Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Proposed Increase of Campaign Contributions Threatens Democracy in Livermore

This past Monday, the City Council of Livermore, CA planned to consider a proposal to increase the city’s campaign contribution limits from $100 per election cycle to $250 per cycle. An earlier attempt in April was tabled for a month to address concerns that the public had received neither adequate notification of the proposal nor opportunity to comment upon it. This time around, the Council again took no action, postponing discussion until June 7.

The 2003 City Council campaign was the costliest on record. The Mayor’s race alone saw over $100,000 spent, Mayor Marshall Kamena outspending his opponent Tom Vargas by nearly $25,000 to win by some 700 votes. In the City Council race, the five candidates spent over $65,000 between them. As in the mayoral contest, the two candidates who spent the most, Lorraine Dietrich and Marjorie Leider, also happened to be the candidates that won.

Now, six months later, there's a proposal to increase the limits. As we said in a story by Bonita Brewer in The Contra Costa Times:
"While increasing the limits on campaign contributions might be in the best interests of some members of the council, and maybe some wealthy donors, it is not necessarily in the best interests of the entire citizenry."

Only 28% of the voting-age population of Livermore voted in the 2003 election, and that was with contribution limits at the $100 level. Raising the contribution limits to $250 threatens to alienate many potential voters who can’t afford nearly that much, widening the gap which already exists between ordinary folks in Livermore and the democratic process. If donating money to candidates is one way of expressing our political opinion, all people should have the opportunity and means to express themselves at roughly the same level. That's what democracy is – one person, one vote.

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