In recent decades, fundraising in federal, state and municipal elections has ballooned to absurd proportions. Consequently, there's an increased and very real danger that wealthy donors and organizations will exert an unfair influence on the candidates they've showered with money. This is bad for our democracy, and it's bad for the future of our city.
For this reason, the Alibi strongly endorses the ballot proposal to create a municipal system for financing campaigns for mayoral and Council candidates. If supported by voters, the measure will go into effect for the 2007 city elections.
There's no easy way to reign in campaign contributions. Such spending is protected by our federal constitution because the First Amendment has been interpreted by our federal courts to equate spending money in political campaigns with free speech. A 2001 court decision, for example, specifically disallowed spending caps in Albuquerque municipal elections. Public financing of campaigns is the only way to restrain out-of-control campaign fundraising.
Opponents of the measure believe it's a bad idea because it might force taxpayers to give public money to candidates they don't support. They also say it will be too expensive.
The truth is that the proposed system would only require one 10th of one percent of the city's annual budget. This is a small price to pay to finally inject some ethics into municipal campaign financing.
It's important to understand that numerous safeguards have been built into the system to ensure that only qualified candidates can participate. To prove a significant level of support in the community, for example, a candidate must receive $5 donations from one percent of registered voters in their race.
Furthermore, the financing system would be entirely voluntary. That is, candidates could opt out of it if they believe they can raise more money from private donors. If they do opt into the system, they agree to not spend a single penny of private or personal money in their races. If they break this rule, stiff penalties are imposed, and they must also return all the public funds they received.
As recent scandals have indicated, Albuquerque politics is a dirty business. It's high time we did something to clean house, and this measure could go a long way toward doing that. Under this proposal, voters will have a better chance of basing their votes on the quality of candidates' messages rather than the slickness and frequency of their TV commercials. In this sense, the measure is worth every penny.
On Oct. 4, we encourage you to support this proposition.