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Council Takes Another Look at ‘Clean Money’

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday July 11, 2006

“Clean money” supporters failed to get the Berkeley City Council to place public financing on the November ballot two weeks ago, so they are calling out the troops to convince the body to approve the referendum at tonight’s (Tuesday) meeting. 

Public financing proponents didn’t know the importance of showing up at the meeting two weeks ago when a Fair Campaign Practices Commission oral report on “clean money” was on the council agenda, according to Clean Elections Coalition spokesperson Sam Ferguson: the Berkeley Progressive Alliance and the local League of Women Voters are calling on their supporters to come to tonight’s meeting. 

Ferguson said he wants councilmembers to clarify their positions. 

“Last time there were so many abstentions—really only six people voted on this important issue,” he said, referring to the June 27 4-2 vote, with three abstentions on a resolution to place a measure on the November ballot to finance the mayor’s race with public dollars. 

Councilmembers Gordon Wozniak, Linda Maio and Max Anderson abstained, while Councilmembers Kriss Worthington, Dona Spring, Darryl Moore and Mayor Tom Bates voted for the measure. (A second vote on financing the council race failed as well, with three councilmembers and the mayor abstaining.) 

“Abstaining is a real copout, Ferguson said. “People shouldn’t abstain to kill the issue. People of Berkeley need to know how the council feels about it.” 

In a letter to the Daily Planet, past League of Women Voters President Sherry Smith noted the urgency: “Because of time deadlines, the council must pass it tonight or it is dead for at least two more years. This provides a chance for the abstaining officials … to commit one way or another on the questions, rather than declining to reveal their point of view by abstaining.” 

Wozniak, who abstained on the vote to put the measure on the November ballot to publicly finance the mayoral race and opposed a second proposal to place a measure on the ballot to publicly finance only the council race, said he favors public financing on the state and local levels. “I think this is a solution in search of a problem,” Wozniak said, underscoring that corruption on a local level is not an issue. 

In a phone interview, Smith countered Wozniak’s argument, saying that corruption can be “insidious,” and that it is important “to try to insure that there are fewer temptations.”  

Wozniak further argued the measure could attract people from outside Berkeley to the mayor’s race who want to collect the $140,000 in financing. 

He added that the proposed limits are so low—$140,000 for mayor and $20,000 for council—that challengers would suffer. He said he would prefer a system where the candidate receives matching funds—thus costing the city less—and allows higher expenditures to challengers, who would generally have lower name recognition. 

The ballot measure proposes that candidates participate in public financing voluntarily. If they do, $140,000 would go to each mayoral candidate who gets 600 $5 contributions and $20,000 to council hopefuls who get 150 $5 contributions. 

Funding for the mayor-council race would come from the general fund and equal $4 per resident or about $500,000 citywide. Funding for the mayor’s race would cost the city about $300,000.