Downtown Alderman Doug Hausladen said he thinks public campaign financing should be available for aldermanic races. The Democracy Fund administrator calculated how much that might cost: A pretty penny.
According to calculations by Ken Krayeske, who administers New Haven’s public campaign financing program, extending the program to aldermanic races could cost upward of half a million dollars.
Alderman Hausladen said he thinks the actual number would prove much smaller, since Krayeske’s upward estimate is based on an election in which races in all 30 wards are contested, and both candidates take part in the Democracy Fund. Costs could come down further with new technology to help track campaign donations, Hausladen said.
Krayeske (pictured below) offered his figures as part of a briefing to aldermen on Monday evening. The topic: The past, present, and future of the Democracy Fund.
The fund is a pot of money set aside for mayoral candidates who pledge to abide by certain fundraising standards, and meet small-donor collection targets. The point of the program, Connecticut’s first: To limit the influence of wealthy special interests on elections (and therefore government), to hold down the cost of campaigns, and to enable more candidates to participate. Candidates who collect at least 200 donations of at least $10 can quality for a $19,000 grant from the Fund plus matching dollars. The Fund matches the first $25 of donations at a rate of two to one.
So far, the fund exists only for mayoral races. Krayeske offered a hypothetical rundown on what publicly funded aldermanic races might look like.
Krayeske said the idea of public campaign financing for aldermanic races has been the subject of ongoing debate for several years, “most recently spurred by the high spending in the 2011 aldermanic races.” Click here for more on that.
Krayeske, who is a part-time administrator earning $25,000 per year, said administering 30 aldermanic elections would cost $168,000 in administrative costs. That figure assumes 60 candidates, two elections (primary and general), and 20 hours of administration pre-candidates, at $70 per hour. Krayeske said it takes him about an hour to match 50 submitted donation records with voter registration rolls.
Krayeske’s calculations represent the busiest possible scenario. Most aldermanic election years don’t have contested races in every ward (or some years in most wards), and they often don’t go past the primary election.
As for the money that might be given out to aldermanic candidates, with 60 candidates in two elections getting $4,000 each, the Democracy Fund would be shelling out $480,000, Krayeske said.
Krayeske said he does not have an opinion on whether the Democracy Fund should finance aldermanic elections. As an administrator, he said, “I make no recommendation either way.”
“I think we should have public financing for every election in America,” said Alderman Hausladen.
He said the Democracy Fund will be able to cut down administrative costs with software that can process and track donations faster than a human administrator.
Hausladen said he doesn’t have plans to submit a proposal to expand the Democracy Fund to aldermanic races, but he wants to “explore” the notion.
At least a couple of his colleagues at the briefing were less enthusiastic.
“I think in general that it’d be great to see more publicly finance elections,” said East Rock Alderwoman Jessica Holmes. But the figures laid out by Krayeske “made it seem very expensive. We’d need to look at that in more detail.”
“I’d want to see more about how much it was going to cost,” Holmes said. “It’s rough month to talk about starting anything that will cost the city ... The state budget has all of us pretty nervous.”
Asked if aldermanic candidates should receive public financing, East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker (pictured) said, “My sense is that they shouldn’t.”
“I don’t think you need much money to run an aldermanic campaign,” he said. Ward elections are decided by so few people, he said. “The most important thing is knocking on doors” and talking to voters.
Elicker, who will receive public funding for his current campaign to become mayor, said it could be “quite expensive” to the city to have public funding for aldermanic races. Some wards, for instance, could have as many as three or four candidates running, he said.
“I would love to see it for aldermanic campaigns, but I worry about it being realistic,” Elicker said.
Money can be more of a game-changer in larger elections, so the cost-benefit ratio of doling out a lot of dollars for aldermanic races might not work out well for the city.
Fun Fund Facts
Other highlights from Monday’s Democracy Fund briefing:
+$200K?: The mayor’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year includes $200,000 for the Democracy Fund.
Krayeske said that of the $400,000 deposited in the fund in $200,000 installments in 2006 and 2007, $270,000 now remains. With both declared mayoral candidates participating in the fund, that money could diminish rapidly, Krayeske said.
Early Modern: Alderman Elicker is due to receive about $29,000 from the fund, but the city won’t cut a check until April 1, Krayeske said. The ordinance covering the Democracy Fund states that April 1 is the earliest date by which a candidate can receive money.
Krayeske said that’s an outdated condition that doesn’t reflect the realities of modern campaigning, in which the election season starts earlier and earlier. He said moving that date is one of a number of changes to Democracy Fund rules that he’d like to see after this election year is finished. (Another is closing the exploratory committee loophole.)
Elicker agreed that the April 1 start date should be changed. If two candidates in the race have each raised $5,000 or more before April 1, participating candidates should get a check, he said.
Elicker said his campaign has no problem waiting until April 1 for its money. “We’re not worried about it at all. We have more than enough money to do what we need to do.”
Free Seats!: Krayeske asked aldermen for help recruiting new members to the Democracy Fund board, which currently has only four of seven seats filled. Earlier Monday, Patricia Kane was elected chair of the board.
Another Elm City First: Krayeske said New Haven has the country’s only “hybrid” public campaign financing program. Elsewhere, public campaign funding consists of either matching funds or grants. New Haven’s system does both.
Millionaire’s Choice: Alderman Hausladen said he plans to draft a proposal for an aldermanic resolution asking all mayoral candidates to take part in the Democracy Fund. Looking for a co-sponser, Hausladen approached Dixwell Alderwoman Jeanette Morrison.
“I like choice. I’m a choice person,” Morrison said. She didn’t give Hausladen a definite answer. She said she wants to reserve the right of millionaires to fund their own campaigns. Not that she necessarily approves of millionaire’s throwing their fortunes into the race, she said. “I don’t like to corner people.”
Krayeske said he will be meeting with the Democratic Town Committee and plans to ask members if they will make Democracy Fund participation a condition of a mayoral endorsement by the committee.