Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Endowment sought for public campaigns

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
— The Democracy Fund Board will seek $100,000 from the city in the upcoming fiscal year, part of a strategy to grow an endowment for long-term support for public campaign finance.
After doling out only $11,850 from its $400,000 budget during the last election, the board initially had planned not to request additional money.
They changed course Monday night on guidance from Aldermanic President Carl Goldfield, D-29.
“I’m somewhat concerned you’ve decided you have more than enough at this premature point,” Goldfield told the board.
“You’re kidding yourself if you think the city will come up with a pot of money during a hot race mid-year.”
During the entire mayoral race, only $11,850 went to Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s campaign for a primary that never happened, after challenger James Newton failed to secure enough signatures to compete.
Newton had qualified for $10,000 in matching funds for his attempt, but his campaign never finished a request to the Democracy Fund for the money.
Neither of DeStefano’s general election opponents, Republican Richter Elser and Green Party candidate Ralph Ferrucci raised enough to qualify for public funding, or enough to even consider the election “contested” by the Democracy Fund.
The fund requires candidates raise at least $5,000 for an election to be called “contested.”
Board members reviewed that threshold Monday, but have not yet reached a consensus regarding an alternative.
“You don’t want to prevent reasonable candidates, but you don’t want to make anybody able to get in,” said fund administrator Robert Wechsler.
Goldfield also suggested Monday that the Democracy Fund Board consult donor lists and raise money independently to grow its endowment.
Money donated to the fund would likely be tax deductible, he said.
Money donated to an individual campaign is not tax deductible.
With the only public funds doled out in the last campaign going to DeStefano, would a donation to the Democracy Fund be a tax-deductible contribution to his campaign?
Wechsler said no.
“I don’t think he’s going to be mayor forever. In 2001, there were other serious candidates. Next time, there could be more opposition,” he said.
But he did recommend capping donations. “At least for now, have a limit on it, so it definitely doesn’t look like a gift to the person who put this together,” he said.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or at

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