ICPR to Emanuel's Ethics Reform Task Force: 'Change the Course of Chicago Politics'
February 15, 2012
Testimony to the Chicago Ethics Reform Task Force
Submitted by Brian Gladstein, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
February 15, 2012
February 15, 2012
Good evening, and thank you to the city of Chicago, Mayor Emanuel, members of this task force, and Chicago residents for participating in an important discussion that will, hopefully, lead to a more fair and ethical city government.
My name is Brian Gladstein. I am the Executive Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. ICPR is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that educates the public and advocates reforms to promote public participation to address the role of money in politics and encourage integrity, accountability, and transparency in government.
I want to spend my limited amount of time addressing a topic that ICPR believes is vital if we are to create a government that is ethical and serves the needs of its residents—campaign finance reform.
In order to restore faith in our government we must ensure that our politicians are not being influenced by special interests over the needs of the people. Chicago has produced some of the finest politicians Illinois has known, but it also has a history of dirty tricks, unscrupulous tactics and illegal activities. Over the past three decades, at least 79 elected officials in Illinois, many have been convicted of crimes related to their performance in office.
The current administration is in a unique position to change the course of Chicago politics and create a system that is no longer influenced by a few people with a lot of money but rather by many people who are engaged and participating in our civic life. No current public financing system is perfect, but New York City has a model that can and should be replicated here in Chicago.
New York City’s public financing system provides participating candidates six dollars in matching funds for each of the first $175 that an individual city resident gives to their campaigns. This new formula makes a $175 donor as valuable to participating candidates as a $1,225 donor is to non-participants. In order to receive the benefits of the system, participants agree to limit their spending.
The results are encouraging. According to a Brennan Center for Justice report, the number of donors has generally expanded after the enactment of the multiple
match system. Between 1997, the last election under the one-to-one match, and 2009, the first election under the six-to-one match, the number of donors who gave to participating candidates grew by 35%.
It is hard to measure if a program such as the one enacted by New York City will curb the power of special interests. Yet politicians in New York City seem to think so. Councilmember Brad Lander has said: “Because of the multiple match, I was able to refuse all contributions from political action committees. Without the multiple match, I would not have been able to finance my campaign solely on contributions from individuals.”
Campaign consultant Alex Navarro-McKay went further to say: “The match makes it easier to raise money from small donors, thereby reducing the need to raise money from the City Hall lobbyist crowd.”
We can have a similar system here. A few years ago, ICPR surveyed contributions to campaigns, and found that in a state of 13 million people, where about five and a half million voters took ballots in the 2004 general election, fewer than 43,000, or fewer than ½ of 1% of all adults contributed directly to a candidate for statewide or legislative office.
Professor Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute found that in 2010, donors who gave less than $150 accounted for 3% of all fundraising by statewide and legislative candidates nationwide.
If Chicago adopted a similar program to New York City, we would be leveling the playing field among donors. Instead of spending time raising funds from groups with the most money, candidates can be talking to voters about the issues affecting the lives of Chicago’s residents.
In addition to encouraging candidates to establish and maintain connections with voters, the system may increase transparency by empowering voters through strong disclosure requirements, public debates, and voter guides.
Many opponents to public financing argue it is too expensive and that residents shouldn’t be paying for political campaigns. I want to make the point here that we all pay the price when our elections are bought by special interest groups. If we are willing to pay taxes for schools and roads, why wouldn’t we be willing to pay our share to ensure that those who are making the decisions about which schools to build and roads to pave are doing it in the best interest of all Chicagoans?
Furthermore, Chicago could establish a fund drawing off such sources as taxes, city fees, and permits. Arizona and other states have used a surcharge on criminal and civil penalties. In Arizona, the surcharge is 10%, and it generates over $2 million each year. Massachusetts raised $5 million in speeding ticket surcharges and $1 million from DUI surcharges. All of these funding options should be strongly considered and ICPR will work with this task force and the city to identify the best options for funding a matching funds system.
In summary, the enactment of a multiple match system will increase the number of overall contributors and the number of small donors; the program will encourage candidates to combine fundraising and voter outreach efforts; and will provide an opportunity for candidates to run campaigns without taking in large sums of special interest cash.
I urge this task force to recommend that the City of Chicago create a small donor matching public financing system. I look forward to following the work of this task force moving forward and reading the final recommendations, which I hope will be made public immediately. It is time for a new legacy in Chicago to be created that is about clean and open government. ICPR is committed to working with this task force and we urge the city to take special interests out of how we do business in Chicago.
Thank you for your time.