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Aldermen Propose Using City Money to Fund Election Campaigns

By Ted Cox | January 13, 2016 6:58am
 Backed by Aldermen Michelle Harris and John Arena, Ald. Joe Moore says,
Backed by Aldermen Michelle Harris and John Arena, Ald. Joe Moore says, "We need to get money, big money, out of politics."
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — Chicago might or might not be ready for reform, but an unlikely trio of aldermen thinks the city is ready for public campaign financing.

Aldermen Michelle Harris (8th), John Arena (45th) and Joe Moore (49th) submitted a proposed ordinance at Wednesday's City Council meeting that would create a Fair Elections Board and allot matching funds — up to six times the donation up to $175 apiece — for candidates who agree not to accept individual donations above $500 from any one contributor, or $250 from anyone doing business with the city.

"There's a lot of cynicism, a lot of cynicism, much of it justified," Moore said at a City Hall news conference Wednesday. "We need to get money, big money, out of politics."

"We need to figure out how to empower communities," Harris added.

"Following the Citizens United decision, unlimited contributions, PACs, Super PACs, secret money, corporate donors, lobbyists and other special interest funders now dominate our elections," Arena said. He added that it "helps level the playing field" in city political campaigns.

"Elected officials need to be working with and for the constituents that we represent and not have to spend a bulk of our time fundraising and dining with those attempting to influence our political decisions," Moore added.

"We need to create opportunities to empower citizens, benefit candidates that are not influenced by big money and support stronger connections between elected officials and the people we serve," said Harris, chairman of the Rules Committee that figures to be assigned the matter.

According to the legislation, the board and its public financing would be budgeted at 0.1 percent of the city's annual $7.8 billion in revenue, or about $8 million, and funded in part by increased fines for campaign finance violations and increased fees for lobbyists, as well as voluntary contributions, including set-asides on utility bills.

Moore called the program "well worth whatever price we'll have to pay."

Financing would be capped at $3.6 million for a mayoral candidate, $180,000 for clerk or treasurer candidates and $150,000 for aldermanic candidates.

Eligible candidates would also have to agree to other limitations on involvement with Political Action Committees and other campaign restrictions.

Moore and Harris split a total of about $7,000 from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Chicago Forward Super PAC before last year's election. Yet all pledged to participate in the program and its stipulations if it's enacted.

"If it's a good idea, I'm ready to stand up with any of my colleagues," Arena said.

The proposal grows out of Common Cause Illinois' Fair Elections campaign, according to that group's Executive Director Brian Gladstein. He pointed to how 79 percent of city voters were in favor of public campaign financing in a citywide referendum that was part of last year's election.

"Our campaign-finance system is broken," Gladstein said. "Now it is time for our aldermen to pass this ordinance and help us create fair elections."

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