Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Democracy Fund wants more reports

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
— In its continuing quest to revamp the city’s campaign finance laws, the Democracy Fund board has recommended boosting reporting requirements for both participating and nonparticipating candidates.
The advice now will go to the Board of Aldermen for action, and might ultimately require state approval.
Candidates receiving public financing now follow state reporting requirements, but Democracy Fund Administrator Robert Wechsler said there are periods in which candidates do not file for three months, leaving the board in the dark as to whether candidates have reached important benchmarks.
The Democracy Fund board recommends six new reports: 1) notification when a candidate reaches the contested election limit; 2) supplemental financial reports in August and September; 3) notification when a candidate nears and reaches the expenditure ceiling; 4) notification when a candidate receives a party nomination or gets on the ballot; 5) notification if a candidate withdraws; and 6) amounts raised and spent prior to participating in the Democracy Fund.
The Democracy Fund board also has recommended those reports be required by both participating and non-participating candidates.
"It can be done, but we will need either tacit or formal permission from the state," said Wechsler.
"How can we give money to participating candidates if...a non-participating candidate reaches ceiling and we don’t know it?" Wechsler said.
If a participating or non-participating candidate were to reach the $300,000 spending limit, participating competitors qualify for an additional grant, or may also raise that expenditure ceiling.
The board also recommended in May that the expenditure ceiling be lowered "so that it is comparable to the per person dollar amounts of other jurisdictions with similar programs," noting New Haven’s per-voter cost is roughly $5.45, compared to 81 cents in Portland, Oregon and 18 cents in Boulder, Colo.
New Haven is the first city statewide to experiment with publicly financed mayoral elections, and the last campaign was the program’s trial run.
A lack of reporting requirements caused complications.
While all candidates in the last mayoral election signed on to the program, agreeing not to accept contributions from businesses and political action committees, ultimately few public dollars were spent, and nothing was given during the general election.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. was given a $15,000 grant for the primary, but was asked to return the money when his challenger James Newton did not make it onto the ballot. While Newton qualified for around $10,000 in matching funds for his primary attempt, his campaign never finished paperwork to receive the money. "Newtown had taken a lot of $1,000 contributions, plus he gave more to himself than he was allowed to give," Wechsler said. "We never got full paperwork on giving all these people back the difference between what was allowed," he said. "We didn’t know right away, and it never got dealt with."
DeStefano was allowed to keep $11,850 in matching funds, but that was ultimately the only money given, as his campaign fell short in collecting the 200 donors needed to qualify for additional funds in the general election.
Neither of DeStefano’s general election opponents, Republican Richter Elser or Green Party candidate Ralph Ferrucci raised enough to qualify for public funding, or to consider the election contested by the fund. Candidates must raise at least $5,000 for the election to be contested, but there was no formal system to determine whether candidates had qualified, beyond Wechsler’s frequent, and often unreturned, calls and emails to the campaigns.
The Democracy Fund has also recommended striking the contested election requirement for the general election.

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