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News: Spend Less, Tell More

Campaign reform waits on city council

By Steve Barjaktarovich · August 9th, 2001 · News
Cincinnati City Council has so far balked at asking voters to approve campaign-finance reform, including public funding of city council campaigns.

Citizens for Fair Elections, a coalition of 14 groups, last week asked council to place on the ballot a charter amendment that would require more details about campaign spending and would offer public funds to candidates who agree to limit their spending.

Supporters collected 11,700 signatures on petitions to put the issue on the ballot. Council must pass a resolution before the measure gets there.

Lauren Coletta, director of field operations and grassroots efforts for Common Cause, joined Citizens for Fair Elections in presenting the petitions to city council Aug. 2.

"This issue is not going away," Coletta says. "Cincinnati is not alone."

Instead of restricting how much candidates can spend -- ruled unconstitutional by the U.S.

Supreme Court -- the Fair Elections Coalition proposes setting voluntary limits for candidates and rewarding participants with public funds. The proposal offers $2 in public funds for every $1 raised by a campaign, with a maximum of about $100,000 for council candidates and about $200,000 for mayoral candidates.

The proposal would limit individual donors to contributions of $1,000 each, and political parties could only give a donation of $10,000 to a candidate.

The amendment would also create the five-member Cincinnati Elections Commission (CEC), with subpoena power to monitor campaigns and to fine any violators. The commission would consist of a member of each of the three local political parties and two citizens who are independents. Members could not be currently active in politics or the municipal government.

New York and San Francisco have already enacted a form of the Fair Elections Amendment. States such as Massachusetts and Arizona are considering campaign finance reform, according to Coletta.

"People need to connect the dots," Coletta says. "Learn how this issue affects our lives."

Seemingly unrelated bills such as cable-television could be higher, because companies need money to donate to candidates, she said.

Council postponed putting the amendment on the ballot, waiting until Sept. 5 to decide. The deadline for issues in the fall election is Sept. 7.

David Crowley, a Democrat, urged council to act.

"Support the amendment," Crowley said. "It levels the playing field. It allows a no one to have a chance."

The charter amendment would require candidates to report, within five days, any contribution of $500 or more received within 20 days of the election. The same would apply to expenditures of $1,000 or more. ©



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