeting, Treasurer Tyrone McClain announced he will leave the seven-member board. Prior to Rodriguez joining, the board had only four of seven spots filled, which is exactly the number needed for quorum. If any member failed to show up to the meeting, no business could be conducted.

As a result, the Fund has struggled to hold meetings – it was unable to meet at all from October to January. This past February’s meeting was also postponed to Wednesday due to lack of quorum.

Fortunately for the quorum-seekers, McClain, who has served on the board since November 2012, said he will stay on until a new member is found to replace him.

During Wednesday’s meeting, McClain had to take a phone call during the meeting – a sign of being busy with work, a reason he gave for his departure.

“I’ve been here [on this board] for a long time, and I’m starting to get burned out. It’s also starting to really conflict with work so that when I’m here, I’m not totally here,” said McClain (pictured). “But it’s been fun, and I’ve enjoyed my time.”

Rodriguez, who served as a Westville alder for 10 years and unsuccessfully ran for city clerk in 2013, said he joined the board because he believes in public financing and hopes to make a contribution based on his personal experiences running campaigns. He used the state public finance system when he ran for Connecticut state representative in 2010 and called the public money “very helpful.”

“I ran for city clerk, and one of the biggest challenges I had was raising money, especially because it was one of those positions people didn’t really know a lot about,” Rodriguez said. “Public financing wasn’t open to me and I went up against folks who raised money I couldn’t raise, and it would’ve been really helpful. With another $20,000, I probably could’ve won that race.” He argued that New Haven should publicly fund city clerk races.

Rodriguez was less clear on what he thinks about potentially extending public financing to alder campaigns. The Fund is currently conducting a survey of alders and researching the idea. Rodriguez says he doesn’t see a need right now for funding alderman races, but it could open up the opportunity to run to more people and a modified form of the current program could help alders.

Wednesday’s meeting also revisited the question of increasing the ceiling on matching funds. The Fund gives government funds to qualifying mayoral candidates to help fund their campaigns in exchange for a promise not to take corporate and PAC money. Starting in 2008, many figures were to be adjusted every four years for cost-of-living increases using the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Figures such as the individual contribution ceiling, the initial grant qualifying candidates receive, and the limit on total expenditures of candidates’ campaigns were all adjusted in 2012 based on the CPI (from $300 to $370, $15,000 to $19,000, and $300,000 to $368,000, respectively; the ordinance requires new values to be rounded either to the nearest $5 or near $1,000 depending on the value).

However, the Fund’s rules make it unclear whether the $25 limit on matching funds should also be adjusted for cost-of-living. Currently, the city matches all qualifying donations 2:1 until $25, so a $10 donation becomes $30 and a $25 donation becomes $75.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board voted to adjust the $25 ceiling as well, making the ceiling $30. Now, a $30 donation becomes $90, whereas it previously would have been $80. Chair Jared Milfred noted that this was simply adjusting the figure for inflation in the same way the other figures were already adjusted.

“This would also increase the power of low dollar donors, which is to a certain extent the entire point of having matching funds in the first place,” administrator Alyson Heimer added.

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posted by: FacChec on March 5, 2015  2:26pm

“Is The Democracy Fund Hexed?”

The proper fitted question is:

Is the democracy fund Xed?

Well guess what Sergio? In the 2014/15 budget the democracy fund was not funded ten cents.

In the current 2015/16 budget the democracy fund line item was removed by the mayor as a funded line item, so I guess your services will not be needed afterall.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 5, 2015  2:45pm

No lost.This board is part of the Tammany, powerful political machine that is now runing New Haven.

posted by: Bill Saunders on March 5, 2015  5:03pm

Despite its claimed intentions, the Democracy fund is about Money and Control.

posted by: Paul Bass on March 5, 2015  5:53pm

I checked up on the question. Here’s the answer I got from City Hall: The Democracy Fund currently has around $300,000 in unused money in its account. That’s well more than needed to cover costs of matching dollars in a mayoral election. So there was no need to put more money in this year. Officials kept it in as a special-funds line item so as not to see it eliminated.

posted by: abg22 on March 5, 2015  6:34pm

Actually I believe the Democracy Fund has about $341,000 in unexpended funds. They did not request a disbursement this year from the general fund budget.

posted by: FacChec on March 5, 2015  6:37pm

Paul:

While there may be $346,000 left in the fund from the 2013 campaign, the city officials should verify that fac.
I doubt the city official is telling you the truth about where it is now located.

According to:

Sec. 2-823. - Democracy fund administration.
(a)

There is hereby established within the city’s general fund a separate non-lapsing reserve account to be known as the democracy fund. For fiscal year 2008-2009 and subsequent fiscal years, the board shall issue in January a report to the mayor and the board of aldermen of its expenditures and the current balance of its account, and shall include a specific recommendation for funding for the following fiscal year. In 2007 and in subsequent years, the board of aldermen will consider the recommendation of the democracy fund board and the on-going funding needs of the fund in its budget deliberations and again in its post-budget approval amendment process. The board of aldermen will exercise its best efforts to make sufficient appropriations to the fund to allow it to carry out its operations effectively. The board of aldermen will also consider in a prompt manner any interim requests made by the board for supplemental appropriations needed during the fiscal year. The fund can also accept any voluntary individual contributions made to it.

Once city general funds or individual contributions are appropriated and deposited into the fund, they cannot be transferred for other purposes, canceled, or rescinded. The city’s finance department shall be responsible for the prudent investment of the fund’s assets, balancing the need for investment growth.

As you can see that money is suppose to be in the general fund and not in some unspecified special fund category, which is illegal.

posted by: jim1 on March 5, 2015  6:42pm

We all know who will win next time!!! Don’t give her or him any money. The money could be use for homeless people, to feed and put in SRO’s.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on March 5, 2015  10:29pm

What is the cost of politicians being beholden not to their constituents, but instead the big donors that regularly fund campaigns?

Honestly folks, we want people who can run for office without being beholden to state contractors, special interest groups, sleazy bundlers and the like.

Sure, publicly-funded campaigns can seem like a waste of money. But the alternative is far uglier, and usually more expensive. (Beholden officials does not equal clean government.)

posted by: abg22 on March 9, 2015  11:24am

It’s not just the Democracy Fund that can barely get a quorum. The Board of Ethics, which oversees conflicts of interests for elected and appointed city officials, currently has only one member and cannot legally meet (it needs two for quorum). Harp has not appointed any new members since coming into office, despite making ethics reform and expanding the authority of the Board of Ethics one of the few specific proposals in her 2013 campaign platform (http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/harp_weighs_in_on_rizzo_lobbying/). Of course it’s difficult to find qualified people to fill all the positions on the city’s 45+ boards and commissions, but ultimately it’s the mayor’s responsibility to do so—not to mention the fact that the Democracy Fund and Board of Ethics are pretty important commissions from the standpoint of good government.