CHAPEL HILL CALLS its "clean-elections" local ordinance "Voter-Owned Elections." Who could be against that? Somebody? Anybody? OK, if none of you will volunteer, I guess that leaves me.
Advocates of "election reform" demonize the voluntary contributions of those of means to the candidates of their choosing as "legal bribes." That wouldn't bother me so much if they didn't at the same time sanctify confiscations from those same individuals, glorifying them as "public funding."
To avoid partisan bias, I will quote the co-founder and leader of the Democratic-Republican Party, Thomas Jefferson, who spoke very directly to this issue, in my view, saying, "To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."
Perhaps you don't think that you agree with me – or Jefferson – on this matter. It may help if you imagine the worst worst-case scenario for your own political leaning. How would you like to have your money expropriated and used to fund the political campaign for Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini, Hitler, or even Ronald Reagan? Wouldn't you find that "sinful and tyrannical"? I would – even if it went to Ronald Reagan.
Principles of freedom say that I get to choose which person, party or particular ideology I support with my time, talent and treasure. It is no more defensible to confiscate my money to promote a candidate whose politics I disbelieve than it would be to compel me to write or pass out tracts in that same candidate's defense.
Imagine, I ask again, if your money was used to fund Jesse Helm's re-election campaign, would you be happy? How would you feel if, in addition, you weren't allowed to vote? That's how "voter-owned" elections work – and that's not their only problem.
Here's a simplified rendition of how Chapel Hill’s "voter-owned" elections are supposed to work. A candidate may choose to run using either their own campaign donations (but by local ordinance only up to $200 per donor) or by collecting a required number of signatures and campaign donations each between $5 and $20. In 2009, candidates running for mayor needed to collect a total of between $1,500 and $4,500 from at least 150 small-dollar donors. After qualifying, a mayoral candidate gets thousands of dollars plus rescue funds if an opponent spends more than 140% of what the “voter-owned” candidate has spent
This is supposed to "level the playing field," and "reduce the influence of outside money," and, one would assume, reduce spending overall – or else what would be the point?
Well, in Chapel Hill's mayoral battle in the pre-voter-owned 2007 election, challenger Kevin Wolff spent something over $2,200, while incumbent Kevin Foy spent $3,800.
In the 2009 voter-owned election, incumbent mayor Mark Kleinschmidt spent a total of $18,000 on his campaign, $9,000 of whichcame from the city's public election fund after he collected the requisite 150 small-dollar contributions. He received an additional $4,000 in public "rescue funds" once his opponent Matt Czajkowski raised 140% of that. Czajkowski, who raised campaign funds the traditional way, that is, from his supporters, spent $36,000.
So, that’s $6000 for the two candidates in 2007 and $54,000 (including $13,000 in tax dollars) for the top two candidates in 2009. Not much of a reduction, I would say.
And, it is said, "clean election" laws are supposed to keep out big donors paying "legal bribes." Well, the state Board of Elections confirmed that former Town Councilman Cam Hill (whom now-mayor Kleinschmidt’s campaign ads listed as a supporter) was responsible for a late-in-the-campaign bulk mailer sent in support of Kleinschmidt’s mayoral bid. Hill's $1,700-plus mailing – far exceeding the $200 per donor limit – was legitimized by a political action committee created after the fact.
The voter-owned-election ordinance also has been criticized as an "incumbent protection program" – probably because it is. Candidates for town council in 2009 only needed to get 83 donors to give them $10 a piece to qualify, encouraging non-viable candidates to run – thus diluting the opposition vote for all incumbents.
As a council member in 2008 Kleinschmidt voted for "voter-owned" elections, then as an incumbent Chapel Hill council member Kleinschmidt used the program to finance his successful mayoral bid in 2009. Kleinschmidt has said. “Not everyone has hundreds of dollars to give to candidates.” But with the "voter-owned" elections ordinance in place, Kleinschmidt and the other council incumbents did.
Then there's the pesky unconstitutional part. In June of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a provision of that Arizona's "clean elections" law was unconstitutional. "Specifically, the Supreme Court rejected so-called 'matching funds’," said Daren Bakst of the John Locke Foundation, referencing a component of the law clearly parallel to Chapel Hill's voter-owned elections ordinance’s rescue funds.
But, not to worry, the N.C. General Assembly only approved Chapel Hill's pilot program to operate for two election cycles – the second of which will be this November – and renewal is questionable at best. For my tax dollar, it can’t be gone soon enough.
Orange County resident Gary D. Gaddy cannot vote in Chapel Hill but his property and sales tax payments were used to finance candidates he would never support for any office with his vote.