The City Council decided not to include a campaign finance reform program as part of the $524 million budget approved last week because the city manager’s office decided the proposed program had not been thoroughly studied.
Councilmember Dona Spring had proposed funding $150,000 over the next two years for the Local Campaign Finance Reform program. The voluntary program, in theory, would have reduced the influence of well-heeled campaign contributors on local politics by setting campaign spending limits and providing public matching funds to serious candidates.
But the city manager recommended the council hold off on approving the funds until the policy is thoroughly discussed and evaluated, according to Deputy City Manager Phil Kamlarz.
Spring said the finance reform program could be considered again during the midyear budget cycle.
“The Berkeley mayoral race now costs upwards of $300,000 and that’s as much as some congressional races cost in rural areas,” Spring said. “When candidates have to raise those kind of dollars, they become beholden to whatever special interest they’re getting money from.”
Spring added that the high cost of campaigns precludes potential candidates who don’t have access to large contributors from participating in the public process.
“Democracy is not working correctly if only those with the gold rule,” she said.