In case you’ve worked so hard to tune out Donald Trump that you forgot, we’ve got another election around the corner. Per usual, money will play a huge role in determining which candidates you know about.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
This week Accountable Miami-Dade, a new political group, said enough. They presented a petition to make it harder for big spenders to drive county elections — and easier for normal people to have a fighting chance at getting into office.
If they can get enough signatures — approximately 52,000, although they’re aiming for 80,000 — the initiative will go on the ballot in November. They’ve got 120 days to do it.
“The influence of money in politics is out of control and we need to do something about it,” said Juan Cuba, a board member at Engage Miami, one of the groups backing the initiative. “Why is this even necessary in the first place? Because unless we change the way elections are funded, our elected officials will continue to be beholden to the people who finance their campaigns.”
Alright, this sounds important, but what’s the petition actually for?
It’s for a ballot initiative with three key rules:
- Reducing the amount of money a person, business, etc. can give to a candidate (it’s $1,000 now). They want to cap it at $250. That means any candidate will have to have more supporters to get the same amount of money
- Banning donations to a candidate from any company with a contract with the county for $250,000 or more. (Companies have deals with the county for everything from housekeeping in county offices to construction of million-dollar rail lines.) It doesn’t prevent them from contributing to candidates’ political committees still.
- Boosting public financing for candidates, which could be a gamechanger for local elections, especially for newcomers.
Public financing confuses me. Can you explain what that is?
At its core, it’s the practice of giving public money to candidates so they have a fighting chance against candidates with deep pockets (or supporters with deep pockets.)
We approved public financing more than a decade ago. The way it currently works is a candidate receives a lump sum, basically a grant.
With the proposed change, the county will match what a candidate raises 6 to 1 — i.e. if a candidate gets $40 from someone, they get $240 from the public financing fund. They’ll match up to $100 from each individual.
“Someone that can write a few thousand dollar checks has way more access right now,” says Cuba. “If we democratize that and basically multiply what regular residents give to commissioners, they have a larger voice in their political system.”
“The biggest barrier right now for nonprofit leaders, young people, or just people who have been doing work in the community and think they could be a good commissioner [is that] they see barriers and think ‘How can I raise $250,000 to make a run?’”
Wait, so why wouldn’t everyone sign up for this?
Well, you can’t have a PAC (political action committee) if you accept public funds, and PACs are great for funneling a lot of money to your campaign if you’ve got those deep-pocket supporters.
But also not everyone gets the matched funds. You have to prove a pretty big amount of support before you qualify. For a county commissioner, you have to find 400 Miami-Dade residents who will give you at least $5 for your campaign and raise at least $15,000 before you qualify. Editor’s note: This sentence has been edited to clarify the requirements.
The change empowers those who might not have the kind of big-money jobs or connections to bankroll a campaign. It’s made a big difference in spots around the country.
“[In New York City], it’s opened the door for working people of all races and genders to run and win,” says Cuba. “You want your candidates to run on public financing because you want them to be accountable to the people they represent.”
Want to sign? Opposed? Want to help collect signatures? There’s a chance to learn more at 1306 Bar tomorrow night at 6 p.m. and other public forums on the initiative in coming weeks. Find out more at Accountable Miami-Dade.